How To Buy First Car For A Teenager

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Your excited 16-year old just got his driver’s license – and it’s time to get the new driver their first car of his own.

When you are ready to find your teen their best first car, the primary considerations on your mind are usually safety and reliability. Again, adding a new vehicle to the household comes with a lot of expenses. Therefore, it makes sense that you plan the purchase so that you can get a safe car worthy of your child without emptying your wallet. It also an opportunity to teach your child lessons on financial responsibility.

Tips for Finding the Best First Car

With your budget in mind, start researching online for the ideal vehicle. Typically, what you may prioritize in choosing a car for yourself will be different from when selecting for your teenage driver.

You’ll want a car that is safe and won’t encourage your inexperienced teen to over speed.

Also, consider if you’ll buy new or used. New cars cost more, but they offer better safety features that may not be available in older models. Remember, car buying the best first car doesn’t have to be stressful if you do your research first.

1. Consider Safety

Check out the car models that made the Top Safety Picks list of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Another valuable resource is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration safety ratings for cars. Critical safety features to look out for include electronic stability control, side curtain airbags, and blind-spot monitoring.

Newer cars will have all the latest safety technology, but if they are above your budget, do not worry. You can buy an older second-hand vehicle for your teen and have them outfitted with new-car safety features at little expense—also, check-out the IIHS list of best-used cars for teens.

2. Is It Affordable?

Before making a choice of vehicle for your teen, you must determine the amount of money you can afford to spend. Can the money get a new car or a used one? Is the new vehicle to be financed with a loan?

Is your teen working and making money, and how much is he able to contribute to the purchase and maintenance of the vehicle? What is the cost of fuelling the car? 

These are some essential questions you need to answer to purchase without putting yourself in a tight financial corner successfully.

3. What Size Do You Need?

More significant, heavier vehicles offer better protection for their occupants. Therefore the IIHS recommends them for teenagers. However, larger cars are more expensive and harder to maneuver. Small cars don’t do well in crash tests but are more affordable and easier to drive.

The middle ground, regarding pricing and size, are compact or midsized SUVs. These are large enough to withstand impacts and small enough to be maneuverable. They are usually priced like midsized sedans and have similar fuel consumption rates.

4. Is It Reliable?

A car requiring frequent visits to the mechanic is a major headache and a potential safety risk. Plus, there are added unplanned expenses. You should go through the car reliability ratings from Consumer Reports to get an idea of the reliability of vehicle models. Consumer reports score cars on reliability based on data from car owners and trends.

Pull a vehicle report if you are buying a used car from a private seller. AutoCheck or CarFax can provide these for $30 to $50. Also, get the previous owner’s maintenance record and get a trusted auto mechanic to go through the vehicle with a fine-tooth comb. Note that a car that has had many previous owners is more likely to have issues later.

If your budget permits, go for Certified pre-owned cars from dealerships. They are more expensive but won’t require extensive inspection. This is because the repair costs are covered with a factory warranty of three years and 36,000 miles. You can even buy them with an extended warranty.

Get Them Involved with the Car Loan if Possible

As much as possible, include your teen in the entire process of car buying- including the costs. Let him know how much he’s expected to contribute to the monthly payments if the vehicle is financed.

If you aren’t paying cash for the car, your teen won’t be able to get a loan if they are under 18. Therefore, you’ll be legally responsible for the monthly payments since a minor can’t enter into a binding contract. Even if they are up to 18, it may not be easy for them to access loans because they’ll probably have no credit history.

But you can cosign the loan if they are above 18 and willing to bear the responsibility. However, you should know that you remain responsible for the repayment, and your credit score could suffer if there are any defaults.

They also need to contribute to the cost of registration, license plate, and inspection. And once they start using the car, they will have other expenses to cover – maintenance, tolls, parking, etc.

Carrying them along and involving them in the process is a way of training them on sound financial decision making. They will also be better prepared to handle the responsibilities that come with owning a vehicle. 

Again, they will drive more carefully, knowing they will have to pay for any repair work on the car from dents and scratches. Even paying for traffic violations and parking tickets will encourage safer driving.

Test Drive the Car

It’s always exciting when you are about getting something new. However, don’t get so carried away that you neglect to carry out due diligence before buying a car for your teen. 

Test drive the chosen car to ensure it’s in order, and it will suit the driving needs of your child. Also, get them to test drive it. It’s an opportunity for your teen to see if they enjoy driving the car before reaching a buy decision.

So what should you be looking for in finding the best new car?

  • Check if the primary controls are easy to use. Is the steering too heavy? Can it be adjusted to suit the physique of your child or any other person that might use the vehicle? A telescoping steering wheel is ideal as it can be adjusted to suit different driving positions.
  • How comfortable are the seats? They should also be supportive and neither too hard nor too soft.
  • Take your time to drive the vehicle in various locations – out on the open road, within the town and possibly on the motorway – at least an hour should be given to this exercise,
  • Slam on the brakes and see how well it holds and how the car handles in an emergency. The brakes should feel solid and leave you with a reassuring feeling.
  • Try overtaking other vehicles if you’re on a dual carriageway or motorway, to check for excellent acceleration and if there are any blind spots.
  • Try to climb a hill, how the car responds under this added load is often a good indicator of the condition of the engine and transmission.
  • Take a winding route to see how well the car corners. Does it hug the road?
  • This is an opportunity to check out how easy it is to operate some of the more advanced modern features like the sat-nav if available. Is it accurate?

The salesman knows that the right time to strike is just right after you return from a test drive – with the new car scent still in your nose.

Do not allow yourself to be persuaded. Even if you agree with your teen that this is the best first car, made specifically for them after the test drive, try out other similar vehicles for comparison before committing.

Call Your Insurance Agent

Finally, once you have selected the best new car for your teen, there’s still one more step to complete. You need to get car insurance. While teens can have access to car insurance, you are better off adding it to your own policy – it’s more cost-effective. Getting coverage under a single policy can save you and your household as much as $3,000 annually.

Insurance for younger drivers tends to be more expensive than coverage for more experienced drivers. But some insurers can give a discount for teen drivers. This could be based on their academic performance or upon completion of approved safe-driving courses.

Driving records and locations are also other determinants of the availability of discounts for teens. Consult with your agent to get the best deals possible for your teen.


With the delivery of their first car, your teen is sure to be over-the-moon. But before you hand over the keys, set some ground rules for using the vehicle. 

For instance, no texting, surfing the web, taking selfies, or dialing while driving. Also, agree on the number of people that can ride in the car at a time, who else can drive the car, how far they can take it, and the time they are expected to be home each night. 

These conditions will ensure a safe driving experience for your teen and peace of mind for you. Buying a car can be a great learning experience about money and negotiation.