Best Cars for First-Time Drivers

New drivers, whether teens or adults, may benefit from these special features.

“A first-time driver doesn’t need sporty cars or tall, tippy SUVs or giant sedans with vague steering and a big appetite for gas,” says “The Saturday Mechanic,” automotive expert Mike Allen. “You need anti-lock braking and stability control. So start with mid-sized or compact sedans or crossover SUVs.”

Research about possible vehicle choices gives you power. Start by looking at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website, which offers updates on recalls and service bulletins for all makes and models. “A new or newly designed model may also have bugs that need to be worked out,” explains Art Jacobsen, vice president at CarMD. “So it’s important to be aware of recent or upcoming model changes.”

If you’re looking at a used car, run a CARFAX report to see whether that particular vehicle was ever in an accident or flood. Also on the used front, look for autos that generally logged 10,000 to 15,000 miles a year. “This means the car was in normal service, and it didn’t sit for long periods of time, nor was it only used for short trips,” Allen says. “Both of those are hard on drive trains.”

Models to Watch
For Nationwide Insurance customers, CarMD provided the following list of vehicles that are good for new drivers. The suggestions are based on the CarMD Vehicle Health Index, which measures reliability and repair data.

  • Toyota Corolla: Scores the best on repair incident and cost rankings, and receives top safety marks. “When it needs repairs, it’s usually something simple like a loose gas cap,” Jacobsen says. “If you follow a regular maintenance program and pay attention to warning signs, you should enjoy a Corolla for a decade or more.”
  • Honda Civic: Constantly at the top of rankings for reliability and a great gas sipper, which can help a teen, in particular, learn about the value of saving money at the pump.
  • Hyundai Sonata: Has seen vast improvements in reliability and repair ratings since the early 2000s.
  • Ford Escape Hybrid: It’s the highest-mileage SUV in the U.S. It’s also due for a model overhaul in 2013, so it’s a good value right now. With all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive choices, it’s great for a young person.
  • Saturn Aura: Good overall reputation and no known safety recalls. Repairs are usually of the minor sort, like cleaning or replacing fuel injectors.