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10 things for older drivers to look for when buying a new car

Senior drivers can benefit from a few simple guidelines when looking for a new car. Photo by hedgehog94/

Growing older ain’t always easy. But with a little forethought and planning, it doesn’t have to be that hard. For example, among the easiest changes we can make as we age is to be sure the biggest machine most of us will ever operate—our car—is as user-friendly as possible.

Like it or not, our abilities and needs change as we get older. For example, we might not react as quickly, see or hear as well, or be as physically flexible as when we were younger. As a result, the kind of car that worked well for us at age 35 might not at 65. So before you buy a new car, think your transportation needs through and honestly assess what’s important for you.

“Aim to drive a vehicle that you feel safe and comfortable in, that fits you, and that you feel confident operating,” says Anita Lorz Villagrana, manager of the Auto Club of Southern California’s traffic safety programs.  

1. Body style and size

Kia Niro

A compact SUV like this one from Kia offers good visibility and cargo room. Photo courtesy Kia America

Two of the basic things you’ll need to decide on are body style and size. “A compact SUV can be a good choice for an older driver,” says Megan McKernan, manager of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center (ARC), which evaluates new vehicles based on more than a dozen criteria. (See the sidebar below for specific vehicle recommendations.)

An SUV’s higher roofline makes it easier to get in and out of than a sedan or pickup; its elevated seating position and extended roof afford a better view of the road; and its hatchback design provides more cargo space and easier access to your stuff. As for size, “compact and midsize models offer plenty of room and are typically easier to maneuver and live with on a day-to-day basis,” McKernan says.

Jump to: Cars for older drivers

2. Reliability

Mechanic beside a car with the hood propped open.

Doing a little research on a car's reliability can save time and money. Photo by Nattamon/

Another important consideration is reliability, especially if your income is less than it used to be. A car that doesn’t break down or require undue maintenance is both easier—and cheaper—to own. Sources like J.D. Power and Consumer Reports publish quality, reliability, and customer-satisfaction ratings for both new and used cars.

3. Fuel economy

Gas pumps.

A hybrid car can get double the mileage of a conventional vehicle. Photo by Joshua Rainey/

Buying a car with good fuel economy is easier on your wallet and the environment. Consider a gas-electric hybrid or plug-in hybrid, which are reliable and can get double the fuel economy of their conventional counterparts. Or an all-electric vehicle, which can be cheaper to run and maintain, might work for you. (EPA fuel-economy estimates can be found at

4. Ergonomic factors

Close-up of someone holding a car steering wheel.

It's important to make sure a car's driving position is comfortable for you. Photo by dusanpetkovic1/

When you visit a showroom, take your time and notice the details of the cars you’re thinking about buying. Pay particular attention to ergonomic factors such as whether it’s easy to enter and exit the driver’s seat—and how comfortable it is once you get there. Adjust the seat and mirrors to suit you, and make sure the driving position feels right.

5. Visibility

Illustration showing the range of a driver's visibility and blind spots.

Check for blind spots when test driving a vehicle. Photo by fotohansel/

Because older drivers tend not to see as well as younger drivers, make sure any car you’re considering provides a high level of visibility all around. Sit in your normal driving position and check in all directions—front, sides, and rear—for blind spots.

Technological aids to improve visibility include rearview cameras (standard equipment on all new cars), 360-degree camera systems that provide a top-down view of the car, and auto-dimming rearview mirrors, which reduce glare from oncoming vehicles’ headlights.

And regarding that topic, look for models with LED headlights because of their brighter, whiter light, which lets you see considerably farther down the road.

6. Controls

Driver using the center console controls in their car.

Controls for audio systems and air conditioning should be easy to use and understand. Photo by Andrii/

Controls for important features like headlights, windshield wipers, and the climate and audio systems should be easy to locate and intuitive to operate. In recent years, automakers have tended to use touch screens and similar interfaces for the climate and infotainment systems. If this sounds daunting, look for a car with good old-fashioned buttons and knobs. They’re easier and less distracting to use while driving.

7. Cabin space

Interior of an SUV.

An SUV's elevated seating position can give drivers a better view of the road. Photo by Gudellaphoto/

Pay close attention to the amount of available space in the cabin, especially if you typically carry passengers. Adults will welcome a rear seat with good headroom and legroom; that’s also a must if you plan on schlepping grandkids in bulky car seats. (In that case, of course, a sedan will work better than a coupe.)

Finally, take note of the lift-over height into the trunk or cargo area—you don’t want to worry about wrenching your back every time you need to heft groceries or other items in and out.

8. Safety ratings

Car during a crash test.

High crash-test ratings can confirm a vehicle's structural soundness. Photo courtesy IIHS

Vehicle safety is especially important for older drivers, many of whom are at greater risk of getting injured in a crash. So it’s a good idea to do some safety research on any vehicle before you buy it.

First, check out a vehicle’s crash-test ratings at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety websites. High ratings from these organizations confirm a vehicle’s structural soundness and how well certain equipment functions, such as headlights and advanced safety features.

You may also like: Factor crash-test results into your car-buying decisions

9. Advanced safety features

Someone buckling in their car seat belt.

Seat belts may save lives, but so do today's high-tech safety features. Photo by methaphum/

Finally, if you haven’t bought a new car for a while, you might not be familiar with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), safety features designed to prevent vehicle crashes or significantly reduce their damage.

