What Cars Are Good for a First Time Driver?

There are few things more exciting in life than getting your first car. This gives you the ultimate freedom and the flexibility to do things on your terms. While having your first vehicle is certainly great, finding one is much trickier altogether. It may be tempting to purchase an $11,000 new car, one of the cheapest new car prices in the U.S., but you`re probably better off starting with a used one as a first time driver.

What Cars Are Good for a First Time Driver 1

There are several important aspects of a car that you should look into before taking the plunge. Price is one of them, but reliability and safety should also be considered.

We`ll explain what you should keep an eye out for below so you don`t end up with a lemon as your first car.

Prioritize the Right Features

Before we start, you should understand that a cool, fast, or new car probably aren`t good choices for your first vehicle.

This is because there`s a decent likelihood that you`ll get into some form of a minor accident and an even better chance of getting scratches dents, or door dings.

All of this is fairly normal for a vehicle and it`s a good idea to have a starter car endure this so that you aren`t heartbroken when it does happen.

Furthermore, a fast and new car isn`t a good idea because you don`t know how to drive very well yet. Sporty cars tend to be tougher to drive, especially because of how much power they have.

It`s much smarter to begin with a slower used car because this will give you time to learn the basics and perfect them before moving on to a nicer ride. This will also let you appreciate your second car that much more.

You should make sure to prioritize the right features, like reliability and safety. These are also important because they tend to translate to lower insurance premiums.

Try not to get caught up in looks and instead look to what will consistently get you where you need to go. This means an easy-to-drive vehicle that starts every time. 

Low Price

While it might seem counterintuitive, you want a fairly low-priced car for your first vehicle. Price does tend to translate to quality, so you shouldn`t pick up a car that`s selling for just a few hundred dollars.

Instead, you want to keep it to the low thousands (or closer to $7k if your family can afford it) so you can find good used cars.

In this pricing bracket, you can find vehicles that are a decade or two old yet still run well. Generally speaking, you want to keep it less than 20 years old, but some models are made so well that you can`t go wrong with well-kept older variants.

Price is important because spending too much for a first-time car is just not a smart choice. You just don`t have the wisdom or experience to understand driving situations and what to avoid.

Getting in an accident or having your car stolen sucks no matter how much it costs, but it`s far less impactful when it`s a $2,000 used Honda being stolen over a brand new $26,000 Acura.


Reliability is also extremely important. After all, what good is a car if you can`t trust it to start or stay running for your whole trip?

Vehicles are meant to offer convenience and there`s absolutely nothing more inconvenient than a car that doesn`t run, constantly needs repairs, or leaves you stranded. 

This might not seem very critical before you own a car, but after the first failed start (or five), you`ll quickly realize how much it wasn`t worth it to buy a cool looking car over a reliable beater.

You`ll learn your lesson very quickly, but at that point, it`s too late to get your money back to spend on a car that runs.


Another feature that tends to get overlooked is how safe a vehicle is to drive. There are two key parts to this; how easy/safe a car is to drive and how it holds up when an accident happens.

The first part is fairly easy to address. Don`t buy a fast car and make sure you pick one that has all components working properly. Malfunctioning brakes, unaligned wheels, and a sticky gas pedal can all quickly lead to accidents, making any vehicle unsafe.

On the other hand, picking a car that will protect you in an accident tends to be a little tougher. Generally speaking, larger vehicles (like trucks and SUVs) tend to keep you much safer if an accident happens.

As a result, SUVs and trucks also tend to be more expensive. They can also be harder to drive as a new driver adjusts to having a larger vehicle to maneuver.

However, these are well worth it if you can afford the price as you have a greater chance of surviving an accident when you`re in a truck or SUV.

What Cars Fit the Bill?

Now that you know to keep an eye on the price, reliability of a vehicle, and how safe it is, you`ll want to know what cars land in this sweet spot.

In truth, there are several good choices. Keep in mind that not all cars are maintained the same, meaning that a typically reliable and safe make/model won`t stay that way if an owner doesn`t stay on top of maintenance.

Assuming that a car is looked after well, you should look for these makes/models:

  • Honda -- Civic, Accord, CRV
  • Toyota -- Corolla, Camry, Prius, Highlander
  • Mazda -- Mazda3, CX5

Hondas and Toyota tend to be as reliable as it gets, while also being safe to drive and extremely affordable. They aren`t always the prettiest to look at, but models made after 2012 tend to be designed quite well while staying true to their original formula.

Closing Thoughts

Getting a first car is certainly exhilarating, but you should make sure you have your priorities straight before looking.

The most important features of a first-time car include a fair price, absolute reliability, and high safety ratings. These are all vital to offering you a great ride and a positive experience with your first vehicle.

Try to stick to model years that are less than 20 years old, or even just 10 if you can afford it. Look for Hondas and Toyotas first, but also consider a Mazda if you`d like something different.

As exciting as a flashy new car sounds, you`ll be much better off with a well-kept used car that you can depend on to get the job done.