According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), immaturity and inexperience make a deadly mix for disaster. This applies to new drivers of any age, so finding a safe vehicle that is also reliable and doesn’t break the bank is a bonus. These are the top three concerns for families when purchasing a used car.
The vehicles listed in this article are the ‘Best Choices’ that have earned good ratings with IIHS who evaluate ‘crashworthiness’ (how well a vehicle will protect its occupants in a crash) and ‘crash avoidance and mitigation’ (the technology that can help prevent a crash or lessen its severity), and have above-average scores from Consumer Reports (CR) ‘emergency handling’ scoring 3 or more out of 5. They also have a dry-braking distance of 145 feet or less when going from 60mph to zero.
So which vehicles rank the best with the IIHS and CR?
1. Small Car – Chevrolet Volt (2012-2014)
To start things off, let’s look at a more environmental option – the Chevrolet Volt. It scores all the green lights when it comes to ‘crashworthiness’ including roof strength as well as head and seat restraints, and comes with traction control as well as ABS brakes. Go for the ‘Premium Enhanced Safety Package’ and you get Front and Rear Park Assist and a Rear Vision Camera. A quick search online and I found a 2013 Premium model in off-white with beige leather seats and a mere 51,000 miles on the speedometer for $8,498.
Other cars listed in the ‘Small’ category are the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3, Ford C-Max Hybrid, Subaru Impreza, Honda Insight, and the Subaru Crosstrek (all under $20,000).
2. Midsize Car – Subaru Outback (2013-Onwards)
Next on my list of safety picks is the Subaru Outback. This is a great versatile wagon and scores a ‘superior’ rating in front crash prevention. They usually come in AWD (all-wheel drive) as well making them handy off-road. It can be hard to find a great example without previous damage, so keep your eyes open when you read the description. The best example I could find is in dark blue (see comments below cars on how to get around dark colors). It is a 2013 model that’s been well looked after, has a light beige interior, is a ‘partial zero-emission vehicle’, and has only traveled 71,000 miles for $11,900. There is also a white 2013 model for a similar price with 90,557 miles. If you wanted to go a little older, I found a top-condition metallic green AWD 2006 Special Edition with only 2 previous owners and 86,000 miles on the speedometer for just $7,900. It doesn’t have the technology of the newer models, but I think it was a high-rating car in its day, and you would save $4,000.
Other cars listed in the ‘Midsize’ category are the Volswagen Passat, Mazda 6, Lincoln MKZ, Volvo S60, Audi A6, Toyota Prius V, and the Subaru Legacy (all under $20,000).
3. Large Car – Hyundai Genesis (2016-Onward)
Top marks for ‘Crashworthiness’ and ‘Crash Avoidance’, the Genesis is a rear-wheel drive car able to seat five adults comfortably. It features Electronic Stability Control, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and Daytime Running Lights. The one I found is a white 2016 3.8 model with 105,000 miles for $16,800. Although the mileage is slighter higher than I usually go for, this was a rental car when it first came out. Highway mileage is good for a car, and that is what this has been used for. Less wear and tear on brakes and gears than city driving, and as a rental, would have been thoroughly cleaned after every use before the next customer. So you get a well-looked after car that is newer and cheaper than most on the market (and with not much more mileage than other private use models that are going for around $3,000 more).
Only one other car was listed in this category, and that is the Toyota Avalon which didn’t score so well in the ‘Crash Avoidance’ test.
4. Small SUV – Mazda CX-5 (2014-Onwards)
The best safety applies only to vehicles with the ‘Grand Touring Technology Package’ or ‘Touring Technology Package’ built after October 2013 which includes a Safety Brake Pedal System, Crumple Zones front and rear, Traction and Stability Control, Emergency Locking Retractors front and rear, and Blind Spot Sensor Warning. I came across a 2016 ‘Touring’ model metallic grey with only 75,563 miles, reverse camera, and Skyactiv Technology for $16,985. I also found another model of the same year, same ‘Touring’ model with the same mileage – only in ‘Crystal White’ for $1,000 more.
Other vehicles listed in this category include the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Kona, Volvo XC60, and the Mazda CX-3.
5. Midsize SUV – Nissan Murano (2015-2017)
Again, this vehicle scored highly in ‘Crashworthiness’ and ‘Crash Avoidance’ with the Optional Forward Emergency Braking and Technology Package. Anti-Whiplash front head restraints, Occupant Sensing Airbag, and Blind Spot Warning are features worth taking note of. While looking though the online adverts, I spotted a couple of interesting finds. The first is a one-owner 2017 SV All-Wheel Drive in silver with only 58,720 miles on the speedometer for just $16,788. It looks too good to be true, but is for sale through a licensed Nissan dealer. The other model is a 2016 front-wheel drive, ex-rental vehicle in excellent condition inside and out, in stunning metallic burgundy red with light tan interior. With only 69,629 miles traveled, this mid-sized beauty comes in at $16,750.
Other vehicles in this category include the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Lexus NX, Ford Edge, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Toyota Highlander.
6. Minivan – Kia Sedona (2017)
This model comes with Optional Autonomous Emergency Braking, the LX or EX Trim with ‘Advanced Technology Package’ or SX Trim with ‘Advanced Touring 8 Pass Package’. If your budget is $15,000 then you can’t go past an ex-rental 2017 Sedona LX in ‘Brilliant White’ with stunning 2-toned tan and grey interior trim, backup camera, and 84,431 miles driven for just $14,995. There are plenty on the market between $15,000 and $20,000 with 10,000 more miles on the speedometer, so it’s all about searching out the best example all round for your money.
Other vehicles in this category are the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna.
I have chosen a range of vehicles across all the categories listed so that there’s something to suit everyone for the best budget. All the cars I found listed above state they have NOT been in any accidents or had any branded/salvage titles. These are the ‘Best Choices’ according to IIHS, but they also have a ‘Good Choices’ section as well.
Remember to use the vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number to check for recalls in regard to the vehicle you’re thinking of buying. If there are any, make sure they have been done before signing on the dotted line.
Always keep in mind the color of the car. Black or dark colors such as navy blue or gunmetal grey can be hard to see in certain weather conditions or in dim lighting. Try to stick with lighter colors (it doesn’t have to be white), as this makes you more visible to other drivers. If the best deal happens to be a black car, then think of putting a vehicle ‘wrap’ or some form of white racing stripes or other decal that stands out.