July 15, 2024

Edmunds: The best used vehicles for young drivers under $20,000

The 2018 Chevrolet Colorado midsize truck is available with a four-cylinder engine, a V6 or a turbocharged diesel four-cylinder.

Safety is critically important when choosing a vehicle for a younger driver. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States.

There are many reasons for that statistic, ranging from inexperience and distraction to risky behaviors such as speeding or alcohol use.

But the bottom line is that many parents want to mitigate risk as much as possible when selecting a vehicle for their first-time drivers.

Yet budget is also a factor; teen drivers often end up with a hand-me-down vehicle or a used vehicle.

To help you decide on what might be best for a young driver in your family, Edmunds’ car experts turned to crash test ratings published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

We identified two cars, two SUVs, and one pickup truck that earn favorable IIHS ratings and can potentially be purchased for less than $20,000 and have less than 75,000 miles on them.

We also took into account Edmunds reviews that evaluate qualities such as comfort, fuel economy and technology features.

These are the five vehicles we would consider for the kids in our lives, listed in alphabetical order.

2015-2020 Chevrolet Colorado

Finding used pickups priced under $20,000 and with less than 75,000 miles is a challenge, but many Chevrolet Colorados meet those criteria.

Drivers of 2015-2021 Colorado extended-cab and crew-cab models fare adequately or better in collisions, according to IIHS testing.

The Colorado lacks some now-common driver assist features, such as blind-spot warning, but newer years include Teen Driver, a feature that allows parents to monitor how young drivers use the truck.

The 2021 Mazda 3 is attractively styled and uncommonly sporty for a small sedan or hatchback.

2014-2022 Mazda 3

Compact cars typically offer young drivers a low price and good gas mileage. You can also add high crash test scores into the mix for the Mazda 3.

Mazda redesigned the 3 hatchback and sedan in 2014 and again in 2019. The newer models offer more driver assist features, available all-wheel drive for snowy weather, and a more modern infotainment system.

Every Mazda 3 from this period earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS and, for around $20,000, you can find examples just a couple of years old.

Midsize sedans aren’t typically dripping with charisma. The 2021 Mazda 6 has plenty to spare.

2014-2021 Mazda 6

Among larger cars, a used Mazda 6 sedan built between 2014 and 2021, when the model was discontinued, is a smart pick.

This stylish midsize car offers room for up to five people and a good blend of power and efficiency with the standard four-cylinder engine.

Upgrade to the turbocharged model for improved performance but prepare to spend more at the gas pump.

All Mazda 6 sedans during this period received a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS. Starting in 2016, the car also offered improved protection for the driver in certain types of collisions.

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 is an excellent all-around crossover SUV that’s well suited for younger drivers.

2014-2021 Mazda CX-5

Small SUVs are extremely popular with consumers. When choosing a used one under $20,000 for a young driver, Edmunds thinks a 2014 to 2021 Mazda CX-5 is a great choice.

In addition to earning the highest Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS in each of these model years, the CX-5 sits high off the road for good visibility and boasts tidy dimensions, making it easy to park.

All-wheel drive is available, and the four-cylinder engine offers a good compromise of efficiency and acceleration. Mazda redesigned the CX-5 in 2017, adding more standard driver assist features.

The 2020 Subaru Outback boasts fantastic outward visibility, plenty of cargo space and all-weather sure-footedness.

2013-2020 Subaru Outback

A used Subaru Outback could be a good choice for a young driver who enjoys a lot of outdoor activities. In each of those model years, the Outback earned the highest Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS.

The Outback also comes with standard all-wheel drive and generous ground clearance to help out with access to trails or campsites.

If you steer clear of the six-cylinder and turbocharged engine options, this Subaru gets decent gas mileage. Buy a low-mileage example for your kid and an Outback could serve them well for years to come.

Edmunds Says

The models listed above are good starting points. By adjusting your budget, accepting higher mileage, or drilling down to a specific model and year, you may discover more suitable choices. We also recommend continuing to prioritize crash test ratings when conducting your own research.