I’m a hand-me-down guy with a mindset inherited from my grandparents, Great Depression veterans. Whether it was hockey equipment or clothes the only “new” stuff Mom bought was either underwear or socks. She’d hand down Dad’s shirts telling me I’d grow into them. When it came to sneakers she’d splurge with a trip to Penny’s if we were lucky. But un-luck mostly prevailed and I got blue-light specials. “Your dad’s left foot is size 8 but he wears a size 9 right foot. Here, enjoy your Keds knock-offs.” Good thing my feet were size 8. My brother got my hand-me-downs, unfortunate for him—he’s worn size 7 shoes since kindergarten.
Dad handed me my first car, a 1970 Maverick with a three-on-the-tree shifter. With a clutch softer than a pillow and bricks for feet it was easy to do driveway peel outs. The Maverick had blue plaid bench seats with rips I repaired using iron-on patches. Originally light blue, the Maverick morphed into a multicolored heap within a year of me driving it. The Maverick drove like a small tank. Dad splurged and had it painted by Earl Scheib for $99.95, royal blue masking tape included.
So with my kids of driving age and only one of them actually driving, my wife and I contemplated whether to hand them a 1999 Ford Explorer. My younger daughter insists in avoiding the DMW exam —too much pressure—and waiting until age 17 ½ to take a performance test. We practice on empty parking lots but still she’s challenged by stationary obstacles.
“Did you see that tree branch?” I asked. “You hit the side view mirror.”
“You’re stressing me out!”
This is the same kid afraid of our riding lawnmower. I urged her to try practice laps around the yard to gauge clearances. “That thing is scary. Give me the Ford.” I never handed her the keys. We sold all two tons of it to an old hippie.
But my friend Sally Writes, a mom and car aficionado from Trenton, NJ offered motherly insight. “Buy them a NICE car,” she insists. I’m unsure about that but I’ll share web space with you Sally, with my interjections for clarity, a guy’s clarity.
Buying Your Teen’s First Car
Sally: “Forbes Magazine reports that over 40% of parents buy their teenager’s first car—a surprising figure – but parents understand these cars may not be flashy. Parents want to control the purchase and make sure the vehicle is safe. They don’t want their kids to blow money on expensive newer cars.”
But what if parents don’t know much about cars? “They can ask Alexa for help but technology can’t help with everything.” Here are some tips:
- Prioritize Safety
Sally: “Don’t be nervous about buying your teen a car. Cars are safer now than ever. Search for a car with at least six airbags; two in the front, and four side impact bags. Features like antilock brakes and stability control make it easier for teen drivers to stay inside the lanes.
[Hey Sally, after losing my artic blue Maverick in a snow drift I had a 1979 Ford Fiesta. Front wheel drive, four cylinder, four speed, with a driver seat stiffer than a library chair. In college my friends lifted the front axles on a 4×4 block. “Hey,” I said, “My wheels are spinning but I’m not going anywhere.” My buddies bounced the car from its perch and off we sped. The Fiesta served me well but with an uncool 8-track player and wooden seat it hardly impressed coeds.]
- Go For Something Big
Sally: Your teenager wants a shiny, speedy, sleek car but this isn’t a good idea. Get a vehicle with weight behind it, even if your teen complains it looks clunky. Try a midsize car. The extra mass provides more protection during a crash. A lower center of gravity also means the car is less likely to roll over.
[Hey Sally how about a truck? Then again trucks mean your teen hauls their friends’ stuff. Like kegs. Or beds. Wait, forget that….teens should not be anywhere near a bed. Or beer. My 3rd vehicle, a 1986 Chevy pick-up, moved me from Colorado to California. I once hit a deer on a remote highway. The deer lost. That rig saved my bacon.]
- Research The Car
Sally: Research your car online. Learn where to get deals. Check out Kelly Blue Book, NADA Guides or Autotrader. Appraisal guides offer accurate vehicle pricing information for most US vehicles. Check the vehicle’s history. Carfax can show if the car has been involved in an accident.
Teenagers can be demanding but buying a car for your teen doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. Good luck finding a safe, affordable and perfect first car for your child.
[Thanks Sally. Both my kids will receive hand-me-downs. Thankfully the Maverick is long gone. My oldest daughter gets my Subaru when she finishes college. It’s up to her whether the odometer reads 40,000 or 80,000 miles.]
And finally, more sage advice: Teach your kids how to use a jack, change a tire, and check and fill the oil. Put a shop rag in the trunk and a first aid kit. Show them where to keep insurance and emergency assistance (i.e. AAA) cards. Give ‘em a tool kit.
Buying teens a car doesn’t have to be scary. The scary part is watching them drive away.
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