Worst Used Cars to Buy Your Teen
Every spring, parents around the country start thinking about buying their teens a car so they can get to and from work during the summer. Many of them are looking to purchase a car that will be reliable enough for their students to take with them to college the following fall. Since there are so many models from which to choose, we’ve compiled a list of the worst used cars to buy your teen.
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Our recommendations are based mainly on two factors: reliability and safety. Reliability is a concern given the fact that teen drivers usually don’t have a lot of money lying around to pay for maintenance and repairs. Vehicle safety is a concern for obvious reasons.
If you don’t want a lot of headaches, stay away from the following vehicles.
You might be surprised to find a luxury vehicle at the top of our list. But since the STS was discontinued in 2011, after a relatively short six-year run, you can actually find them priced pretty reasonably on the used car market. The STS was originally intended to replace the long-running Seville; one of Cadillac’s most well-received models, which was produced from 1974 through 2004.
The two main problems with the STS are its safety ratings and a host of mechanical problems that Chevrolet could never overcome.
The safety issues come by way of ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
While the STS received good ratings for front impact, the ratings for side impact were only acceptable and poor. Injuries to a driver’s pelvis and torso were considered likely in the event of a side-impact collision.
In terms of mechanical problems, Consumer Reports classified the car as “a total nightmare.” Reviewers noted a list of problems, including a malfunctioning drive train and a problematic electrical system. There were also plenty of complaints about strange noises and how poorly the body held up–two things that should never be an issue with a luxury car.
Dodge Grand Caravan (post 2007)
The Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan have been among the best-selling minivans on the market. Chrysler invented the class back in the 1980s to serve families who needed space but didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a station wagon.
Through the first couple of years of production, they were the dominant market leader in the minivan category, and with good reason. Both models were fairly reliable and reasonably priced.
Today, you can find both Caravans and Grand Caravans on the used car market at good prices.
However, according to Consumer Reports, the Grand Caravans made after 2007 aren’t worth buying.
They list a whole host of issues, including poor brake performance, poor body integrity, and persistent issues with the heating and air-conditioning systems. Only one model year since 2007 has received an “average” rating from the magazine.
Though the Grand Caravan could end up being a money pit, if you already own one it might be a good vehicle for your teen to drive, from a safety perspective. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration consistently gives the vehicle high scores for safety.
Ford Thunderbird (post 1983)
The Ford Thunderbird is one of the most iconic cars in American automotive history. Some suggest that it’s eclipsed only by the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet GTO.
Regardless of your take on the matter, the first eight generations of the vehicle (manufactured between 1955 and 1982) are tough and reliable, and still sought by collectors for restoration. But Ford changed the way it was manufacturing the cars beginning with the ninth generation in 1983.
Ford undertook a complete overhaul with this new generation in order to make up for lackluster sales in the previous years. Yet their redesign went too far, with a shorter wheelbase, a new Fox body, and the brand-new turbocharged engine. Ford never quite got it right, resulting in a host of mechanical problems through the end of the T-bird’s production in 2005.
Though the Thunderbird Coupes of the late 1990s still have their fans, Consumer Reports recommends that drivers stay away from post-1983 Thunderbirds.
They list issues with the cooling system, transmission, electrical system, and engine.
Volkswagen New Beetle
The New Beetle made its debut in 1998 as a nostalgic look back to one of the more popular cars of the 1960s “hippie” era. In a bid to relive their younger, years parents can be be tempted to purchase a New Beetle for their teens. If you’re tempted, don’t do it. Just remember what the original Beetle was like if you have any questions.
In fairness, the New Beetle is certainly a step up from its vintage older brother produced between 1938 and 2003. At the same time, there are safety concerns and lots of engine problems with the newer version.
According to Consumer Reports, the turbo models prior to 2012 have the most engine problems. As for safety questions, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the New Beetle a poor rating for side impact.
If you know anything about Mazda, you might be surprised to see the RX-8 on our list of worst used cars for teens. We are even a little surprised, given the fact that the car has won so many awards from prestigious magazines as Car and Driver and Wheels.
Despite being consistently ranked as one of the top new cars during its production run from 2003 to 2012, the Mazda RX-8 apparently doesn’t hold up well as it ages.
According to MSN Autos and Automotive Information Systems, a company that provides vehicle service information to car repair shops, the RX-8 tends to quickly develop serious engine problems. They don’t specify exactly what those problems are, but engine issues are something you definitely don’t want for your teen driver.
The organization also listed problems with the air conditioning and ignition in cold weather. Furthermore, Edmunds’ forum discussions recommend that buyers stay away from 2004 models because of engine and drivetrain issues.
Pontiac brought the G6 to market in 2004 to replace its wildly popular Grand Am model. Unfortunately, the car had issues right from the start.
From the perspective of parents with teen drivers, safety issues should be at the top of their list.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, all model years for the G6 suffer from structural design defects. This led the organization to give the car only an “acceptable” rating for side impact, despite the inclusion of side door airbags.
There are also few more worrisome issues from a mechanical standpoint. At the top of the list is a cooling system leak prevalent in G6s made for the 2005 and 2006 model years. Other notable mechanical problems include faulty fuel gauges, electrical system malfunctions, and unexplained noises.
The Jeep CJ7 dominated the sport-utility market in America up through the early 1980s. It was a military vehicle adapted for civilian use and marketed for its rugged reliability. When it was discontinued, AMC began production of the Wrangler to take its place.
Under the direction of both AMC and Chrysler, the Wrangler enjoyed fairly decent sales despite its hefty price tag. Unfortunately, the vehicle has never lived up to its reputation.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek has called the Wrangler one of the most iconic U.S. cars over the past 25 years. What they fail to mention is a long list of complaints about the vehicle’s electrical systems and transmission.
Consumer Reports research shows that customer complaints for the Wrangler are especially high given the fact that the price tag is so steep.
Rugged good looks notwithstanding, a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a poor transmission is probably one you want to stay away from.
Last on our list is the Chrysler Sebring, a mid-size sedan produced between 1995 and 2010. First-generation Sebrings (up through model year 2001) are not bad cars for the money if you can still find them. But, beginning with the second generation, Chrysler dropped the ball in several key areas.
J.D. Power and Associates reflects that with an overall design and performance rating of no more than two circles for most of the models.
Consumer Reports lists issues including drivetrain malfunctions, engine cooling issues, and problems with the suspension and handling. Perhaps the most serious of all has to do with faulty brake systems.
The magazine says the vehicle is certainly not worth the price tag if it’s more than what the Kelley Blue Book lists. Even at that price, the used Sebring could end up being a money pit with which you don’t want your teen having to deal.
When it comes to purchasing used cars, it’s always somewhat of a gamble.
But do the research and concentrate on cars that get high satisfaction and safety ratings. At least then you’ll have one less thing to worry about regarding your teen driver.
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