Buying one's first car in high school or college typically means plunking down cash on a secondhand vehicle, preferably one that fits into a very specific budget. There are a number of good cheap cars for teenagers under $10,000 that satisfy the major needs of cost-conscious drivers, which usually include some combination of dependable reliability, inexpensive repair costs, decent fuel mileage, and solid practicality. Not all affordable used cars hit each and every one of these bases, but many of them can tag at least three of the four. We've put together a list of good cheap cars for teenagers under $10,000, one that recognizes that everyone's vehicle requirements are different. Some people will be commuting in these cars, some will be hauling around gear for work or band practice, and still others will be carpooling with friends. We feel this list is a good starting point for a wide range of first car needs.
1) 2006-2011 Honda Civic
The Honda Civic is a familiar name to anyone who has ever shopped for cheap car for a teenager, but what not everyone is aware of is that the previous generation of this compact sedan and coupe is more highly thought of than the newest model. The 2006-2011, eighth-generation Honda Civic manages to combine all of the standard Honda benefits, including reliability and excellent fuel mileage (up to 26 mpg city and 36 mpg highway) with a purchase price that is well south of our $10k limit. Power-wise, the 140 horses generated by the Civic's 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine are a match for the latest and greatest edition of the car, which means you won't be sacrificing much by opting for a more affordable used example.
2) 2006-2008 Toyota Corolla
The 2006-2008 model years represent the end of the ninth generation Toyota Corolla. This compelling option is the natural rival of the Civic, although it is available exclusively in compact sedan form. More sedate than the Civic when it comes to handling, a used Toyota Corolla is still a comfortable ride, and it also offers bulletproof reliability. The Corolla didn’t change much over the course of the ninth generation, which means that aside from the mileage on the odometer, older Corollas and newer Corollas are almost carbon copies. Power is in the same range as the Civic (140 ponies from a 1.8-liter engine), with fuel mileage that is a bit more impressive (30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway).
3) 2004-2009 Ford Ranger
The 2004-2009 Ford Ranger might seem like an odd suggestion as a good cheap car for a teenager, but hear us out. Single-cab Ford Rangers mean that only a limited number of friends can come along for the ride, which can help reduce the chances that a driver will be distracted out on the road. The body-on-frame design of these trucks also means that they are quite durable, and available four-wheel drive makes them useful in snowy climates. Finally, moving to the dorm is never easier than when it is done with a pickup truck. This truck doesn't offer particularly modern drivetrains, but its 143-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 26 mpg on the highway and is our pick over its available V-6 options. The Ranger was discontinued in 2012 and late model examples have held their value quite well, but shopping around for a slightly older edition can yield some good values.
4) 2008-2010 Scion xB
The 2008-2010 Scion xB is a compact crossover that features box-on-wheels styling that will appeal to very particular tastes. A love it or hate it design, the Scion xB is actually one of the most practical used cars out there, with seating for five passengers and plenty of cargo space. 2008 marked the introduction of the second generation xB, which is known for good safety ratings and great reliability. It is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine putting out 158 horsepower, a drivetrain borrowed from the Toyota Camry. This generation xB is still in production as of the 2015 model year, but seeking out an older example will yield the best value for your $10,000.
5) 2004-2007 Subaru Forester
The 2004-2007 Subaru Forester is a box of a different color, to borrow a phrase. Squared off but not quite as rectilinear as the xB, the Subaru Forester is a crossover that offers more internal volume (including 58 cubic feet of total cargo space) than the Scion. It also comes with standard all-wheel drive, which is a huge bonus for snowbelt dwellers. The Subaru Forester doesn’t feature any real trouble spots from a reliability perspective, and its base 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is a steady companion out on the highway. Fuel mileage is a bit lower than some of the other vehicles on this list (20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway), which is important to keep in mind for those who will be putting serious miles between school, home, and work.
6) 2006-2007 Mazda Mazda3
Sometimes, cheap and fun-to-drive can intersect with practicality. This is the case with the 2006-2007 Mazda Mazda3, a compact car with a lively chassis that can be had in both sedan and hatchback models. One of the most highly rated entry-level automobiles in its day, the Mazda Mazda3 has aged well and represents a strong value as a first car for teenagers. Engine choices for the Mazda3 include a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 2.3-liter four-cylinder that churns out 156 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. Look for the Touring and Grand Touring trims to make sure that you get side-impact and side curtain airbags, along with standard electronic stability control. Fuel mileage for the two engines is remarkably similar, with the smaller unit offering 32 mpg highway and the larger checking in at 29 mpg highway.
7) 2006-2007 Toyota Tacoma
Another truck on our list of good cheap cars for teenagers under $10,000? Yes, but this time for a different reason. The 2006-2007 Toyota Tacoma is larger than the Ranger we previously discussed, and is more comfortable as a daily driver, but finding a base model is key to hit that sweet spot in pricing. Used Toyota Tacomas are renowned for their reliability - as with most Toyota products of the era - and there's no denying the utility of the truck's open cargo bed and optional four-wheel drive. Four-door versions are out there, but they are most likely out of our budget unless one seeks out a higher mileage example. There are many different configurations of Tacoma, but we recommend seeking out its 2.7-liter, 159-horsepower four-cylinder for maximum value and fuel economy (20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway).
8) 2007-2012 Nissan Altima
The 2007-2012 fourth generation Nissan Altima is intended for teenagers who are looking for a comfortable long-range cruiser that doesn't disappoint when it comes to around-town handling. The Nissan Altima has a good reputation when it comes to maintenance, and it's also got a large interior and a big trunk. Fuel mileage for its 2.5-liter inline-four, 175-horsepower shows as a respectable 29 mpg highway, and even its optional 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 can turn in 27 mpg during highway driving. The Altima is a major bargain on the used market, selling for well under the $10k price cap we've placed on this list, although finding a V-6 model in this price range might require going a little older.
9) 2004-2008 Toyota Prius
It might seem unusual for a hybrid car to appear on this list of good cheap cars for teenagers, but the 2004-2008 Toyota Prius has developed a reputation as being one of the most trustworthy of the battery-powered set on the market. The second generation Toyota Prius is surprisingly practical thanks to its hatchback design, and its hybrid system is composed of a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and a pair of electric motors that together put out 110 horsepower. Frugal first-time drivers will definitely be enamored of the Prius' stellar fuel economy ratings, which show as 48 mpg in stop and go driving and 45 mpg on the highway.
10) 2005-2012 Ford Fusion
The Ford Fusion, like the Altima, is a mid-size sedan with better-than-average driving dynamics, and we're including all model years of the first generation in our recommendation (although of course, it might be tough to find a late model example at our price point). Although domestic brands take it on the chin in the public eye when it comes to repairs and maintenance, the Ford Fusion is one of the vehicles that started the rehabilitation of the image of the Blue Oval as the purveyor of reliable automobiles. The Fusion is also relatively efficient for its class, posting 28 mpg on the highway when purchased with its 160-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, and it can even be had with a manual transmission.