Best back-to-school cars under $12000 – Chicago Tribune
Everyone remembers their first. It might have been good, it was more likely bad, but it is almost universally remembered with tenderness.
A first car promises freedom, along with the burden of responsibility that comes with it. A first car is adulthood.
Handing down the family truckster — resurrecting that sunk cost into the grateful hands of a teen — is no longer the rite of passage it once was. The proliferation of advanced safety features in modern cars makes them better equipped to limit or prevent crashes altogether.
These historically safe new cars are also historically expensive.
The average transaction price of a new car — just under $34,000 — is about the same price as one year at private college, according to the College Board.
Excuse my chest pains.
Since parents aren’t made of money, despite kids’ expectations to the contrary, we recommend off-lease or “near-new” cars under three years old that cost less than half of the original sticker price, but still come with key safety features to placate parents and enough USB ports to please teens.
Last fall, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released its second annual safest used cars for teens (expect the third annual list in the fall), urging parents to consider these five points when buying a used car for a teen:
•Avoid high horsepower cars.
•Avoid cute but crushable microcars.
•Do a VIN search to check a car’s recall history.
•Look for side curtain air bags, which protect the head and chest area in the event of side-impact crashes.
•Make sure the car comes with electronic stability control, which applies brakes to individual wheels when a car is skidding, thereby reducing the likelihood of rollover crashes.
Mandated on every new car made after September 2011, stability control has been called the most significant safety feature since the seat belt.
Here is a list of our favorite newer cars that come with electronic stability control, are top safety picks by the insurance institute, and could be found for under $12,000, according to searches on iSeeCars.com. The average used car price parents paid for their teen’s car was $9,800, according to an insurance institute survey of 500 parents. Most on our list — but not all — can be found for under $10,000.
2011 Hyundai Elantra or later: Arguably the best bang for your buck in compact sedans for the past five years, the fifth generation Elantra (2011 to 2016) never looked or felt like a budget car, but kept costs low and delivered excellent fuel economy of 32 mpg combined. It was voted the North American Car of the Year for 2012.
2011 Chevrolet Volt or later: It’s a great time to buy used plug-in hybrids and, to a lesser extent, hybrids. The appeal of this car depends on overnight access to an electrical outlet, but for eco-conscious young people who must drive, the first generation Volt is a steal. It had a 38-mile all-electric range, great for the student who has to drive to classes, but also has a gas-powered generator that can help power it for 380 miles on those epic college road trips.
2012 Toyota Prius V or later: While finding a smaller, cheaper Prius will be easier, this hybrid wagon launched for 2012 has 50 percent more interior room than the original. It’s ideal for the commuter student, the weekend homer, or for one who expects to be driving around town to a lot of internships.
2014 Mazda3 or later: Redesigned for 2014, this fun but fuel-efficient compact comes as a sedan or a hatchback. We prefer the latter for its good looks and versatility in hauling 5 friends or loading up the bedroom to move into the dorm room. Bonus points for the endangered six-speed manual that comes standard with the 2-liter engine. It averages 33 mpg combined. We only found one within 50 miles at our price range.
2010 Subaru Outback or later: The AWD Outback holds its value well and people hold onto them forever, so finding a near new model under $12,000 will come with some baggage. You can’t go wrong with the fourth generation (2009 to 2014) Swiss Army knife of utility vehicles, but the 2010 came with a continuously variable transmission that helped boost fuel economy to 24 mpg combined in the four-cylinder.
2010 to 2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen: Based on the Golf hatch, this European-styled “wagen” is a more stylish take on the Outback. While we obviously can’t recommend the diesel TDI engine, the five-cylinder gas engine with the six-speed auto gets 25 mpg combined. If you’ve had enough wagon recommendations, check out the outstanding 2015 Golf.
2011 Honda Odyssey: If we’re showing our preference for wagons, we best include the best minivan of the recent era. The first model year for the fourth generation (2011 to 2016) minivan came with backup camera and stability control standard and is an ideal family hauler to pass down to college-bound kids who expect to be driving teammates, dorm mates or siblings.
If you prefer tall wagons to regular wagons, then join the multitudes buying crossovers.
2014 Ford Escape: Escape was redesigned for 2013 (and again for 2017) and had a whopping 13 recalls, but by the subsequent year this stylish and loaded compact crossover was one of the best at its price point. We prefer the punchy but fuel efficient 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder, but to find one under $12,000 will most likely come with a lot of miles.
2011 Kia Sportage or later: Redesigned for 2011, this compact crossover does everything well. It looks distinct inside and out, gets 25 mpg combined, is versatile yet sporty and was well-regarded by critics and owners.
Pickup truck: The insurance institute found 14 percent of teens drive pickups, and even though we’d prefer the midsize pickup like the Toyota Tacoma for college life, they’re not as safe as an older Honda Ridgeline, or more expensive Toyota Tundra or Ford F-150.