The 10 Best First Cars For Drivers On A Budget

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Photo: comedy_nose via flickr

While kids often dream of having a Mustang, Porsche, or an Audi for their first car, the truth is that these are often not viable candidates.One big consideration that is heavy on the mind of every parent is price. With the economy still in rough shape, the money is just not available to spend exorbitant amounts on that first car.

Many teenagers will also be pitching in their own savings to help with the purchase.

But a bigger consideration is safety. If you are buying a car for your child, you want to make sure they are as safe as possible. After all, they are the most important thing in your life.

As for your children, the only thing that they will care about is not looking like a loser when they are on the road. In the past, many were just happy to have wheels. But now, times have changed, and a car is as much a fashion accessory and gadget as it is a mode of transportation.

To make our list, we focused on cars that are available on the market right now for under $10,000. We also looked for ones that are reliable, fun to drive, comfortable, attractive, economical, and most of all, safe.

For safety, we checked out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) rankings and ratings where applicable for the cars we selected.

In order to establish the current market pricing, we perused prices of recent sales of these cars on eBay Motors. We only used cars that had a clear title and were in drivable condition. We also tried to make sure the cars had an average amount of mileage.

Many people also need to factor the cost of insurance to the purchase price. We would estimate that a teen on his or her parent’s plan would need to pay an additional $1,000 to $2,000 over the price of the car per year, depending on the level of coverage and location.

If we missed a car that you think is ideal for a first time driver or you disagree, please let us know what it is and why it should be considered in the comments.

1980s - 1990s Mercedes Diesel

Starting price: $900 and up

IIHS crash test rating: N/A

Why?: Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mercedes built some of the most durable and tank like cars on the road. Its diesel models were the biggest tanks of them all.

These cars can run for hundreds of thousands of miles and never have a problem in the engine. Other parts of the car may start to break, but in our research we have seen that even a series of the most extensive repairs should not cost more than $1,000.

Plus, how could a kid hate driving around in a big Mercedes?

1982 - 1992 BMW 3-Series

Starting price: $2,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: N/A

Why?: The E30 generation 3-Series is a classic design that has yet to truly grow old. Many consider this generation of 3-Series to be the quintessential BMW. It is also a great car to learn how to drive in. Most are rear-wheel-drive and are equipped with a manual transmission, making them a true driving experience.

There are all-wheel-drive variants available as well that are just demons in the snow. The engines are very reliable and once again, like the Mercedes, fairly inexpensive to repair.

Safety would be the biggest concern. There are no airbags in these cars, so that is a big consideration before taking the plunge.

2001 - 2007 Volvo S60

Starting price: $2,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good (side impact average)

Why?: Volvo has always been a byword for safety. High crash test ratings are Volvo's goal, making the car ideal to house a teenager.

These cars do have some mechanical gremlins that can rear their head if the vehicle has not been properly maintained. Make sure the previous owner kept up to date on routine service; a record is always a big help.

Styling on these cars is also much more attractive than previous generations. Volvo eschewed boxiness for some curves. The turbocharged models also have some pep when you step on the gas.

2004 - 2009 Mazda3

Starting price: $3,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good (Side impact Poor on cars without side impact airbags)

Why?: The Mazda3 is a fun little car to drive. Of all the cars we have listed here, the Mazda3 definitely put driving dynamics very high on the priority list.

The compliant chassis is not overpowered, meaning that it inspires confidence in the corners and will keep kids safe.

2000 - 2010 Honda Civic

Starting price: $4,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why?: The Honda Civic is bullet proof. If properly maintained, the car can go for well over 200,000 miles without any issues. As one of the most popular cars in the world, spares are easy to come by and repairs are not outrageously expensive.

Being popular means that there is a large aftermarket support for the car, so kids can customise a Civic to their liking for not much money. Also, the sporty and practical Si hatchback from the early 2000s is now available for under $10,000. And since it was only available with a manual gearbox, it teaches a good lesson.

The 2006-2010 Civic Si is still just out of reach, but should be in range over the next few years.

1999 - 2010 Volkswagen Golf/Jetta TDI

Starting price: $4,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why?: Both generations of Golf and Jetta are now ducking below the $10,000 mark. Our vote is for the turbodiesel version of the car. While many of the examples you can find online have mileage of over 100,000, these cars can go forever.

The TDI also returns outrageously good fuel economy and has plenty of low end torque. It's quick off the line, but it is not close to the fastest car in its class.

2006 - 2010 Hyundai Sonata

Starting price: $4,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good (Side impact Average on cars with side impact airbags)

Why?: Hyundai has seen a massive increase in quality over the last decade. The cars are now competitors to those from any other nation.

And if you are willing spend closer to $10,000 on a lower mileage model, it will still be under warranty. No worries on repair costs here.

Complaints? It is a tad generic looking and the driving dynamics are not particularly enthralling.

2001 - 2004 Ford Focus SVT

Starting price: $5,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good (Side impact Poor on cars without side impact airbags)

Why?: The Focus SVT is our performance choice on the list. The first generation Focus soldiered on in America from 1998 all the way until last year. While the body design changed, the underpinnings remained the same.

In 2001, Ford put a 170 horsepower Zetec engine in the Focus hatchback to create a small performance machine. It has enough power to be quick, but not too much to truly get the driver in trouble. The hatchback design also lets lets teens load piles of stuff in the back.

2002 - 2007 Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS

Starting price: $5,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why?: The 2.5 RS is the perfect car for the new driver that lives in a colder climate. The all-wheel-drive system will keep them out of trouble and the 2.5 liter flat four will be as reliable as a small tractor.

We are not in favour of inexperienced drivers having the turbo WRX. While it's an incredibly fun car, we have seen a number of people injured in them during our time in high school.

If the teen has previous driving experience or is wise beyond his years, the WRX is a perfectly fine choice. But those people come few and far between.

2004 - 2010 Toyota Prius

Starting price: $9,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good (Side impact Poor on cars without side impact airbags, Good on cars with)

Why?: The price on the second generation Prius has just begun to drop below $10,000. For those kids these days that are green conscious, it is probably the dream car.

But you might also be entering a world of unknowns. Since the Prius has only been around for 10 years, there are questions about long term reliability.

If the batteries go down hill, you are looking at a very expensive repair.

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