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Six rules to help keep your teen driver safe

(BPT) - If you worry about the kind of car your teen will drive, you're not alone. In a survey commissioned by USAA, 81 percent of parents put reliability first...

(BPT) - If you worry about the kind of car your teen will drive, you're not alone.

In a survey commissioned by USAA, 81 percent of parents put reliability first when choosing a vehicle for their teens, followed by a high safety rating. The good news is that teens also want cars with the latest safety features.

'Being safe is the new cool,' says Shelby Fix, a 21-year-old safer-driving advocate and automotive journalist. 'There are cool colors and options, but side-impact air bags and hands-free devices - that's what's in the new, cool cars.'

Fix, known as The Car Coach 2.0, says new technology turns teenagers' heads almost as fast as slick makes and models.

The daughter of automotive expert Lauren Fix, Shelby raced go-karts at age 7 and was raised on talk of crash-test ratings. She grew up hearing the mantra of a mother who loves cars, but loves her kids more - 'You can replace cars, but you can't replace a child.'

That's why the decision parents and teens make about that first set of wheels is so crucial. 'Your car is like your outside shell when you're in it,' Shelby says.

She's learned six key factors to look for:

* Newer cars with newer technology. A used car may lack the technology that could save your child's life. In addition to electronic stability control - which helps drivers keep control of the vehicle - and side-impact air bags, base prices for newer cars are including built-in rearview cameras and park-assist systems.

* The right size. Avoid sport utility vehicles, which have higher rollover rates and can prove tougher to maneuver; and tiny cars, which may offer less protection in a crash. Shelby recommends moderate-size vehicles for more stability and easier, more predictable handling.

* Sedan style. Don't give your teen more power than he or she can handle. 'Even though sports cars have a strong performance image, a lot of accidents are speed-related,' Shelby says.

* Crash-test ratings. Check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Picks each year on its website, www.iihs.org.

* Accident history. If you're in the market for a used car, get a vehicle history report. It can alert you if a car's been in an accident or damaged in a flood.

* Mechanic's signoff. Have an Automotive Service Excellence-certified mechanic check the vehicle to make sure the used vehicle you're purchasing is a good one.

Check out the vehicles that made USAA's 2013 Top 10 for Teens list. They had to be USAA Preferred vehicles and have an MSRP below $25,500. In addition, each vehicle's safety, reliability, insurance cost and overall value were considered. The cars are:

1. Dodge Dart

2. Dodge Avenger

3. Honda CR-Z

4. Chrysler 200

5. Honda Insight

6. Volkswagen Golf

7. Hyundai Elantra

8. Nissan Versa

9. Kia Optima

10 Chevrolet Malibu

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