Important Considerations When Choosing a Car for Your Teen

Your first car is a momentous occasion. Parents looking at first cars for their teens should be considerate of safety features and needs, as well as cost.

Capital One | 
May 24, 2022 | 5 min read

Black man handing car keys to teenage son in front of white carShutterstock

Getting your first car is a momentous occasion. While there are different driving age requirements for each state, your teen could start driver’s education as early as 14, if they’re particularly keen to drive. As a parent, choosing the right car for your teenager is an important decision that should not be taken lightly.

There are many factors to consider when making this decision and every part of it should be in the best interests of your child. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the risk of car crashes is highest among teens aged 16 to 19. Picking the right make and model of car for your teen can help reduce the likelihood of your child getting into a car accident.

Pros and Cons of Getting Your Teen a Car

There are pros and cons to getting your teen a car that each parent should understand when their teen reaches driving age. Some of these are practical benefits and drawbacks, while others are more intrinsic, such as trust.

Pros

Some of the pros of getting your teen a car include:

  • Instills a sense of independence: For several decades, cars have been symbols of freedom and independence. For your teen, getting their own car can be the first time they’re able to make plans on their own time. This sense of independence may help increase confidence in your teen.
  • Increases feelings of trust: Giving your child a car, and the ability to make their own decisions, demonstrates incredible trust between the parent and child. Showing this kind of trust to your teen can help improve communications and the teen/parent relationship.
  • Helps teach responsibility: Cars are a huge responsibility, as they require timely maintenance and an in-depth understanding of driving laws. By giving your teen a car, you can help teach them to be responsible for their possessions, as well as their safety and well-being.

These are just a few of the most common benefits of getting a car for your teen. Depending on your family situation and resources, there could be many other benefits, such as enabling your teen to get a part-time job.

Cons

There are many intrinsic benefits to getting your teen a car, as it can help impart valuable lessons. However, since cars are such a large commitment, there may be drawbacks that come with getting your teen a car:

  • Insurance premiums are higher for teen drivers: Insurance companies typically charge more to insure teen drivers, because of their higher risk of accidents. Many states require car insurance to drive legally, so this is usually an unavoidable cost.
  • Being a multi-car household: Being a multi-car household may pose challenges and costs. For example, the amount you spend on gas, maintenance, and registration can go up significantly. Even storing multiple cars requires some management if you don’t have a multi-car garage.

Some of these costs and drawbacks can be even more impactful if you have more than one teen driving at a time. Additionally, some parents may prefer for their teens to save up for their own car, as this can also help teach money management and independence. The loss of these lessons may be seen as a drawback to gifting your teen a car.

What Does Your Teen Need a Car For?

One of the very first things to consider is what your teen needs a car for. Do they need to use it daily, for school or work, or entertainment purposes? Does your driver’s education program offer driver’s training for manual cars, or exclusively automatics? Will they be carrying other passengers consistently as part of a carpool for after-school activities? All of these factors can influence the type of car that suits your teen best.

Size and Type of Car

The size and type of your teen’s potential car play important roles in your teen’s safety on the road. Cars come in many different models and sizes, which influences how they handle on the road and which lifestyles they are suited for. If your teen has a lot of after-school activities, something with more storage for gear may be preferable, like a double-cab truck.

Talk to your teen about what they might prefer, and try to test drive several different models to make sure they have ideal visibility and maneuverability.

Safety Features

Understandably, safety is one of the top priorities for parents when their teens start to drive. Fortunately, many newer cars are equipped with advanced safety features. Advanced safety features you may find in modern cars include:

These features are designed to protect drivers, passengers, and others on the road. While these features are incredibly helpful, they should not be a replacement for comprehensive driver’s ed training.

Cost

Because teens are more likely to get into an accident than older drivers, your teen will likely inflict unintentional damage on their first vehicle. This could be cosmetic damage, or larger, more structural damage. For this reason, a car that is both cost-effective and safe is the ideal choice for your teen driver’s first vehicle. Dropping a large down payment for a new car can make even superficial damage seem more serious.

Buying a used car can be the most cost-effective option for teens; however, these cars may be less equipped with modern safety features or may need increased maintenance. If you’re interested in giving your teen a used car, then you might consider purchasing a new car for yourself and handing down your previous car. This could be beneficial from a cost perspective, as well as from a safety and maintenance perspective, as you are more familiar with the inner and outer workings of the car, such as its blind spots and maintenance needs.

Sit down to talk with your teen when you start thinking about getting them a car. Together, you can discuss their responsibilities and talk about wants versus priorities. This conversation can be a bonding experience, as well as help establish expectations for both parties.

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