Top 10 Cars for Teens for Under $10,000


Sep 1, 2001 (Updated Aug 5, 2002)


The Bottom Line When you go shopping for cars try to be certain of your priorities and likes. My list contains good first cars that should appeal to almost everyone.

Driving is an awesome privledge that brings with it lots of fun and also some needed advice on purchasing that very important first car that we all can't wait to acquire. I am a 19 year old and have been driving my own car for 2 years now. ('93 Acura Integra Sedan) My goal in this epinion is to give teens several realistic purchasing suggestions that would make for excellent first cars. I feel these choices embody essential qualities, while still considering "good" styling and fun performance.

General Qualities to Look for- I feel that there are several qualities that will make a teen's first car more enjoyable and a wiser purchase. These include.....

- high reliability (most teens will need their cars to get them through all of high school and hopefully college. But reliability is also very important for used cars that are past their warranteed years. Excessive repairs will defenitly drain your wallet, and if a car becomes too problem ridden to drive, you may have to purchase another car.)

- Fuel Economy (an important player in long-term costs.)

- Transmission (I recommend automatics in general for new drivers, though those with an opportunity to learn a manual from someone like a parent should do so. I think automatics give a new driver one less thing to worry about, and nowadays there is rarely a worry about seriously hindering accleration or fuel economy. The last couple years have seen the rapid adaptation of 5 and 6-speed automatics and 6-speed manuals, primarily in the more expensive sport sedans, but they are now finding their way into many more models as well. In short, I want to alert people to the fact that they should not expect to find 5-speed autos or 6-speed manuals on most of the cars in this list even ones dating only maybe a couple years. But, you should be sure to get at least a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual. These are certainly plenty prevalent.)

- Comfort (you should be able to adjust the seats and mirrors to fit you comfortable. Don't forget to test whether the steering wheel tilts, how far the seat moves, how cool the AC is, etc...)

- Safety (safety is one area that should not be overlooked. Unfortunetly teen accident rates are higher,and also, teens should feel more secure knowing they have basic safety protections. Be aware that models from the early '90s may even lack air bags and anti-lock brakes. Fortunately, these were rapidly adopted, though, and most models on the list that are '94 and later should have them, but I recommend you double-check to be sure about whether your car does contain them with the seller, especially anti-lock brakes which were sometimes an extra option. They also may justify a slightly higher price. )

- Handling (This is an important quality that will enable newer drivers to feel more in control. I have found that regular cars are the best in terms of handling)

- Smaller better than large (By smaller, I mean generally family size or mid-size and down. I think that smaller cars provide better handling and are easier for a newer driver to manuver safely in tight areas, emergency stops, and parking situations. They are usually more fuel efficient as well. They will also have lower prices than most SUVs. I am not ruling out large cars as good choice, but I think that a teen should definitly take an opportunity to compare it with a smaller car.)

Top 10 Cars for Teens:

(to efficiently use space and help the reader, I will list top qualities of each marked by a dash- and a few noteworthy negatives marked by a exclamation point! Car generations are listed to help you denote when updates to the model took place. I will only list and consider model years 1988 and later, as earlier is simply too old in my opinion for a new driver.)

1. Honda Civic
- Honda's are well-known for high reliability
- smaller, but still a nice enough size
- cool factor: Honda's are very popular among teens and young adults
- will last for many miles
- priced very affordably
- excellent handling
- fuel efficiency, mostly in the 30s, some in the 40s
- there are several trim lines, so you can pick one that suits you well (sedan, coupe, hatchback)
- high demand means that resale is usually not a problem
! road noise
! fair acceleration/power for some versions.
! rear seat room
! a few older models may come with a 4speed manual
1. 1988-1991 4cyl 62-105hp. Most are in DX/LX/CRX trim with the 92hp engine. Si model has 105hp. Hatchback 70hp
2. 1992-1995 4cyl 70-125hp. Si/EX 125hp, DX/LX/S 102hp, CX hatchback 70hp, VX hatchback 92hp (extremel efficient)
3. 1996-2000 4cyl 106-127hp. CX/DX/LX 106hp. EX 127hp, HX 115hp coupe.
4. 2001- 4cyl 115-160hp. DX/LX 115hp, EX 127hp, Si 160hp

2. Ford Focus
- reasonable starting price means you can get an almost new one.($12,000 - 16,000 new)
- small and nimble
- several different trims and styles will help you get what you need.
- a new model: has newer safety features and current styling
- fuel economy
- very good overall handling and visibility.
! fair reliability so far for this new model
! power/acceleration, SVT more expensive
1. 1999- 4cyl 110-130hp SVT 170

3. Nissan Maxima
- upscale nissan model means you get many nice features
- power/acceleration excellent - top 10 engine 8 yrs running
- even older models, esp. past generation have very nice styling that is still contemporary
- a medium sized car that will fit a lot in it
- excellent reliability
- very popular among all ages; projects a good image
- among the most comfortable cars I have sat in - front or back.
- This would be my top choice if you can get a good deal on it, but that can be tough, as this car has a very lofty reputation. All model years are very good.
! may need to look back to 95 and earlier for pricing under $10,000
1. 1989-1994 V6 160-190hp
2. 1995-1999 V6 190hp
3. 2000- V6 222-255hp

