What parent car-shopping for their child's first car isn't fighting off mental images of bright, young college students mangled in steel in a highway crash, often due to a car manufacturer's mistake?

The death toll estimates in crashes caused by General Motors—from air bags that didn't inflate to ignition switches that turned cars off while in motion—range from the company's admitted 13 deaths to opposition claims of 74 fatalities. 

Financial advisors can allay some of their clients' fears by steering them to the latest recommendations on what has become a truly high-risk purchase.

While some parents can still afford to buy their teenager a new car, a national phone survey, conducted for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit scientific and educational organization, found 83 percent of parents who bought their teenagers a car, bought it used. Unfortunately, older cars were also associated with higher accident rates. A separate IIHS study found that “teenagers killed in crashes are more likely than adults to have been behind the wheel of small vehicles and older vehicles.” IIHS found that children are not getting many of the newer safety features later models offer, such as electronic stability control (ESC), an aid in braking and side airbags. (See the report for details.)  

“Many teenagers are driving vehicles that don't offer good crash protection and lack important safety technology,” according to IIHS. The institute's July 16 report recognizes budget constraints by listing recommended used models by year, at prices under $5,300 to $10,000.  

The following recommendations were singled out in the report:

• Young drivers should stay away from high horsepower. Bigger, heavier vehicles protect better in a crash. There are no minicars or small cars on the recommended list.
• Electronic stability control is a must.
• Vehicles should have the best safety ratings possible. At a minimum, that means good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front test, acceptable ratings in the IIHS side crash test and four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Advisors will want to keep this report handy, and possibly alert clients through their newsletters.

Here are IIHS's recommended used, mid-sized vehicles for teens priced under $10,000.

The following 13 cars are listed by price in ascending order:

Saab 9-3
2005 and later