College students are preparing to head back to school, and many are dreaming of packing up their own car for the drive back to college. To help students and parents find the best car, CarMax, Inc., the nation’s largest retailer of used cars, and Driver’s Edge, a national nonprofit organization providing youth driver education, have teamed up to recommend the top cars for college students.

"Typically, parents’ top priorities when looking for a vehicle for their student are price, reliability, and safety, while young people are usually interested in style, features, and performance," said Ron Costa, regional vice president of purchasing for CarMax. "We recommend conducting online vehicle research first and then finding a car retailer that provides a transparent, customer-friendly, and easy car buying process."
The top cars recommended for college students that fulfill both the parents’ safety and reliability demands and the young drivers’ requirements for looks and performance include (in alphabetical order by manufacturer):

When deciding on a vehicle for a young driver, safety has to be a top consideration," said Jeff Payne, president and founder of Driver’s Edge. "Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for people under 24, outnumbering the combined deaths resulting from drug use, guns, and other violence." Driver’s Edge recommends that parents review crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when considering any vehicle, along with the advice and ratings of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The cars on the list are recommended for drivers who have at least two years of practical driving experience. (Smaller cars would not be on a list of cars recommended for true novice drivers.) Driver’s Edge and CarMax used the following criteria to select the recommended cars:

  • Each of the selected models scored at least a four star rating from NHTSA for both frontal and side impact protection in each of the last four years. Exceptions are the Ford Five Hundred and the Scion tC, each of which have only been available since 2005.
  • Each car offers an array of active safety features (e.g., anti-lock braking systems, traction control, etc.).
  • Cost and vehicle styling have been considered, but safety considerations weighed more heavily in determining the cars to recommend.
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