Top 10 Safe Used Family Cars

Most of us say money is no object when it comes to our family’s safety, but that’s not always possible. However, you can be safe and drive affordable cars with high safety ratings. By compiling data from Edmunds.com and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IHS), we have developed this list of recommendations.

There’s a mixture of sedans along with minivans and an SUV because not every family is the same size and has the same needs. As always, before buying any used car, make sure it undergoes a complete inspection by an independent mechanic. Conduct your own used car inspection during your initial look at the car and also do a thorough test drive before making a final purchase decision.

The IHS has a set criteria for its rankings for what makes a safe car. Here is its definition of those criteria that helped determine the Top 10 Safest Used Family Cars.

Criteria: The Institute rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests plus evaluations of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts.
The first requirement for a vehicle to become a Top Safety Pick is to earn good ratings in all three Institute tests. A new requirement for 2007 is that the winning vehicles must offer electronic stability control. This addition is based on Institute research indicating that ESC significantly reduces crash risk, especially the risk of fatal single vehicle crashes, by helping drivers maintain control of their vehicles during emergency maneuvers. [ Ed. note: 2006 vehicles have slightly different criteria. Consult the IIHS website for more information.]
However, don't compare ratings across vehicle size groups because size and weight influence occupant protection in serious crashes. Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford more protection than smaller, lighter ones. Top Safety Picks are the best vehicle choices for safety within size categories, but this doesn't mean a small car that's a Top Safety Pick affords more protection than a bigger car that doesn't earn the award.

Some of these models may be available as certified pre-owned vehicles, but that could mean a higher price from the dealership. It is also important to note that some of these models have specific optional equipment, such as side airbags, that makes them a Top Safety Pick. Make sure the safe used family car you are purchasing has that optional equipment. Otherwise the car may not be a safety pick as determined by the IIHS.

Pricing was current as of Oct. 23, 2010. Market values may have changed prices. Refer to Edmunds.com for up-to-date pricing information.

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Top 10 Safe Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2007 2.5i Special Edition Subaru Legacy four-door sedan with all-wheel drive and automatic transmission is priced at $14,044 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and is a Top Safety Pick, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Subaru

Short on looks, but long on capability, the Legacy sedan can get a family of four practically anywhere it wants to go.

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Top 10 Safe Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2007 2.0T Saab 9-3 four-door sedan is priced at $14,991 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and is a Top Safety Pick, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Saab

The 2007 2.0T Saab 9-3 is definitely a sedan for a family of four. Space isn’t abundant but driving fun is. Both parents will like this car.

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Top 10 Safe Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2007 EX trim Kia Sedona EXT Minivan is priced at $13,325 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and is a Top Safety Pick, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Kia

The key here is the get the Kia Sedona EXT version. You might find the standard version to be cramped for a minivan. The Sedona is a pleasant minivan that drives well.

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Top 10 Safe Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2007 GLS trim Hyundai Santa Fe SUV with automatic transmission is priced at $14,721 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and is a Top Safety Pick, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Hyundai

This generation Santa Fe was Hyundai’s first venture into the SUV market and it did extremely well. It’s overloaded with safety features.

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Top 10 Safe Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2007 SE trim Hyundai Entourage Minivan is priced at $14,044 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and is a Top Safety Pick, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Hyundai

Not all minivans are made by Chrysler, Honda and Toyota. The 2007 Hyundai Entourage was overlooked when new but is a great minivan on the used market.

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Top 10 Safe Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2006 2.5i Limited Subaru Legacy four-door station wagon with all-wheel drive is priced at $13,090 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and has a gold ranking (the highest) from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Subaru

This is the wagon that one New England’s heart years ago. Don’t be parochial. It’s a great family car in any climate.

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Top 10 Safest Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2006 Premier Mercury Montego four-door sedan with all-wheel drive is priced at $12,701 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and has a gold ranking (the highest) from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Mercury

The Mercury Montego is everything the Ford Five Hundred is but at a lower price. Don’t be afraid of the Mercury connection. There will be mechanics and parts around to fix them for years to come.

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Top 10 Safest Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2006 Limited Ford Five Hundred four-door sedan with all-wheel drive is priced at $13,109 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and has a gold ranking (the highest) from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Ford

The Ford Five Hundred is one of the best sedans made in the last 10 years when it comes to functionality for a family. It was canned by the media for not being stylish, but it more than met any challenge thrown at it. Throw in the optional all-wheel drive and you have a sedan perfect for up to a family of five with a HUGE trunk thrown in.

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Top 10 Safest Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2006 SS Chevrolet Malibu four-door sedan with the 3.9-liter V-6 engine is priced at $11,442 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and has a silver ranking from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © GM

Don’t let the SS moniker fool you. This Malibu is no sports car. It is, however, a capable sedan with a little bit of extra kick from its 3.9-liter V-6 engine.

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Top 10 Safest Used Family Cars

Used Family Cars for Less than $15,000 with High Safety Ratings The 2006 2.0T 4dr Audi A4 Sedan w/CVT is priced at $13,725 as of Oct. 23, 2010, and has a silver ranking from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Photo © Audi

The Audi A4 is best suited for families of four or less with younger children. It doesn’t have a huge passenger cabin but it does have a decent trunk. Plus, driving an Audi always adds a little pizzazz to running the kids to and from soccer practice.