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Best safe car buys for P-platers

A safe car can be a lifesaver for P-plate drivers.

You don't have to spend a fortune on a vehicle that will protect the young driver in your family.

What price do you place on the safety of your children?

Parents get to drive the latest and greatest cars while teen drivers usually get the hand-me-downs or what they can afford - older vehicles with little or no safety gear to protect them in a crash.

Here's a further chilling thought: the Australasian New Car Assessment Program warns that in a crash in an older vehicle with three safety stars or fewer, occupants have twice the chance of being killed or seriously injured.

Teenagers or P-platers are over-represented among fatal accidents on our roads. The graph is a grim red line that seemingly refuses to turn downward.

The good news is that it's not necessary to spend a fortune to buy a "safe" car.

Some types of car also appear too often in road fatalities, such as utes and one-tonners that are harder to control and often do not have the same safety kit as passenger car counterparts.

It's not just the price of old cars that make them attractive to teenagers either. Cars that might be dismissed as old bombs may be viewed as "cool" by younger drivers.

The good news is that it's not necessary to spend a fortune to buy a "safe" car, as some of the earliest five-star cars are now almost 15 years old.

No matter what car you choose, have it checked both for mechanical defects and accident repairs. Cheap repairs can compromise the original safety rating, particularly if it has been in an accident where the airbags were deployed.

Check whether your state motoring club does mobile, pre-purchase inspections or take the car to a service centre for an even more comprehensive check.

Look for vehicles with at least two airbags, anti-lock brakes and preferably electronic stability control, which has been shown to prevent single vehicle accidents where the driver skids and loses control. This became mandatory in 2008.

A rear-view camera is desirable, to avoid running over children in driveways.

LESS THAN $5K - 2005 Subaru Forester (OUR PICK)

2005 Subaru Forester - The Euros are tempting but the practical, evergreen Forester is a no-brainer, all-wheel drive giving it a definite edge. Fit and finish are first rate. Four airbags, EBD, pre-tensioners and load-limiters on front seatbelts plus seat belt reminders.

LESS THAN $5K - 2004 Renault Megane Authentique

Pickings are slim but it is possible to find a five-star car with such a sticker.

It is likely to be an older, cheaper Euro model because the French and Germans got on the safety bandwagon early.

2004 Renault Megane Authentique - Standout styling with its rounded "bustle" rear end. It's not going to set the world on fire in terms of performance but it's certainly not disappointing. There are six airbags, brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and seat belt reminders and pre-tensioners.

LESS THAN $5K - 2006 Citroen C4 Exclusive hatch

2006 Citroen C4 Exclusive hatch - Handling is excellent but the ride can be choppy on anything but smooth roads. Six airbags, electronic brakeforce distribution and standard speed limiter.

LESS THAN $10K - 2009 Holden Cruze CD sedan (OUR PICK)

2009 Holden Cruze CD sedan - Substantial car for the money, with a more advanced six-speed auto and safety package. Looks good and will probably be attractive to males. Drives and handles well, with plenty of grip. Six airbags, BA and EBD.

LESS THAN $10K - 2012 Hyundai i20 Active hatch

The extra money gives greater choice. Plenty of cars have five stars and automatic transmission - some have less than 50,000km on the clock.

2012 Hyundai i20 Active hatch - Slightly smaller than more expensive Accent. Basic car with aircon and Bluetooth audio, economical and zippy with one aboard. Six airbags and EBD.

Hyundai i20

Hyundai i20
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

LESS THAN $10K - 2008 Toyota Corolla Ascent

2008 Toyota Corolla Ascent - Best-selling car in the world. What more can we say? Some have optional side, curtain and driver's knee airbag pack. Brake assist (BA) and EBD.

LESS THAN $15K - 2009 Ford Falcon G6 (OUR PICK)

2009 Ford Falcon G6 - We'll miss the old Falcon. A big chunk of car for the money with plenty of room and refinement and - icing on the cake - dual fuel for the added advantage of cheaper running costs with LPG. Comfortable car that is smooth and powerful to drive. Six airbags, EBD, BA.

LESS THAN $15K - 2011 Ford Fiesta Zetec

For this kind of money you in turn can afford to be fussy. Plenty of low-kilometre cars, the higher grades come with more features and some could still be covered by warranty.

2011 Ford Fiesta Zetec - Sporty little hatch that goes like stink and uses hardly any fuel. Seven airbags including a driver's knee bag plus EBD.

Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

LESS THAN $15K - 2011 Toyota Yaris YRS

2011 Toyota Yaris YRS - Popular, good-looking little hatch that is big on safety. Seven airbags, including a driver knee airbag, EBD, emergency brake assist (EBA).

LESS THAN $20K - Honda Jazz 1.5L VTI (OUR PICK)

Honda Jazz 1.5L VTI - $19,610 drive-away - Has plenty of utility but the styling is a challenge. The newest, safest and one of the most economical. Six airbags, EBD, seat belt reminders, reversing camera and emergency stop signal.

Honda Jazz

Honda Jazz
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

LESS THAN $20K - Suzuki Swift 1.4L GL

There are new car options - avoid the three-cylinder cheapies as they're generally raucous devices. A four-cylinder hatch or sedan is practical, relatively cheap to run and you can put one on the road with an automatic for less than $20,000.

Suzuki Swift 1.4L GL - $17,990 drive-away - It's cute but there's not much room in the rear and the boot is tiny too. Seven airbags, EBD and BA.

LESS THAN $20K - Kia Cerato S 1.8L

Kia Cerato S 1.8L - $19,990 drive-away - Larger, good-looking vehicle. Six airbags, vehicle stability management, hill-start assist control, emergency stop signal, seat belt reminder and front and rear parking sensors. Premium model adds rear-view camera.

Kia Cerato

Kia Cerato
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)


Subaru's Triple A policy in the 1990s - two airbags, ABS and all-wheel drive across the range - gave it the moral high ground early in the safety debate.

Other high-profile Japanese brands tried to ignore the Australian rating system, relying on internal test procedures and making direct comparison difficult.

Then in 2003, a Forester achieved five stars for crash worthiness, a first among compact SUVs. It was also the first time any Japanese-built car earned five ANCAP stars.

Subaru was the first mainstream brand in Australia to achieve five-star ratings for its entire new car range. Its latest innovation, EyeSight automatic braking, eventually will become standard on all its cars.

Subaru chief exec Nick Senior reckons the safety aspect is one of the reasons so many families teach kids to drive in Subarus of all generations and why they're frequently the car of choice for P-platers.