4. Acura Integra/RSX
- an upscale civic
- extremely reliable
- low depreciation rate
- will go many miles(have been known to go 200,000 - 250,000 mi)
- sporty coupe/hatchback or sedan available (RS/LS/GS-R/Type R)
- costs more than civic, but is still usually reasonbly priced for added features
- very popular among high school and college age people
- high demand is great for resale
- powerful and great handling, with still good fuel economy
! road noise
! rear seat room
1. 1988-1989 4cyl 118hp
2. 1990-1993 4cyl 140hp/GS-R coupe 170hp
3. 1994-2001 4cyl 140hp/GS-R coupe 170hp/Type R 195hp
4. 2002- 4cyl 160-200hp


5. Nissan Altima
- Altima is smaller than Maxima, hence more affordable, and still a little bit larger than Civic/Integra.
- excellent handling
- very good reliability
- a practical choice for any kind of driving
- widely available
- comfortable
- performs very well in almost all areas, though not exceptionally. A good starting car.
! So-so interior in second generation, some mundane aspects.
1. 1993-1997 4cyl 150hp
2. 1998-2001 4cyl 155hp
3. 2002- 4cyl 175hp, V6 240hp (huge increase in size)

6. Honda Accord
- available in three trim levels(DX,LX, and EX) to suit your liking
- mostly reasonably priced(!higher trims can be pricey, esp. V6)
- moderately sized, good rear seat space
- good handling
- low depreciation rate
- many on market, so availability is good
- past models look good
- excellent all-around car
- great reliability and has held up well in appearance
! designed to appeal more towards adults, in general
! if you need a V6, go with the Maxima. The accord's just isn't that powerful and is overpriced. Acceleration is fair overall in newer model yrs.
1. 1988-1989 4cyl 98-120hp
2. 1990-1993 4cyl 125-140hp
3. 1994-1997 4cyl 130-145hp
4. 1998-2002 4cyl 150hp : V6 200hp
* New model expected for fall of 2003 for both sedan and coupe.

7. Toyota Camry
- a nice all-around, medium sized car, rear seat very usable with plenty of space.
- top seller for the last several years
- good craftsmanship
- top-notch reliability 1996 and later, still good reliability in earlier models, but some problems are more frequent so have the mechanic do a careful check.
- a few trim levels
- low depreciation rate
- nice but without frills interior ambiance
! mundane (appearance and tons of them on streets)
! functions very comparatively to most others on list, but popularity means it is often more pricey.
1. 1988-1991 4cyl 115hp, V6 153hp
2. 1992-1996 4cyl 125hp, V6 188hp
3. 1997-2001 4cyl 133hp, V6 194hp
4. 2002- 4cyl 157hp, V6 192hp

8. Nissan Sentra
- very affordable vehicle, but you mostly get good stuff for what you pay.
- small, but not too small to feel vulnerable
- excellent gas mileage
- good build quality
- great reliability
! lacks personality, very mundane
! fair engine power
! somewhat cramped rear.
! not a whole lot of cargo space
! Absolutely avoid all automatics 88-90, as they are only 3 speed transmission, which is unnecessarily horrendous. Many also have only 4speed manual which is not optimal.
1. 1988-1990 4cyl 90hp (I do not recommend these model yrs)
2. 1991-1994 4cyl 110hp-140hp. I do not recommend "E" trim sedan with 3speed automatic trans, all the rest have fine transmissions.
3. 1995-1999 4cyl 115hp
4. 2000- 4cyl 126-175hp. Most will have 126hp or 145. Sentra SE-R and Spec V have higher outputs.

9. Ford Mustang
- very sporty model, hence very cool
- nice features, esp. higher trim lines
- very powerful/great acceleration
- good ride and handling
- available in several trim lines and styles
- shouldn't be a problem to find one
* Reliability generally sound, but avoid model yr 95 if possible, they are more problem prone.
! comfort
! may depreciate more heavily than other choices
! fuel economy
1. 1988-1993 I-4 105hp, V8 225hp
2. 1994-1998 V6 150hp, V8 215-305hp
3. 1999- V6 190hp, V8 260-390hp

10. Volkswagen Jetta
- medium size
- does most things very well
- cool company and cool car
- fuel economy
- handling
- low depreciation
! Reliability fair for some model years
! try hard to get a newer one (96 or sooner). Volkswagen has been making leaps and bounds in its product in recent years.
1. 1988-1992 I-4 52-134hp: all automatics only 3speed
2. 1996-1998 I-4 115hp, fuel efficient TDI I-4 90hp,V6 172hp
3. 1999- I-4 115-180hp, TDI I-4 90hp, V6 201hp

Other Good Choices
- Chevrolet/Geo Prizm:an economy car that was built in a joint venture between GM and Toyota. Has excellent reliability reputation and functions well, but is an economy car.
- Chevrolet Malibu: redesign several yrs back yielded an all-around competent performer that is a family sedan.
- Ford Escort: Economy car that preceded the focus.
- Mazda Protege: Another economy car that has a good reputation, but does not excel in any one area.
- Nissan Sentra: nissan's lowest model in the states. It is a compact.
- Toyota Corolla: below a Camry. Little emphasis on style, but has held-up well.
- Toyota Celica:a sporty model that well-liked, but a little pricier.

I hope this list has been helpful to you. I took a good deal of time and effort to try to help you by providing honest information and opinion. I hope that you end up with a car you really like.



*reliability ratings are primarily based on Consumer Reports' Findings.

Read all comments (9)

About the Author


Epinions Most Popular Authors - Top 500

Reviews written: 15
View all reviews by Stereo_83