Following up on last week’s column about the elusive $5000 used car, most people who are looking for this price range cars are looking for their child’s first car. This is often a tough position for a parent. 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 their 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.
This is a tough decision for parents, and not a day goes by that I do not get an email from someone wanting advice on a car for a new driver. There is no real right or wrong answer 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.
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.
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.
Luckily, in this day and age, there is technology that will monitor your child’s 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.
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 seat belts. There are even iPhone apps that cost virtually nothing that will monitor your child’s driving behavior and let you know about it. Even OnStar will now let you monitor driving behavior.
One last warning is with SUVs. 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.
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.
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.
The Car Pro’s newspaper column can be read weekly in the Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, San Antonio Express News, and various other newspapers around the country.