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Back-to-School Car Shopping: What Vehicles Are Best for Students?

Aug. 11, 2021
3 mins
A woman driving her car glances and smiles at her un-pictured passenger

As a new school year approaches, many students will be setting their sights on buying a vehicle to help them navigate their way to campus, as well as visits home if going away to school. But what vehicles are best for students (and parents) who want a vehicle that not only fits the budget but also is safe and reliable?

Best new cars for back-to-school

If it’s a new car you’re looking to buy, the following three 2021 vehicles have ranked well with U.S.-based Kelley Blue Book for affordability, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for protecting the vehicle’s occupants in a crash, and from Consumer Reports (CR) for their overall performance and reliability.

  1. Toyota Corolla
  2. Honda Civic
  3. Mazda3

There’s something to be said when three agencies separately agree on what makes a car a good choice.

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Don't waste time calling around for auto insurance

Use RATESDOTCA to shop around, and compare multiple quotes at the same time.

Best used cars for back-to-school

While buying a new vehicle is a nice idea, it’s not always realistic. For most young drivers, it’s likely a used vehicle that will end up parked in the driveway. To help you decide which used vehicles are best, IIHS offers the following four tips to help you narrow down your choices:

1. Less is more

Avoid getting a vehicle with a powerful engine and high horsepower to steer clear of the temptation of testing the limits.

2. Bigger is better

Look to bigger, heavier vehicles, which are typically safer and protect better in a crash.

3. Avoid cars built before 2011

Only buy a vehicle with Electronic Stability Control (ESC). ESC helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves, slippery roads, and when the driver needs to swerve or brake suddenly. ESC has been mandatory in Canada for all cars manufactured since September 2011.

4. Buy a car with a good safety rating

Review the safety ratings of the vehicles that have made your short list. You can see how cars compare at the IIHS and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

As for specific vehicles, the IIHS and CR co-created a list of the best used car choices for teens. Here are the top three vehicles in each category:

Small cars
Model Year(s)
Mazda 3 (sedan or hatchback) 2014 or newer
Toyota Prius 2014 or newer
Hyundai Elantra GT 2018 or newer
Midsize cars
Model Year(s)
Subaru Outback 2013 or newer
Subaru Legacy 2013 or newer
Mazda 6 2014 or newer
Large cars
Model Year(s)
Ford Taurus 2014
Hyundai Genesis 2016
Small SUVs
Model Year(s)
Mazda CX-5 2014 or newer
Nissan Rogue 2014, 2016-18,
Subaru Forester 2016 or newer
Midsize SUVs
Model Year(s)
Chevrolet Equinox 2017, 2019
Nissan Murano 2015 or newer
GMC Terrain 2017, 2019
Model Year(s)
Toyota Sienna 2015-2016
Honda Odyssey 2016
Kia Sedona 2017

Get an A+ for saving on your car insurance

Before buying a new (or used) car for back-to-school, compare car insurance quotes to research which vehicle will save you the most in premiums. The cost of car insurance can vary considerably between different makes and models, therefore failing to compare rates before sealing the deal could be costly.

Lesley Green

Lesley Green is a senior writer and editor at RATESDOTCA and has been a part of the team since 2002. During non-pandemic times she enjoys live theatre, travelling, curling and, depending on how well she's hitting the ball, golfing.

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