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Your Teen’s First Car, What They Really Should Be Driving

It may be the most important purchase you make—the car you put your teen driver in.

Do you go new? Used? How used? How new?

“When I got my license almost thirty years ago, I’m sure the decision my parents made of what car to put me in took all of five seconds. When it was available, I would just drive my mom’s car. There was no need (or finances, frankly), to purchase a new or used car. My mom’s car was your average “mom” car, a basic American-made four-door sedan with well over 75,000 miles on it. It had no fancy bells and whistles and was far from being luxury, but it got me to and from school, with the occasional trip to the mall. As a young adult, I went on to drive used car after used car. At one point, even driving one with a faulty starter, which required me to pop the hood and use an actual screwdriver to touch both of the terminals leading out of the solenoid to get the car started. Can you imagine putting your teen driver in a car he or she has to start with a screwdriver?

It’s definitely a different car purchasing world these days, and I’ll admit as much as I am staunchly against putting a teenager in a brand-new car, advances in driving technologies make doing just that as appealing as ever.

You can find a ton of advanced safety features even on entry-level new cars, including things like collision-warning systems (with lights or signals if you’re about to rear-end another car); adaptive cruise control with automatic braking (which keeps a safe distance from other cars and will apply the brakes for you if you don’t react quickly enough); blind spot-monitoring (side-view mirror lights that warn you of vehicles you can’t see); rear back-up camera (which lets you see directly behind the vehicle while in reverse); rear cross-traffic alert (which warns you of oncoming vehicles while you’re backing up); and lane-keeping assist (which sounds a chime if you drift out of your lane and sometimes even guides you back on track). Some even offer the ability for parents to pre-set speed controls, being notified when the driver surpasses predetermined speed rates.

Are all those bells and whistles (and costs) worth it? They just may be because they’re the best preventative measure against distracted driving, which is the number one cause of accidents involving teens. If you’re able to afford it and believe the sticker shock is worth your reduction in anxiety, then a new car purchase may be right for your family. Your first step should be visiting the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s website, which has more detailed information on crash avoidance systems for every new make and model and used ones as well.

But what about late model cars which boasted a 5 star safety crash rating in their days? Well, even the way crash tests are performed have changed, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cautions that a 5-star crash rating before 2011 can’t be compared with 5-star ratings today. Again, it’s important to do your research on late model cars and what safety features came with that particular model on that particular year.

Keep in mind that new car purchases also come with new car insurance rates, so be sure to consider that as an additional cost when drafting your car budget. Perhaps putting your teen in a used car with a low Kelly Blue Book value means you can opt out of collusion coverage, with the money you’re saving going towards a new car account.

Before we made our car purchase for our teen, we had three criteria. The car had to be used, ugly and slow. Now this may not be the way you went about car shopping, but we were adamantly opposed to putting our male teen in any type of car that felt or even remotely looked like a sports car. 0-60 rate of speed was the last thing on our minds. We also knew that a new car’s value would take a significant crash (no pun intended) within just a few weeks of being driven by a teen with a propensity to hit curbs, run into mailboxes and the dinging other car doors. We did have safety in mind and ended up going with a used Volvo. Three years later, many minor scratches and dents but accident-free, we still feel like we made the right decision.

Whether you go new or used, keep your teen very involved with all aspects of the purchase; the research, the initial cost (as well as depreciating value), maintenance costs and insurance rates. This way when it’s their turn to buy their own car, they will be well-educated in the process, and make an educated purchase.