- Aug 23, 2012
The Car Coach (and Mom): The Best Cars For College-Bound Drivers
Some advice on what to buy -- and what to avoid -- when shopping for young adults
Dear Car Coach:
My daughter is going away to college, and needs a car. I am inclined to give her our 2000 Ford Explorer, which has been very reliable. The other ready option is her grandmother's Buick LeSabre, which just came to us after my wife's Mother died. I think the Buick is a better choice for an 18 year old sound but still inexperienced driver. The third option is that we sell the Buick and get her another car, but that option will open up all kinds of arguments and debate about what to get. Advice for us?
I tend to agree with you on the Buick. Based on the year, however, safety features may be minimal. If it's a new Buick then it has a top rating.
As parents are prepping to send their teens to school or college, many are concerned about making the right vehicle choices with their kids. More teens are driving to school these days than ever before. Question, what's best for them to drive? What's the best car for college commuting? What's the best first car for an inexperienced driver? What should we look for, new or used?
The boundaries vary slightly by the school you're attending and your budget. But we'll assume a college car needs to be affordable and cheap to maintain. The kid driver will undoubtedly want to drive friends around and put belongings in their car, so seating capacity and storage are practical issues.
First Car Tips:
Can't figure out what is the best type of vehicle to select with your new teenage driver? You know to avoid that backfiring rust bucket with holes in the trunk, as well as that muscle car that would increase your insurance premiums. But are some types of cars better for new drivers than others? Before you give your teen just any car-consider the following tips:
Avoid SUVs and small cars. For many good reasons, conventional truck-based sport-utility vehicles aren't recommended for first-time drivers, nor are small cars. A higher center of mass in SUVs usually gives them unforgiving handling characteristics compared to passenger cars. Abrupt maneuvers or distraction from friends and phones could easily lead to a rollover accident. Small cars should be avoided because they do not always provide the passengers the same protection that larger cars do, especially in collisions with other larger vehicles. Teens are, for obvious reasons, more at risk for being involved in accidents. Inexperienced new drivers should have a moderate-sized vehicle with stable, predictable handling characteristics.
Steer clear of sports cars and models with a strong performance image. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an insurance-industry affiliate, the statistics show that younger people are more likely to be in a speed-related crash in such vehicles. Chalk it up to peer pressure, the sound and feel of these cars, and the way they're marketed.
Newer vehicles are generally better. Contrary to the popular opinion of 'Detroit Iron' advocates, the '77 Chevy Malibu doesn't provide better protection than the '97 Chevy Lumina. Newer models offer more safety features, plus they have better structural crash protection (i.e. the car will sacrifice itself for the driver, not the other way around). Newer cars are also less likely to suffer from stalling problems or other component failures that might cause a lack of control, especially for inexperienced drivers. Worthwhile safety features to look for on late-model cars include anti-lock brakes, electronic-stability-control and dual airbags.
Choose a model with good performance, not high performance. You don't want your younger driver in an underpowered slug, because some power is necessary for safe passing maneuvers and merging. On the other hand, it shouldn't have so much power that it encourages reckless driving. Avoid older diesel models and midsize four-cylinder cars from the 1980s.
Automatic transmissions are the best choice for new drivers. While many driving schools recommend simultaneously teaching teens on both manual-and automatic-transmission cars, it's a good idea to put your new driver in a car that does the shifting for itself.
So what's best for new, young drivers?
I suggest the best cars for new teen drivers are late-model midsize sedans: cars like the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima. These vehicles provide a good combination of decent handling and performance along with good passenger protection. Look to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and also with the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety for crash test results.
Hopefully you and your teen driver will find some common ground: With a little luck, you might just find that special car that's safe, not too hideous, and-of course-has a good stereo.
-Make sure that your teen knows how to change a flat tire, and buy them a AAA membership.
-Always carry a complete emergency roadside kit.
-Teach your teen basic maintenance – it will help save money and teach them to be responsible for their transportation too.