How to Choose Your Teen’s First Car

teen drivers parents tips teenager

[Editor’s Note: This post has been republished since it’s original posting date in April 2012.]

We had two callers this week stressing over getting their teenager’s first car.  This is always a tough task: to get the right car that is safe, that will make your kid happy, and that you can afford.

Your Teen’s First Car

Your children want a really nice car, like “some of their friends have” and as much as you would like to provide that, you just can’t afford it.

If you are fortunate enough to get your kid the car of his or her dreams, what is the right thing to do and are you sending the right message by buying your child something brand new? 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.

There are no real right or wrong answers here, but bear this in mind…odds are, whatever you give your kid it is going to get wrecked. As a parent, you hope and pray it is minor and there are no injuries, but you must face the facts.

Driver Distraction

I talk all the time about driver distraction when it comes to kids. Talking and texting are real dangers with kids. They really have no conception of how fast things can happen when they take their eyes off the road. There are a number of contracts you can print online to try to keep them from engaging in texting while driving.  We have one on the Car Pro USA website.

Another 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, speed is a factor. If you are a guy, think back to when you were 16 and that will give you chills to think about what your son is going to do as soon as he gets around the corner.

Monitoring Devices

Luckily, in this day and age, there is technology that will monitor your child’s driving habits whether or not you are 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.

Ford has a product called SmartKey, which allows you to set the volume on the radio to a maximum, will alert them loudly when they get low on gas and will drive them crazy if they are not wearing their seatbelts. GM has an exceptional built-in monitoring system called Teen Driver.

SUVs and Vintage Cars

One last warning is with SUVs. Some are fine, but others have a really high center of gravity and young drivers tend to oversteer in emergencies. Know the rollover propensity of whatever you are considering to purchase.

Occasionally, I hear from parents who want to give their kids 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.

We can’t 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.

Photo Credit: pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock

  1. fgw24 6 years ago

    Hi Jerry,
    For that first car (especially since it’ll be more than $450 HA!), we are insisting that our kids have a personal investment in the vehicle in hopes that they will think twice before mistreating it, they may not have to pay for it all but enough that it requires sacrifice on their part. Our job as parents is to prepare our children well for life which as you know doesn’t include free cars. Keep up the great work!

  2. Joe 8 months ago

    The best car for your kid is one that THEY PAY FOR. At least a percentage of it.

    It will encourage proper care and respect for that car.

  3. Bill 8 months ago

    I agree with Joe the best car is the one they pay for more importantly they have a job and pay for their own gas if it breaks down due to abuse they can pay for it out of their paycheck teach them how to check the air pressure in the tires regularly how to check the oil all the stuff their sooner or later going to need to learn how to do I think If they don’t have their parents bailing them out they’re more likely to take pristine care of their car

  4. Robert Spencer 8 months ago

    My daughter and eventually my oldest grandson both worried my wife and myself. The solution was the same even though two decades separated them. A bench seat single cab pickup with a manual transmission that each of them had to put some equity into. Neither of them wrecked their vehicles although our grandson backed into a tree. He has a 1985 C30 dually that has a low gear ratio and the 454cid engine has been replaced with a small block 350. Both vehicles could only carry three maximum in the cab and limited their distractions. The C30 looks and sounds mean, but the tranny and motor make it a pussycat of a tank.

  5. Justin Patrick Kelly 7 months ago

    I was thinking about a Jeep Wrangler for my daughters first vehicle. One thing you mentioned is something that I was worried about. Center of gravity.. Are newer jeeps engineered to keep the tires on the ground or do they have a high probability to rollover?

    • Amy Plemons 7 months ago

      They have better stability control today than ever before, but more prone to roll than SUVs that sit lower to the ground. Since teens tend to over-steer, I just don’t recommend them.

      Jerry Reynolds, President
      Car Pro Radio Network

  6. Scott Noble 4 weeks ago

    My first car was literally life changing for me. From the time I was nine years old my most favorite activity was visiting by my grandparents who were both sports car enthusiasts. My grandmother, Cleo Adams, actually started the first women’s car club in San Diego called “Woman On Wheels!” or WOW! But on with the story. I always loved to ride with both grandparents in their XK120 Jaguar right up until my Grandfather led me back to the garage on this particular visit and slid me into the seat of his brand new 1960 Morgan Plus 4! I loved riding in that car especially with him. Then as time went by, he passed away and I was heart broken.
    On to High School, then graduation, I’d never had my own car, and my grandmother, out of the blue, handed me the keys to my grandfathers beloved Morgan which I still have to this day. I’ll forward pictures if you’d like!

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