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Best New and Used Cars for Teen Drivers in 2021

Sept. 8, 2021
5 mins
A driver sits happily behind the wheel with three passengers

National Teen Driver Safety Week isn’t until October 17, 2021, but the new school season is just starting. It could be the perfect time to get your teen a car to get them to and from their part-time job or the campus independently.

But what’s the best first car for teenagers? Should you choose a new car equipped with lane assist, blind-spot warning, and other advanced safety features? Or should you go with an older model so they can get used to driving without all the bells and whistles of today’s technology? Let’s explore safety features in new and used vehicles, recommended vehicles for teens, and safety tips for new teen drivers.

New vs. used cars and vehicle size

Picking out a car for your teen can be fun, but it might take a bit of compromise. You want a safe vehicle; they want a vehicle to impress their friends. You might want them to have a bigger or heavier car, but these can be hard for younger drivers to navigate.

When selecting the year of the vehicle, pick one sold after 2012. In Canada, all vehicles sold since 2012 include electronic stability control (ESC), a crash avoidance system. Newer cars also have more recent safety features. Consumer Reports (CR) suggests shopping for vehicles with a forward-collision warning and automatic emergency brakes.

When it comes to the vehicle’s size, teen drivers need fewer distractions, not more, so choose a vehicle that is easy to drive and sensible for your teen’s needs. A sports car, for instance, may not be the right option for an inexperienced driver, while a large SUV or truck may see your teen playing taxi driver for all their friends.

Tips for teen drivers

A RATESDOTCA survey found that 92% of Canadian drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 admit to having a mobile device with them behind the wheel. Of that age group, 50% say they check messages when the vehicle is in motion. A startling 18% admit to watching a video while driving.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among 16-to-25-year-olds. That’s why it is imperative to stress that when your teen is behind the wheel, safety and reducing distractions are essential.

Teens should:

  • Be alert, slow down and always wear a seatbelt
  • Leave phones and other mobile devices turned off
  • Keep radio volumes down
  • Observe the speed limit and watch for other drivers
  • Never drink or take drugs and drive
  • Know that a clean driving record will keep their insurance rate low

Drivers of any age — young or old — should adhere to these road safety guidelines.

Shopping for a good deal

When looking for a car for your teen, pick a vehicle that has excellent safety records.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and CR come together each year to bring parents a list of safe, reliable, and affordable vehicles for teens.

Used vehicles

The top choices for used vehicles in 2021 include:

  • Small car: Mazda3 sedan or hatchback (2014 or newer)
  • Midsize car: Subaru Outback (2013 or newer)
  • Large car: Ford Taurus (2014)
  • Small SUV: Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer)
  • Midsize SUV: Chevrolet Equinox (2017, 2019)
  • Minivan: Toyota Sienna (2015, 2016)

New vehicles

The top choices for new vehicles include:

  • Small car: Mazda3 sedan or hatchback
  • Midsize car: Subaru Legacy
  • Small SUV: Mazda CX-3
  • Midsize SUV: Mazda CX-9
  • Minivan: Honda Odyssey

You can check vehicle ratings through the IIHS website to see how well a vehicle can protect its occupants in a collision.

Add your teen to your auto insurance policy

You don’t need to add your teen driver to your auto insurance policy while they have their learner’s permit, as they are required to be under the supervision of an experienced driver until they pass their G2 test.

However, it can be beneficial to add your child as an occasional driver as soon as they get their licence. There is no additional cost to add a child to a parental policy in Ontario, and your teen will start building an insurance history as soon as they are listed. The experience they gain can lower their car insurance premium down the road when they get their first car.

Find the best car insurance rate

When shopping for your teen’s car, ensure the vehicle has safety features to protect them on the road and encourage safe habits — that means you may need to have the distracted driving talk. A text message is not worth a life.

Your teen may be able to lower their premium with specific discounts. Young drivers can get insurance discounts for up to three years after passing a government-recognized driver’s training course, like the Young Drivers of Canada program. Some providers might even give discounts to students who maintain high grades.

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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.

Lastly, compare auto insurance rates before making your final decision. Car insurance providers use several factors to determine a driver’s rate, including the make and model of the car they drive. Comparing quotes can help you decide which car offers the most affordable rate for your teen.

With RATESDOTCA, you can compare quotes from more than 30 insurance providers. You might be able to find an insurance company that looks favourably on young drivers (under age 25) who are in school full-time or working full-time.


The RATESDOTCA editorial team are experienced writers focused on sharing stories and bringing you the latest news in insurance and personal finance. Our goal is to provide Canadians with the information and resources they need to make better insurance and financial decisions.

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