The Best First Car for High Schoolers, College Grads and Families

(Finding the right option has never been easier)

SUV vehicles in dealership

The best first cars are rarely the same from person to person. After all, some people don't buy a car until they're starting a family. Others buy a car during college. Some lucky teens get a car bought for them when they turn 16.

The bottom line: Your needs, concerns and what makes for the best car for you will change as your life does. In this article, we'll look at some of the common firsts all of us face and detail what makes for the best first car in each situation.

Good First Cars for High Schoolers

It used to be that the best first cars for teens were cheap cars because teens were the ones paying. In fact, over 50% of parents purchased their own first vehicles. But today, most will buy or help pay for a car for their child.

This is good news for teens because it means a higher first car budget. By paying, parents get the safety features and reliability they want for their kids on the road. But this doesn't mean every teen is getting a brand-new car.

Many parents opt for a late-model used vehicle rather than a new one. This is primarily due to the:

  • Price difference 
  • Inflated price for new cars (accounting for depreciation)
  • Cost of car insurance for teens

In fact, drivers between the ages of 16 and 18 can expect to pay $150 to $400 per month on car insurance premiums, depending on:

  • Background
  • Driving experience
  • Daily mileage 
  • Type of car

The cost of insurance will differ depending on your agent, too. Independent agents, like those at Trusted Choice®, can shop around to different companies to get better rate quotes.

To offset insurance costs, look for a sedan or coupe 2007 or later. These cars will have better safety features, and more of them. Cars with electronic stability control and good crash test scores tend to do well on insurance ratings and can keep new drivers safe. 

Some of our top recommendations that are cost-friendly but score high in safety ratings include: 

  • Toyota Corolla
  • Ford Fusion
  • Honda Accord

What to avoid when choosing a first car for a teen driver:

  • Turbo options
  • SUVs, vans and trucks with extra weight and passenger space
  • Older cars that lack anti-lock brakes

Good First Cars for a College Grad

College grads are typically 21 or older and have had a few years to prove that they're safe drivers. This means the insurance premium is likely a bit more affordable. Those savings, combined with a bump in income, makes it easier to upgrade your car.

Many college grads look for a few specific features, including:

  • Fun to drive
  • Easy to handle
  • Great gas mileage

This makes sense with more money in the budget and a likely commute to work.

The Bottom Line: Look for a New or Used Sedan to Pile on Some Features

Look for 2011 or newer sedans like:

  • Honda Civic
  • Mazda 3
  • Hyundai Elantra

These cars combine great gas mileage with turbo options, tech-friendly features and advanced safety engineering.

What to avoid:

  • Gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks, unless you need the space more than once a month
  • Vehicles with more than 50,000 miles, unless you can get a full power train warranty for repairs

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Good First Cars for a New Family

The small sedan that served you in high school and college will feel small when you add diaper bags and bulky child seats. Whether you’re just starting with your first baby or getting ready for the next, you’re probably going to need a bigger vehicle.

Good news: The minivan isn’t the only option for a great first family car. In fact, there are a lot of other cars that come with the features you need, including:

  • Cargo space
  • Room for passengers
  • Advanced safety features
  • Fuel economy 

The Bottom Line: Choose a Larger Car Based On the Size of Your Family (or Soon-to-be Size of Your Family)

If you only have one or two children and don’t carry extra passengers more than once or twice a month, consider a large sedan instead of stepping up to a bigger, more fuel-hungry SUV or crossover. These include popular models like :

  • Honda Accord
  • Mazda 6
  • Nissan Maxima

Families with two or more kids may need to step up to a crossover or SUV. The new hybrid models can save you money on fuel while offering extra seats and cargo room.  Popular models include:

  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Subaru Outback
  • Honda Pilot

These are all cost-friendly options. Some even offer the luxury of a third-row seat as your family grows.

If you have three, four or more children, you can still get respectable gas mileage and plenty of extra tech features from a recent model:

  • Ford Edge
  • Honda CR-V
  • BMW X5
  • Audi Q5.

What to avoid:

  • Large, non-hybrid, American-made SUVs, unless you need the towing power
  • Older minivans with one sliding door
  • Full-size vans, unless you need more than eight seats

The Bottom Line on Buying a First Car at Any Stage of Life

Whether you're choosing your first car as a student or an adult, protecting your investment with the right car insurance policy is key. 

You'll get more coverage for your money by shopping around or by asking a local independent agent to do the shopping for you. Trusted Choice independent agents often get the best deal because they're able to shop around for quotes from multiple providers for the best deal. Better yet, they're local to your area and know the market where you live.

Getting a new car, and the right insurance to go with it, will change as you get older. Keep the right considerations in mind, and it's easier than ever to make sure you do it right.

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