8 Affordable, Snap-Worthy Rides for Wisconsin Teens

Teen driving with dad in passenger seat

You’re busy – we know. We also know that you’re busy enough without the added strain of carting one or more teenagers to and from school, to soccer practice, or to their friends’ houses. The easiest way to add some hours back into your schedule is to get them a car of their own. But, will that car be safe? Can you afford it? As you’ll see in this blog post, the answers are “yes” and “heck yes” – let’s get started.

Here are eight super-affordable cars for teenagers, matched with their personality and interests. In short, your teen might just wear out their Snapchat fire filter sending photos to friends.

1. The Outdoorswoman

2011 Subaru Outback | $9,715 | $286 Estimated Monthly Payment*

subaru olympus

Photo via Flickr

Easy to drive with balanced handling and standard all-wheel drive, the 2011 Outback is the perfect used ride for teens who spend more time hiking than they do in front of the PS4. Its max 71.3 cubic feet (nearly equal to the 2018 Toyota Highlander, for reference) is spacious enough to hold pretty much any gear she’d need to tote to hike at Peninsula State Park or explore Lake Superior’s Ice Caves. The Outback has high ground clearance, making off-road adventures (and trips to school and back in snowy weather) safe and easy.

2. The Rocker

2011 Mazda Mazdaspeed3 | $12,166 | $358 Estimated Monthly Payment*
mazda 3 speed for teenager driver
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If your teen worked all summer to afford a new sound system, high-end headphones, or tickets to Summerfest, you’re in the right place. Back in 2011 when this ride was new, it made Popular Mechanics’ “Top 10 Cars for Audiophiles.” It’s the first entry on the list, with PM noting, “the 265-watt stereo still delivers crisp, balanced sound and a surprising thump from the subwoofer cleverly mounted inside the spare tire. It’s a great, traditional audio setup in a lively car that’s already famous for its bang-for-the-buck dominance.” Affordable? Check. Perfect for your teen music buff? Check-times-infinity. Get it now and they’ll have it for Eaux Claires this summer.

Have sticker shock from our second-most expensive car? There are a few ways to mitigate this $TRE$$:

  • Split the payment with your teen. Having them put up 50% of the cost themselves will guarantee they drive safely and take extra-awesome care of their car.
  • Have them pay for insurance. Again – this will make your teen a safer driver, as reckless driving will just jack up their payment (and decrease their fun funds).
  • Match with savings. To help your teen learn some financial responsibility, have them match a dollar amount for every month that you pay for their car. Encourage them to sock away that money in a savings or checking account for college or a rainy day.
  • Start planning early. If your teen isn’t quite of driving age yet, have them start saving money for a down payment now.
  • Explain loan payment calculations. Help them understand down payments, APRs, and what the length of the loan means. This resource may help you illustrate your lesson.

3. The Environmentalist

2010 Toyota Prius | $8,807 | $259 Estimated Monthly Payment*
toyota prius for teenager
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Prius has become the archetypal hybrid – “tissue” is to “Kleenex” as “hybrid” is to “Prius.” Thus, teens with environmental leanings will appreciate this model more than other kinds of cars. 2010’s iteration is among CNBC’s “Best Used Cars for Teens” based on its ample cargo room, high safety and reliability scores, and, of course, great gas mileage. It’s also under 100 horsepower, so your future Peace Corps member won’t be speeding anywhere.

4. The Sporty Type

2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Sport Wagon 4D | $12,638 | $377 Estimated Monthly Payment*
subaru impreza
Photo via juanelo, Flickr

Whether or not your teen has ever played the game Gran Turismo, if they love fast cars, they’re likely familiar with the famous all-wheel drive Subaru WRX. In our opinion, it’s the perfect blend of performance car and practical commuter, with a 2.5-liter, 265 horsepower turbo-charged engine, a comfy cabin, and an IIHS Top Safety Pick title from the year it launched. When they can feel like Vin Diesel and be safe at the same time, everybody wins.

5. The Safety Nut

2012 Buick Verano | $10,601 | $312 Estimated Monthly Payment*
buick verano for a teenage driver
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

US News gives the 2012 Verano 10/10 in safety, with other accolades like “strong brakes,” “comfortable ride,” and “upscale,” leading us to want one of these high-end sedans for ourselves. If your teen is just as concerned about safety as you are, the Verano is a cute, sporty compact with a swank pedigree that everyone will like.

6. The Gear Head

2010 Volkswagen GTI 4-Door | $10,194 | $300 Estimated Monthly Payment*
financing for a VW car
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Is your teen a builder or tinkerer? Do they have an interest in mechanics? If so, an iconic hatchback that’s a blast to drive might be perfect for them. The Volkswagen GTI has been around for nearly four decades, and it’s always been a critic favorite for its sporty looks, impressive street performance, and customizability. A GTI is more than a way to get from point A to point B – it’s a hobby and, potentially, a lifelong passion. (Case in point: this gorgeous MK7.)

7. The Penny Saver

2007 Honda Accord | $6,061 | $197 Estimated Monthly Payment*
honda money saving car
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Dependable and economical – these are the best words with which to describe this popular mid-sized sedan. As US News describes, “Even a 10-year-old model … features excellent performance and strong safety scores.” It also boasts strong resale value, even on older models. So, when your teen’s ready to upgrade, it’ll be a simple process to get this vehicle off your hands.

8. The Forward-Thinker

2016 Toyota RAV4 LE | $20,103 | $305 Estimated Monthly Payment**
toyota rav4 family car financed by credit union
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The RAV4 is the priciest and newest on our list, but that’s for a few good reasons. Consumer Reports lists the model as the most reliable small SUV on the market. Edmunds agrees, saying the 2016 RAV4, “enjoys one of the best reliability reputations in its segment.” Furthermore, it benefits from stellar safety ratings. So, while this car might be costlier than the others we’ve reviewed, it may get you through two or more teens as the go-to hand-me-down starter car for your family for years to come. (Note: because this car has longevity, we’ve used a 72-month loan rate to estimate the monthly payment.)

Now that you’ve got wheels on the brain, remember: buying a car is much easier if you’re preapproved before you set foot on the lot. NerdWallet explains, “getting preapproved puts you in a stronger negotiating position, helps you get a better interest rate, and simplifies the dealership experience.”

Why not do that with a financial institution you trust? Our rates are competitive and our Member Advisors are total auto financing aficionados. Explore rates, get pre-approved, and shop for the wheels you (and your teen) want today!

Now that you’re clearing “drop Spencer at Garrett’s” from your schedule, what are you going to do with all that free time? Get some ‘Sconsin-centric ideas here.

*Estimated Monthly Payments based on 3.75% APR and 36 months for cars 2010-2012
**Estimated Monthly Payment based on 2.94% APR and 72 months for cars 2013 and newer. †72M term requires $20,000 minimum loan amount and 84M term requires $30,000 minimum loan amount. All loans are subject to underwriting and approval. Your actual monthly payment amount and APR will be determined by your credit score, term and loan amount. Other terms available. All loans are subject to underwriting and approval. Your actual monthly payment amount and APR will be determined by your credit score, term and loan amount. Other terms available. Membership eligibility required.
Any specific references to commercial products, trademarks, service marks, manufacturers, or otherwise in this article do not constitute or imply endorsement by Unison Credit Union.
Unison Credit Union does not knowingly collect, maintain, or use personal information from our website about children under age 13. If a child whom we know to be under age 13 sends personal information to us online, we will only use that information to respond directly to that child, notify parents, or seek parental consent.