The Perfect Teen Car for Back to School

Smart Fortwo, front

The arrival of September signals the departure of endless boat days, the end of steamy summer nights and, for nearly everyone, a reintroduction to the snooze button as school gets under way.

Not all of us go to school, of course, but odds are if we aren’t in school, we have kids who are dreading the idea of going back.

Parents of teens may have kids who have the ability, or at least the legal right, to drive themselves to school. This raises the question of what kind of vehicle they can be trusted with. For them I’d like to introduce the perfect back-to-school car.

Perfect, though, is just a matter of perspective…

High schoolers who have the privilege to drive will have a certain vision of their perfect vehicle. A muscle car, perhaps, or maybe mom’s Audi. The parents, however, will have a completely opposite vision of what makes a perfect teen car.

This post is for the parents.

The ideal car for a high-school kid will be 3 things:

  1. Small
  2. Slow
  3. Safe

This is the “Three ‘S’ Theory” for teen vehicles, which I proudly made up just now. It’s very important to find a vehicle with all 3 of these features, so your teenager can’t, even when tempted, engage in questionable in-car behavior.

A small car is essential so a teen can’t load her 5-passenger vehicle with 8 of her closest friends and leave school for destinations unknown.

A vehicle must be slow so your teen can’t drag race at stoplights. When he steps on the gas, the sound should be more akin to a weed-wacker than anything resembling a car engine. When the light turns green, the car should accelerate to roughly 35 miles per hour, but at a rate not to exceed 10.5 seconds.

Safety and short-trip reliability are of utmost importance to parents. The teen’s car must provide transportation from home to school to work on a consistent basis, but also should instill a twinge of fear about taking it anywhere farther away.

These 3 features can be found in many used vehicles, but the smart fortwo might be the best. Plus, it comes with an added benefit: The opposite sex will not be drawn to the vehicle, and in fact, will want to hitch a ride with someone driving something else.

Is the smart fortwo the perfect car for teen drivers?


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Used smart fortwo


  1. 0-35 in 10.5 seconds, in something that makes a Yugo look like an IIHS top pick = Safety? As long as they never have to merge…

  2. I’ll tell you a few things about the Smart that you won’t know unless you’ve driven one…. First, it is the roughest riding car I’ve ever driven, yes, including full race track cars. They are plentiful used here in Michigan because the roads are so bad that owners get rid of them fairly quickly. Second, you’ll loose much of the mileage advantage of driving a tiny car because they require premium fuel, which costs more. Third, they are not very cheap and are hard to resell. Fourth (and perhaps most important) if you get hit by a larger car or truck in the Smart, you will likely get much more severe injuries than you would in a larger car. Last, they are expensive and hard to maintain because of the very limited dealer network.
    If you really, really must look at a micro car, check out the Scion iQ. I found it much more drivable (the Smart’s auto/manual transmission is weird), uses regular fuel, is just a tiny bit bigger, and has a far better dealer network. (service at any toyota dealer.)

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