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Best cars for teen drivers

Buying a new car for a teenage driver can be a headache, not to mention costly. Consumer Reports offers tips and picks.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com Autos

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Buying a car for a teen driver can be expensive in a number of ways. Obviously, the car itself costs real money. Then there are insurance costs and the eventual repair and maintenance costs.

Trying to save money on the car itself can cost you in other ways. You also have to consider reliability and, most importantly, safety.

That can be particularly complicated since you'll probably want to consider used vehicles for their lower purchase and insurance costs. That means you'll have to consider not which car but what model year you want to look for.

We asked the editors of Consumer Reports magazine to help us sort through all the considerations. Check the gallery to see ten cars they recommend for novice drivers.

Safety factors

When it comes to a new driver, bigger doesn't always mean safer. A bigger car can offer greater protection in a collision, but it can also mean a greater likelihood of getting into a collision in the first place.

"They are generally more difficult to handle," said Robert Gentile of Consumer Reports.

An inexperienced driver will have a harder time negotiating tight situations, like urban traffic, in a larger vehicle. Also, the vehicle's sheer mass can make it harder to keep under control in emergency situations. From the standpoint of insurance costs, a bigger, heavier vehicle will also do more damage to whatever it hits.

Big SUVs, in particular, should be avoided for younger drivers because their added ride height only increases all the problems of a large car. Added to all that is the greatly increased risk of a dangerous rollover accident.

Of course, larger cars and SUVs also get poor fuel economy, which will add to the expense of owning the car.

Instead, advises Consumer Reports, look for a safe midsize or small car. That would be one with good government and Insurance Institute crash test results.

Almost all vehicles these days, new or used, will have front impact airbags. Look for ones with side impact airbags, as well, particularly head-protecting side airbags. Those help protect occupants if the vehicle is struck from the side by an SUV or truck.

Also look for anti-lock brakes, which were available for most vehicles now in the used car market. Electronic stability control, which helps keep a vehicle under control during abrupt maneuvers, has been available for only a few years. It might be hard to find in a used car, but it's particularly important if you're considering an SUV.

As much as your novice driver might beg, avoid getting a performance car for a young driver. New drivers, particularly teens, have enough temptation to speed and drive aggressively without providing them with a car that practically begs for it.

"The faster you go, the more likely you are to get into trouble," said Gentile.

Besides the obvious safety implications, performance-oriented vehicles also cost more to insure. With a teen driver, your insurance premiums will be bad enough, already.

That doesn't mean your child's car has to be boring, though. Among Consumer Reports' recommended cars for teen drivers are the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Mazda3, all of which are engaging, quick, and enjoyable to drive.

Gallery:

Consumer Reports: Best cars for young drivers

Research:

Used cars

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