The safest used vehicles for teens – or anyone else on a tight budget

The task of finding an affordable used vehicle can be daunting.

Counting each model year separately, there are more than 2,600 models offered over the last decade and nearly 4,000 in the last 15 years, according to data from

That’s a lot of options to consider. Too many, really, without some guidance. Which is exactly what we found in a recent report, Choosing the best vehicle for your teen, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Photo: Looking for a safe vehicle on a tight budget?
Looking for a safe vehicle on a tight budget?

Don’t let the title of the article fool you. The used cars identified by IIHS are good for anyone shopping on a budget who still wants a vehicle that meets important safety standards.

The cars on this list meet both IIHS and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards.

And there are candidates aplenty from large cars to small SUVs to minivans – 56, in fact, that IIHS lists as “best choices” starting under $20,000, and another 39 listed as “good choices” starting under $10,000.

“Vehicles on this [best] list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests,” according to the institute. And all models were chosen based on the following: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage and private party purchase.

The oldest models on the combined list of 95 vehicles, and the group (mostly good) in which they appear, are the Acura TL model year 2004 or later (good), Volvo XC90 from 2005 or later (best); Acura RL (good) and Audi A6 sedan (good), Saab 9-3 (good) and Honda Odyssey (good), all models from 2005 or later, as well as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan from 2005-08 (good).

Besides the Volvo XC90, the oldest models on the “best choices” list are the Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca from 2006 or later, and Volvo S80 and Honda Element from 2007 or later.

The least expensive starting prices on the IIHS “best” list are the Tribeca ($8,500) and Element ($7,300). “Good” choices run as low as the Saab 9-3 ($4,000), and the Kia Sedona ($4,600) from 2006 or later, the Volkswagen Passat ($5,100) from 2006-08, and Suzuki Grand Vitara ($5,600) from 2006 or later. Prices, rounded to the nearest $100, were based on 2014 prices from Kelley Blue Book.

The complete list of vehicles and more details are available on the IIHS website, whether you’re shopping for a teenager or anyone else who needs a lower-cost model that doesn’t skimp on safety.

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