Young female first time car buyer holding keys to car.

Top 15 Best Used Cars for First Time Drivers

Buying your first car can be a major step for young adults and their parents alike. Both fun and exciting, driving your first vehicle gives you your first real taste of adulthood and freedom.

A great option when buying your first car is to look at used cars. Normally, you can purchase a used car, with a lot more “bells-and-whistles” (better equipped) a lot less than what it would cost to buy a brand new vehicle.

For the parents out there, I know your child’s safety and your budget is a priority. This is why I’ve created this list of the top 15 best used cars under $15,000 for first time buyers below.

The used car market is pretty hot right now. To make the list, I researched a wide variety of used cars across several vehicle segments. The cars on the list are reliable, economical, fun-to-drive, practical, and most of all, safe for the driver and passengers. As for the safety aspect of my list, I used the moderate front overlap crash test ratings for the vehicles I selected from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses – deaths, injuries and property damage – from crashes on the nation’s roads.

The vehicle prices on the list below are based on current market prices from Ryde Shopper, they reflect the lowest price I think you could buy a decent used car for in the market right now.

One of the best vehicles available to first time car buyers is the 2001 to present Honda Civic. The vehicle can go for well over 250,000 miles as long as it’s properly maintained. One of the most popular cars to ever be produced, you don’t have to worry about finding parts, accessories or aftermarket products at an affordable price.

If you’re more of a truck person, the only truck to fit within the guidelines is the 1998 – 2004 Toyota Tacoma. This compact pickup delivers great performance with its available four or six cylinder engine and comes standard with Toyota’s exceptional quality. The only disadvantage for the Tacoma is it does not get as good as gas mileage as some of the other vehicles on the list.

The 2005 – 2014 Ford Mustang is for the first time buyer who has always dreamed about owning a sports car. Combining beauty with cheap access to horsepower, the Mustang’s popularity has made it very affordable to own. Available as a six or eight cylinder, most younger adults tend to go with the 5.0 V-8 Mustang GT even though the V-6 get’s better gas mileage and is normally much cheaper on insurance premiums.

When shopping for a sports car, keep an eye out for vehicles that may have been abused by street racers or have been modified with low quality aftermarket products. These types of modifications may affect the overall durability and value of the car.

Before you go used car shopping, make sure you check out the list below to see the other vehicles on the list.

Top 15 Best Used Cars for First Time Car Buyers Under $15,000

Rank Vehicle Starting Price IIHS Crash Test Rating
1 2001 – Present Honda Civic $5,000 and Up Good
2 1999 – 2006 Toyota Celica $5,500 and Up Good
3 1998 – 2004 Toyota Tacoma $5,900 and Up Acceptable
4 2005 – 2014 Ford Mustang $6000 and Up Good
5 1998 – 2005 Lexus IS300 $6,500 and Up Good
6 2006 – Present Honda Fit $7,000 and Up Good
7 2002 – 2007 Toyota Highlander $7,000 and Up Good
8 2002 – Present Honda CR-V $7,500 and Up Good
9 2004.5 – 2012 Volvo S40 $7,900 and Up Good
10 2005 – Present Nissan Xterra $8,900 and Up Good
11 2012 – Present Ford Focus $9,000 and Up Good
12 2011 – Present Volkswagen Jetta TDI $12,500 and Up Good
13 2006 – 2015 Mazda MX5 Miata $12,500 and Up N/A
14 2010 – Present Chevrolet Equinox $14,000 and Up Good
15 2005 – 2012 Acura RL $14,500 and Up Good

Do Research Online When Used Car Shopping

Keep in mind, when buying a used car you must do two things, the first thing is to check the used car’s title history using a service such as AutoCheck to make sure the vehicle has not been in a severe accident or has a branded title. If the title shows to be clean, the second thing is always have the vehicle inspected by an independent certified mechanic before signing on the dotted line. This will greatly reduce the chances of you buying someone else’s problems.

If you’re considering the purchase of a pre-owned vehicle for your teen driver, I recommend using a free online referral services such as Ryde Shopper and Motor Trend. These services will tell you what others are paying for the vehicle you’re considering in your local area and which dealers give the greatest discounts.