Safety experts insist the best cars for teens are "big and boring." "If your child's friends don't think the car is cool, that's the one you want," says Nason. But automotive aficionados like Wiesenfelder say it's possible to find safe cars that are also fun. What's more, some dull vehicles may be more exciting to teens than you might expect. "Minivans, for instance, can carry up to six passengers, which makes them too much of a party car," says Stockburger. "Distractions from passengers are a major contributor to teen crashes."
To strike a balance between safe and outright embarrassing, look first for reliable cars with good crash ratings from the IIHS or NHTSA. Then check edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) to search for cars by price, model, or year; read reviews and find local dealers with vehicles you like. "Style is your last consideration, but you'll find plenty of options for under $20,000," says Wiesenfelder. Consider a midsize coupe with two doors: The right size and weight, it will look sportier than a four-door yet will discourage teens from piling in. Look up online reviews for cars that take 8 to 11 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. "You want the car to have power but not move too fast," says Stockburger. Whatever you choose (even if your teen groans), your child should appreciate it.
Originally published in the October 17, 2008, issue of Family Circle magazine.