Teen Drivers : Shopping for Your Teen’s First Car

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If you’re like most parents, you probably feel like the teenager you have today was an adorable five year old just last week. While that five year old would have been happy with a plastic Fisher Price car, or one of those brightly colored Big Wheel tricycles, the teenager wants wheels that come with an engine attached.
Shopping for your teen’s first car is a family milestone, to be sure, but it’s also a time to model some safe driving habits. Here are some tips to make sure your teen chooses an appropriate car, and stays safe while driving it:

Safety Counts

Most teenagers are thinking “sports car” while you’re thinking “station wagon.” While it’s important to let your teen choose a car that they like, safety counts more than style. In terms of design, size, durability and dependability are key factors to look for, so a sedan is more sensible than a ragtop, no matter how cool the latter may be.

You’ll also want to choose a make and model that don’t have any major known issues certain types of four wheel drives tend to roll over, for example, while the current climate with regard to Toyota may make you want to steer clear of that brand.

Choosing a Used Car

Your first car was probably a used vehicle, and it’s likely that your teen’s first ride will be as well, especially in today’s economy. There’s nothing wrong with buying used, but make sure you ask friends and co workers for referrals to trusted dealers, and top that off with a reliability report from the Better Business Bureau.

Once you’re satisfied with the dealer in question, and have a car or two in mind, spend some time on due diligence, and check out:

  • The vehicle’s recall record: Have any parts been recalled by the manufacturer? If so, were they replaced, as required?
  • The vehicle’s repair record: This may not be possible, but if it is, you’ll want to ensure that regular maintenance was performed during the car’s life.
  • The current condition: Whether or not you can access the repair history of the car your teen has chosen, have a trusted mechanic look at it before you commit to the deal. If possible, bring him or her along on the test drive.
  • At the very least, you should pay close attention to the car’s tires, transmission, motor, and suspension. All of these should be intact and in good condition.

Modern Safety Features

Whether or not you choose a used car, any late model vehicle is likely to have a host of safety features that you may not even know about it your own car isn’t particularly new. They include:

  • front and side air bags
  • head air bags
  • anti lock braking systems (ABS)
  • four wheel drive with traction control
  • automatically dimming rear view mirrors (reducing glare of highbeams in traffic)
  • daytime running lights


You’ll also want to get some information from your insurance agent before letting your teen drive any car off the lot. Obviously the cost of insurance will be an issue, but you should also ask for statistics about crash ratings (which you can also get from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration website), and find out if the model in question has a higher than average claims rate.

Another important point on the subject of insurance: even if the price of the car comes from you, insist that your teenager be at least partly responsible for the cost of the insurance, partly because insuring a young driver is expensive, but also because they’re likely to take better care of a vehicle in which they’re personally invested.

Test Drive Tips

The test drive can be fun for your teen, and terrifying for you, but you can turn it into a “teachable moment.”
First have your teen be sure the seatbelt fits properly many people never have their belts adjusted correctly and have him or her check the positions of the head restraint and the seat back, and make sure they can reach the pedals comfortably.

Second, make sure your teen follows basic road safety rules. If they’re not, don’t panic, but do take them aside after the drive and correct their driving behavior. Chances are they were just excited, and admonishing them in front of the dealer is only going to breed resentment.

During your time with the car, have your teen check to make sure the spare tire and jack are present, that the windshield wipers all electronic devices are functional, and that the headlights are working correctly.

Shopping for your teen’s first car is a momentous occasion, but so, too, is sending him or her off on their first drive. By helping your teenager choose the right car, and making sure they use safe driving habits, you can feel confident that your child will not become another statistic in a traffic accident report.