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Buying Your Teen a Car

It’s hard to believe but your baby, now a teenager, is a licensed driver and wants a car. Yes, the time has finally arrived; your child wants the keys to his or her own car. So, what’s a practical, cautious parent to do…other than have a nervous breakdown, that is?

First and foremost, dispel the notion that every teenager needs a car. Many kids get along just fine without having their own set of wheels. They walk, ride a bike or a skateboard, get rides from you or their friends or take advantage of local public transportation.

However, many teenagers today do have their own cars. All you have to do is peruse your local high school parking lot. It’s filled with students’ cars. But, when contemplating whether you should purchase a car for your son or daughter, you should consider the following:

1. Does your teen want a car because his or her friends are getting one or does he or she want one because they need one to get back and forth to an after school job? If his or her primary reason is to have one because “everyone else has one,” then he or she doesn’t really need a car.

2. Is your teenager responsible enough to have his or her own car?

3. Will getting your teenager a car make life significantly easier for you? For example, if his or her school is 30 minutes from home and you are having to make several round trips a day to take him or her as well as your other children to school each day, another car in the family may be the answer. In other words, if you were spending a good portion of your day as a kid chauffer, this would be a practical reason to get your teen a car, and would take a lot of pressure off you as well.

4. Is it financially viable to buy another car? Even a good used car can be expensive. If purchasing another car is a strain on your finances and your teen can’t help out with the purchase, it would be wise to postpone buying a car until you are in a better financial position or your teen can purchase him or herself.

Okay, if after careful consideration, you’ve decided to get your teen a car, what steps can you take to make sure your son or daughter is a safe as possible on the road?

The conventional wisdom has always been to buy a big car or a road tank. This will provide a thick layer of metal insulation around your child. The truth is, size does matter. It’s basic physics. When two heavy objects collide, the heavier one wins!
Size is a big issue, especially on the freeway. The higher you sit in a car on the freeway, the more the chassis and frame is going to absorb the impact.

The next big question is whether to buy new or used. For most parents, who are already making payments on their own cars, a used car is the only economically feasible option. Another thing to consider when buying new or used is the insurance. The insurance premium on a new car, primarily driven by a young driver, is very expensive.

Experts agree that if parents are going to buy a used car for their teen, they should do their homework. Parents will want to look at the research, specifically government crash testing results (iihs.org or nhtsa.gov), as well as safety options that come with the car they’re considering for their son or daughter. Get as many safety features as possible.

You will also want to check the car over very thoroughly – the tires, the headlights, the turn signals, the brakes, as well as make sure the safety equipment is in good working order. If possible, have a reputable service technician give the car a complete once-over before purchasing it or if you can afford it, look for certified, pre-owned models that are two or three years old, often from an expired lease.
Much to your child’s dismay it’s not about looks, it’s about safety. Parents must rise above what their child wants and focus on what’s in the best interest of their child’s safety. Safety experts highly recommend staying away from the cool, sporty convertibles or cars that come equipped with large engines.

Once you’ve narrowed down the safest choices, find a good deal. Websites such as Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, IntelliChoice.com and Truecar.com can help you determine a fair price given a vehicle’s age, mileage and condition.

Last, but certainly not least, safety experts agree that the most important factor in purchasing a car for your teen is proper training for your teen. If there’s no formal driver’s education program, then it is recommended that parents create their own training program. Driving is a difficult and complicated lengthy learning process. Insurance rates for young people do not come down until age 25. Until then, these drivers are considered “at risk” drivers.

The key to any driving program is parental involvement. There should be a nighttime curfew for beginner drivers, zero tolerance for alcohol and the parent and teen should use a contract or come up with something similar, in writing, that outlines the whens, whereas and with whoms.

Driving is a major milestone in your child’s life. Make it a safe one…one they can remember for a lifetime.