5 Tips: How to Pick Your Teenís First Car

Teen driver
Chevrolet's new industry-first Buckle to Drive feature, embedded in Teen Driver mode, is the latest feature designed to encourage young drivers to develop safe driving habits right from the start. (Photo by John F. Martin for Chevrolet).
Your children want a really nice car, like ďsome of their friends haveĒ, and as much as you would like to provide that for your teenís first car, you just canít afford it, and it may not be the best decision anyway.

If you are fortunate enough to get your kids the car of their dreams, what is the right thing to do and are you sending the right message by buying your child something brand new, like on the Parents Magazine's list of the best new cars we have today? I have seen parents buy 16-year-olds some incredibly expensive, and more frightening, really fast cars and just hand them the keys. I have seen parents buy 16-year-olds some incredibly expensive, and more frightening, really fast cars and just hand them the keys.

The cool thing about your very first car is that no matter your age, you always remember it. Not the one you may have shared or borrowed from a parent, but the first one that was really yours, all by yourself. For me, it was a 1967 Chevy Malibu coupe with a 283 V-8, air conditioning, and a 3-speed manual transmission on the steering column. The year was 1973 and my Dad paid $450 for it and gave it to me six months before I could drive.

Here are some things to consider when choosing your youngsterís first vehicle:

Engine Size:

Today, smaller engines dominate cars, but they also have more horsepower than just a few years ago. For instance, I reviewed a 4-cylinder Subaru recently that was a rocket with almost 300-horses. It is very common for 6-cylinder engines to top 325-horses. Do not tempt your kid to drive fast, as we know, speed kills.


A big distraction is too many people in a car. This is especially true of the guys and the way they tend to horse around, and with the guys more than the girls. The larger the car, the more kids will fit in it. For me, a regular or extended cab truck is a good choice or a coupe that has a limited back seat cuts down on passengers. SUVs are popular with kids, and some are fine, but others have a really high center of gravity and young drivers tend to over steer in emergencies. Know the rollover propensity of whatever you are considering to purchase.

New or Used?

I always recommend used cars, but not too old. Odds are good that your child is going to have a wreck. You pray it is a minor one, but car safety improves every year, so the newer the better. We recently learned that a new study showed that half the teenage driver deaths we in cars over 11 years old.

Occasionally, I hear from a parent who wants to give their kid a classic or vintage car. While it would probably be cool, the newer the car, the more safety features. As always, the more airbags the better in the event of an accident.

Set a good example:

Children are sponges and they are more observant than we think. From an early age, they watch their parentsí driving habits and they stick with them. Watch yourself and teach them properly by not texting and driving, observing laws, using blinkers, wearing seatbelts, and exhibiting good habits.

Monitor them:

Luckily, in this day and age, there is technology that will monitor your childís driving habits when you are not in the car. You can have devices installed in the car that will alert you by email or phone if your kid gets over a pre-set speed. You can set parameters of certain areas, and if your child ventures outside that, it will alert you. Last year, General Motors introduced industry-first Buckle to Drive feature that is integrated into its fantastic Teen Driver system. When activated it won't allow the driver to shift the vehicle out of park if the driverís seat belt is not buckled.

We canít be with our kids when they leave the nest, but we can sure try our best to protect them and we are lucky to be in an age of technology that might keep them just a little safer.
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