Nowadays, almost all vehicles have at least some ADAS features. Among the most useful are:

  • Adaptive cruise control, which keeps your car a safe distance behind the one in front of it.
  • Automatic emergency braking, which applies your car’s brakes to prevent it from rear-ending the car in front of it or minimizing the damage if an impact occurs. Automatic emergency braking is standard on the vast majority of new cars.
  • Blind-spot warning, which alerts you to cars you might not see in adjacent lanes.
  • Rear cross-traffic warning, which alerts you when you’re traveling in reverse (say, in a parking lot) to cars, pedestrians, or cyclists approaching the rear of your car from either side.
  • Lane-keeping assistance, which alerts you if your car starts drifting out of its lane and gently nudges it back.

“Find out which ADAS features any car you’re thinking about buying is equipped with, and make sure a salesperson explains what they do and how they work before you take final delivery of the car,” the ARC’s McKernan says.

You may also like: Why you need a car with advanced safety features

10. Convenience features

Graphic rendering of a car's center console touchscreen

For some older drivers, dashboards loaded with touch screens can be intimidating. Photo by Lazy_Bear/

Increasingly, today’s cars and SUVs are loaded with high-tech features. But more technology is not necessarily better for older drivers, who might be less familiar with digital media, find it frustrating, or require more time to figure out how things work. So consider your comfort level with these bells and whistles and choose carefully.

Some convenience features worth considering:

  • Rain-sensing windshield wipers.
  • Keyless entry and push-button start, which allow you to open the car door and drive away without removing the key from your pocket or purse.
  • Power-operated driver’s seat, trunk, or rear liftgate.
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, which lets you use many of your phone’s most useful features via voice commands or the vehicle’s touch screens.

Ultimately though, one rule should apply to your car’s high-tech features: They must be user-friendly. If they make life behind the steering wheel more complicated, chances are you don’t need them.

Veteran automotive journalist Alan Rider writes Westways’ car reviews. He’s rapidly approaching the time when he’ll need to make use of the information he’s provided for this story.

You may also like: 10 questions to help choose the car that’s right for you

Car and driving resources for older drivers

“Driving provides a sense of freedom and independence,” says Anita Lorz Villagrana, the Auto Club’s manager of traffic safety programs, “and AAA wants to help members continue driving as long as they can safely do so. Remember, driving is a skill-based function, not an age-based one.”

You can learn more about vehicle safety, comfort, and fit by visiting the following websites.

  • AAA has a number of helpful programs related to cars, driving, and safety on the road for seniors.
  • CarFit offers in-person and virtual educational programs to help you achieve the proper “fit” and comfort in your vehicle.
  • is a National Safety Council website that explains, through text and videos, what advanced safety features are designed do, and, equally important, what they’re not designed to do.

Cars for older drivers

Every year, the Auto Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center rigorously tests from 60 to 80 new vehicles on the basis of 13 criteria: advanced safety features, fuel efficiency, EPA emission score, acceleration, braking, handling, ride quality, interior size, ease of entry and exit, visibility, interior noise, cargo capacity, and quality and drivability.

The ARC publishes the results, plus other useful information about buying and owning a car, in its annual AAA Car Guide.

Although there’s no single car—or group of cars—that fits the needs of all older drivers, the ARC selected the following cars from those it tested for the 2023 AAA Car Guide as good candidates for older drivers. Most were 2022 models, but newer versions will have similar qualities. They’re presented in alphabetical order, with a list of criteria that make the car a strong candidate as well as qualities that might be of concern for some older drivers.

2022 Audi Q4 50 e-tron

+ Good interior space for passengers, high crash-test ratings, high scores for overall visibility, ease of entry and exit, and advanced safety features
Limited rear visibility

2022 Chevrolet Bolt

+ Good overall value, lots of advanced safety features, intuitive infotainment system, high crash-test ratings, high scores for EV efficiency, visibility (especially to the front and sides), and ease of entry and exit
Tight rear seating; rear seats are stiff and uncomfortable

2022 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

+ Good value, lots of standard features, high crash-test ratings, high scores for fuel efficiency, visibility, entry and exit, and advanced safety features
Restricted rear visibility (high rear deck), touchy brake and throttle response

2022 Hyundai Tucson

+ Good overall value, roomy interior, high crash-test scores, high scores for visibility, ease of entry and exit, and advanced safety features
Touch-operated infotainment system is difficult to use

2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

+ Good overall value, roomy interior, high fuel efficiency, high crash-test scores, high scores for visibility, ease of entry and exit, and advanced safety features
Touch-operated infotainment system is difficult to use

2022 Lexus UX 250h

+ High fuel-efficiency and crash-test scores, high scores for ride quality, visibility, ease of entry and exit, and advanced safety features
Cramped interior, outdated and hard-to-use infotainment system

2023 Mazda CX-50

+ Comfortable seating, plenty of storage and cargo space, high scores for visibility and advanced safety features
Unintuitive infotainment system, difficult rear-seat entry and exit

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander

+ Lots of room for passengers and cargo, lots of standard advanced safety features, high scores for visibility and ease of entry and exit

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

+ Good all-around visibility, high scores for ease of entry and exit and advanced safety features, good interior space, including headroom and legroom

2022 Subaru Forester

+ Good value, easy entry and exit, ample legroom and headroom for all passengers, high visibility and crash-test scores, lots of advanced safety features
Outdated infotainment system

2022 Toyota RAV4 Prime

+ High scores for advanced safety features, visibility, ease of entry and exit, and fuel-efficiency
Outdated infotainment system, instrument cluster, and controls

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