When it comes to picking out a first car, your image-conscious teenager probably isn’t thinking about crash-test ratings, reliability scores and fuel economy.
Well, it’s a good thing they have you — the parent.
Whether your kid just got their license and needs a car for a summer job, or they’re graduating next month and need their own ride for college, it’s typically you who decides which vehicle to buy.
When choosing a car for a young driver, not only do you have to find the sweet spot where safety, reliability and price meet, you must also sort through all the conflicting guidance out there.
Some experts say that the bigger the vehicle, the greater the protection for teenagers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recommends larger, heavier vehicles, like midsize SUVs or even large pickups for beginner motorists, for instance.
The American Automobile Association advises against bigger SUVs, instead recommending crossovers or midsize cars that are small enough for a new driver to handle easily.
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While it’s true that larger vehicles may help protect teenagers during a crash, Consumer Reports says parents should focus on safety features that prevent crashes from happening in the first place.
The consumer-advocacy organization compiles an annual list of best vehicles for teens with both new and used car options based on safety, reliability, pricing and other data.
“Parents often think, ‘to protect my young driver I’m going to put them in the largest car I can find,'” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Report’s Auto Test Center in Connecticut. “But (large vehicles) also have longer braking distances and additional seating” she says. “Statistics show the more teen passengers a young driver has with them, the higher the crash risk.”
Whether buying new or used, you should choose a vehicle with as many safety features as your budget allows, Stockburger says.
“You want all the advanced safety features that can back up an inexperienced driver like electronic stability control, automatic emergency braking and blind stop warning systems,” she says.
Forward collision warning, strong obstacle avoidance performance and limited acceleration are also important features to consider, according to Consumer Reports.
If your future adult wants an innovative sportscar with 0-to-60 mph acceleration, pump the brakes.
Consumer Reports warns that buying a sporty car might give your kid an urge to race other cars on the road.
“Buying a sporty car for a young driver is a mistake in our mind. It begs for abuse,” Stockburger says.
Parents should take the “Goldilocks approach” and buy a car that’s not too fast and not too slow, she says. This may not be the coolest car to your kid, but they’ll be safer until they’ve gained more experience as a driver.
While you search for the best reliability ratings, safety features and price, your teenager will likely care more about how they connect their smartphone to the car.
They want to be able to talk to the car the same way they would their phone.
“When it comes to connectivity, for them it’s a convenience,” Stockberger says. “But it can have some safety benefits if they’re going to interact with their phones anyway.”
Features like Bluetooth connections and embedded voice assistants like Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto can encourage them to keep their phones in the pocket while they’re driving.
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.