The best used cars for teens

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Look for a three- to four-year-old vehicle with as few miles as possible. Our 10 smart moves for buying a great used car can help you find an affordable, reliable car that hasn't been abused.

We won't list prices here, because they vary so much. But when you've found one you like, use or Kelley Blue Book to see how much it's worth.

Honda Civic

The Civic is the used market's gold standard for compact cars. It carries high resale value. But accept the "Civic premium," and you get one of the most proven and reliable cars in the class.

Most recent models have the same engine regardless of price, but watch for antilock brakes, which are not standard on less-expensive versions. We'd advise against leather and other unnecessary add-ons.

Civic is top of the class for another reason: outstanding handling and great outward visibility. We think these are key attributes for new drivers.

The Civic should have at least some cachet with your kid, because it's so popular with tuners -- 21st-Century hot rodders with a passion for customizing small cars. (Check out any of the "Fast and Furious" movies or video games to see what we mean.)

It's OK to consider the Civic Coupe, which has the sharper profile teens prefer. It's a big seller that won't boost your insurance costs as much as most two-door models.

Pontiac Vibe

Here's a highly useful hatchback that, under the skin, really is a Toyota. The Vibe is the mechanical twin of the Toyota Matrix, and both were built in a California plant shared by General Motors and Toyota.

Apart from its wonderful utility, we like the Vibe for its bulletproof, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. It's famously underpowered, once again fulfilling our first rule of equipping a teenage driver: Puny engines are your friend.

The safety equipment is fairly comprehensive, and it's not hard to find Vibes with antilock brakes. Recent models even have optional stability control and side-curtain airbags.

Why do we choose the Vibe instead of the Toyota Matrix? There are a lot more Vibes, and they tend to be cheaper than a comparable Matrix.


The Mazda3 is not the cheapest, best-equipped, or the easiest to find compact car.

But it's the one you want to park in your driveway, because your kid will never be ashamed of its sophisticated looks and you'll never be disappointed if you occasionally have to drive it yourself.

Until recently, the Mazda3 was carrying the same kind of resale values as Honda's Civic, even though it hasn't equaled the Civic's reliability.

Put when the Mazda3 was redesigned for 2010, prices for the outstanding (and many say better-looking) first-generation cars finally started to become reasonable.

Most males seem to prefer the five-door hatchback to the more standard four-door sedan, but both are fine cars. We lean toward the sedan just because more were sold and they are cheaper than the five-door.

Try to avoid the widely sold base models (particularly with the two-liter engine) because most weren't sold with antilock brakes.

In 2006, ABS became standard for all Mazda3s with the 2.3-liter engine, so this is one of the few times we'd recommend stepping up to the larger powerplant (it's not that much more powerful, actually).