Parents want a car that's cost effective and safe. Teens want a car that isn't a total dorkmobile. And thus does the great argument between parents and teens drag ever on, on used car lots and driveways across the nation.
That doesn't mean, though, that they can't strike a compromise. Here are ten cars that will give everybody at least a little of what they want.
Civics are the kind of car that stick around. Sold since 1972, the Civic has earned a reputation for being tough, but also for being sporty. Even better from a parental perspective, they're safe: the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration has been giving high marks to the Civic for safety for years.
But, most important is the cost. The Civic is a popular car and as a result, there are a lot of them available pretty much anywhere. Even a new Civic is fairly cheap for a new car: it starts at $14,000.
One of the top safety picks by the NHTSA for 2010, the Fusion, available since 2006, also happens to be the Ford stock car for NASCAR and was used to set a land speed record, which should give it cool points while giving you something to discourage your teenager from trying to emulate. The Fusion has only been made since 2006, so while you might be paying slightly more, you've got less chance of buying a junker in disguise.
For the teen who needs space to haul stuff, whether it's band equipment or friends to school, the Forester is a good choice. Consumer Reports loves its reliability, and it's gotten the highest rating for safety from governments around the world. Plus, it's been around since 1992, so you have plenty of models at plenty of prices to choose from.
Maybe you can't keep your teen from a sports car...but you can at least direct them towards a safe and cost-effective one. Popular on the rally circuit for years, the Celica is a popular coupe with high reliability and safety ratings. But, it is a sports car, so your teen should be prepared for auto insurance a little higher than they might otherwise expect. The Celica was discontinued in 2005, so if you want a new one, consider the similar Scion tC.
It may not be a Miata, but the 3, introduced to replace the Protege in 2004, quickly developed a reputation for being surprisingly stylish for a small car, while being both affordable and safe. Reviews often mention that it feels more like an upscale sports sedan instead of a cheaper small car...which helps when your teen first gets behind the wheel.
The classic car for generations of teenagers (and adults), the Camry has a richly earned reputation for reliability and safety. Also, you can't throw a rock at a used car lot without hitting one, so used prices are well within your budget.
Called the Jazz in some markets, the Fit has been available since 2001 and rolls all of Honda's reliability and cost-effectiveness into a little package that's almost cute and among the safest cars out there. Boys may roll their eyes, but for girls who have things to haul, the Fit might just be a good..well, fit. Just ensure the car was properly recalled: the window switch had an issue that Honda needed to fix for 2002-2008 Fits.
The first crossover SUV, the RAV 4 combines the hauling ability of a full-sized “suburban assault vehicle” with the safety and handling ability of a sedan. It has a much better safety rating than any full-size SUV, and ranks with the Forester in terms of reliability. Plus, it's been available since 1994, so used models are everywhere and usually in good condition.
The Altima is Nissan's flagship sedan, and has roots going back to 1957 in Japan. Designed to be a reliable family car, the Altima is American-made, and thus even new Altimas are going to cost less than cars that need to be shipped in. It's held the highest possible safety ratings for decades, and many Altimas can stay on the road for decades with a little maintenance.
Rounding out our top ten is the Impreza, the compact car of choice for years. Reliable, cheap, and safe, the Impreza has it all...including multiple model designs, so you can choose between sedan and hatchback.
As always, though, there are rules you should follow no matter what car you buy. Check the dealer against reports from the Better Business Bureau, and always run a Carfax report on any car you're considering. Also, approach car dealers warily, and always be ready to walk away, especially from a deal that seems too good to be true.