Thinking I do with words - Car buying advice for parents of teenagers

Teens are getting their licenses for the first time, and when that happens they will inevitably want a car to drive. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently released their list of recommended cars for teens. It is insane.

The cars included aren’t bad, in fact they’re often quite nice, but they’re also not cars that make sense for teens. A 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe, for example, is a great car for people with a couple children, which typically does not describe a 16-year-old. The list has three minivans; no teenager wants to drive a minivan. There is a Lincoln MKZ, for the teen who is somehow already a retired accountant, or the BMW 2-Series, for the teen whose parents don’t like them very much so they want them to crash backwards into a tree. Every car on the list looks like something parents, or even grandparents, would drive, not teenagers.

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Now, there is some good advice in there - namely, kids should be driving something that’s low on power so they can’t get themselves in too much trouble. They also put a priority on modern safety equipment, which I respect, because safety is always a worry for parents.

So your kid just got their license and you want them in the safest vehicle possible. What should you buy?

Nothing.

No really, don’t buy them a car. If you want them in the safest vehicle possible, that’s your car. If you’re paranoid about the safety of your children, you’ve already done that research and bought something extremely safe already. Plus, since it’s your car, you control when and where they drive it, and they know that if they screw up they won’t be able to drive it anymore. The safest car for a teen is being forced to borrow their parents’ car.

What if you believe they are responsible enough for their own wheels?

Same answer; don’t buy them anything.

If they’re responsible enough to own their own car, they’re responsible enough to save their money and buy it on their own, or convince a relative to sell them one of their cars for a heavy discount. If they buy their own car, there’s a sense of ownership and pride that comes from it being something they saved up to buy. That’s going to make them less likely to do something very stupid with it, because they spent a lot of time and effort to get that car, instead of just getting it as a gift. Give them help and advice through the process, but they buy it.

Of course, parents should probably find a way to ensure that the kids buy a car that is not particularly powerful, because most kids that are new to driving shouldn’t be behind the wheel of something too fast. But if they’re saving up from a summer job they will likely have a limited budget anyway, and power costs money.

When I was a teen, I drove my parents’ vehicles until I got a superb deal on my sister-in-law’s old Honda Civic. I certainly did some stupid things in that time, but all kids do that when they’re learning to drive, and I was never going fast enough to do real damage. What I didn’t do was try to drive a gift Plymouth Sundance up some sand dunes, ripping the front bumper off. And that’s the difference, I earned my rides so my risks were much less stupid than the people who were given theirs.

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