Safety group: Heavier autos best for teens

It says plenty of good options that are also affordable

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Stay away from the muscle cars and go with bigger, heavier vehicles when shopping for a car for your teen, an insurance safety group said April 12 in releasing its annual list of the best vehicles for young drivers.

A big-engine muscle car in the hands of a teenager can set the stage for disaster. On the other hand, a minicar may carry an attractive lower sticker price, but somewhat bigger vehicles offer more protection than a gumdrop-shaped little car.

And something few parents think about — electronic stability control — can reduce the risk of a fatal, single-vehicle crash almost by half, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said. The list includes the 49 best choices starting under $20,000 and 82 choices starting at under $10,000.

“Good crash protection is more affordable than ever, so there’s no need to skimp on safety when it comes to a vehicle for a young driver,” said David Zuby, IIHS’s executive vice president and chief research officer.

Almost half of teen fatalities result from accidents of some sort, and nearly three-quarters of them are car crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The IIHS, which evaluates cars through crash tests and with data from insurance companies, has been recommending the best cars for teens since 2014. This year, for the first time, the group said, a small overlap front crash — similar to most crashes that are not head-on — was among the factors used in the evaluations.

The IIHS left cars with powerful motors off the list and advised opting for the base-model engine on those available with more horsepower, cautioning that teens “may be tempted to test the limits of a powerful engine.”

It left the smallest cars off the best-choice list as well, saying midsize cars and smaller SUVs are OK.

And every car on the list has electronic stability control, which has been required on all new vehicles since 2012, to help keep a car under control on slippery roads and curves.

The IIHS turned to Kelley Blue Book to help set prices on the vehicles that made its list.

“Choosing a safe vehicle for your teen is of paramount importance, and settling on a vehicle your family can afford is also very important,” said Jack Nerad, a market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

When venturing into the used-car market, the IIHS stressed the importance of checking to see if the car has any outstanding recalls, something that can be determined by obtaining the vehicles 17-digit vehicle identification number and searching the database of the National Highway Traffic Administration.

The IIHS cautioned that the recall of Takata air bags has affected virtually all makes and models of vehicles. The risk posed by the air bags, which can explode and spray metal shrapnel at driver and passengers, increases over the lifetime of the car.