You were there when your child first crawled across the carpet. You clapped when they took those initial, tentative steps. You praised each report card, comforted them after every disappointment and did your best to turn your baby into a fine, upstanding citizen. Now all of that flies out the window, because he’s getting his driver’s license. You’re going to be losing a modicum of control, and that could be completely terrifying! But starting to drive is one of those rites of passage that everyone goes through, and a key step towards independence and adulthood. So you finally get your head around it, and then the conversation happens. They want their own car. Try and pick your jaw up off the floor and consider it. If they have a car, you’re no longer the chauffer. That alone could be worth plunking down a few thousands dollars for a clunker. But what about safety? Car theft? Gas prices? There will tons of questions on your mind, so here are a few pointers to help you shop for your teen’s first car.
First off, remember that your teen must keep things in perspective. They might not be ready to have their own car, even after passing their driver’s test. And they certainly shouldn’t expect a better car than you’re driving. Make sure your teen has a realistic expectation, and insure they are appreciative and respectful towards the vehicle by forcing them to contribute financially to the purchase. Even if it’s only a few hundred dollars saved up from allowance, getting them invested is a sure way to keep their perspective straight.
The next conversation will be to determine if you’ll buy your teen a new or used car. There are obviously pros and cons to both options. New cars are less likely to break down, and most repairs are covered under warranty. They’ll also come with a higher price tag, and depreciate as soon as they are driven off the lot. Used cars are much more affordable, easier to finance and could even come with a warranty if you buy one of those certified pre-owned cars from a dealership. In the end, your teen probably doesn’t need a new car, and there are too many opportunities for them to dent and ding it for it to really be worth the risk.
So once you’ve settled that question, how do you choose the right car? Sit down with your teen and discuss how the car will be used. Do they have a part-time job they must drive to and from? Will they be taking it to college, or even commuting to college from home? Your best bet is to find a car with a solid safety record and good gas mileage. Check out the guide put out by J.D. Power and Associates to get a gauge of the reliability and safety ratings you can expect from various cars. And get yourself a Kelley Blue Book, which is the definitive guide for car prices by year.
Flip through each of those guides, and let your teen dream on what they would want. You’ll quickly get a sense of the sort of vehicle they see themselves in. Have them pick the car they would want if money is no object, and then have the hard conversation. Because money is always an object. Together you should be able to find a car that’s close to what they want, while fitting into the family budget. And if possible, save a bit more money by shopping for discount vehicle insurance online. Teen drivers are often charged exorbitant fees for car insurance, so make sure you take advantage of any offered discounts for good grades or joint policies.