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What to know about buying your teen’s first car

Smiling girl and her father looking at car in showroom, girl pointing at car
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The process of buying your teen’s first car can be both fun and challenging. But you will need to balance your budget with the features you and your teen want. It’s an exciting time and doing your research can get you the best deal on a vehicle that’s safe and reliable. 

4 tips for buying your teen’s first car 

Whether you plan to buy a car from a dealership or private owner, it’s important to be prepared so you can shop with confidence. Be sure to review these tips on buying a car for a teenager before you start your search.  

1. Shop for safety 

Getting a safe car is essential. Per mile driven, teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are three times more likely to crash than older drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

It may seem like bigger is better when it comes to safety, but this isn’t always the case. A midsized vehicle that’s equipped with safety features, like air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, is easy enough for a new driver to handle and could be a better fit.  

You’ll also want to consider crash test results for the vehicle. This information can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s websites.  

2. Check used cars for quality

Prices for used cars have escalated in recent years. The average price of a used car is over $28,000 as of January 2022, according to Kelley Blue Book. But that average is still less than the average price of a new car. However, putting a teen in a car that has not been well-maintained can lead to disastrous results. 

If you opt for a used car, check it over thoroughly before buying. Go for certified preowned or ask an ASE-certified mechanic — a mechanic who has received certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence — to inspect the vehicle to confirm it’s in good condition before you buy.  

3. Share the costs

It may not be possible for your teen to contribute much towards the purchase price, but there are other ways to split the cost of owning the vehicle. Before you buy, work out what your teen is going to cover. This can include maintenance costs, gas and insurance. Make it clear whether your teen is going to be partially or wholly responsible for any of the expenses and keep communication open.  

4. Opt for teen features

Some cars offer safety features specifically geared toward teen drivers, like backup cameras. Visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website to view safety ratings on cars you’re considering. 

Also, look for a fuel-efficient car to reduce the cost at the pump. If your child needs the car for school, sporting events and visiting potential colleges, fuel costs can add up fast. When college time rolls around, your child will likely thank you for helping them select a fuel-efficient ride. 

Research costs beyond the purchase price 

You want to get the best deal on your teenager’s first car to maximize your dollar. But you need to factor in other costs beyond the purchase price to avoid any surprises later down the line.  

Here are some other costs to be mindful of:  

  • Gasoline: Fuel costs vary by location, but you can view estimated annual potential costs by year, make and model on the U.S. Department of Energy’s fuel economy site. 
  • Maintenance and repairs: Use Edmunds car maintenance calculator to estimate maintenance costs on the vehicle you’re considering.  
  • Auto insurance: Speak with your insurance agent to get an idea of how much it’ll cost to cover your teenager under your policy. And don’t hesitate to shop around if the number they give seems too high.  

The bottom line 

Buying your teen’s first car doesn’t have to be stressful. Consider involving your teen when it’s time to shop so they understand what the purchase process entails, and the costs associated with owning a car. They’ll also acquire knowledge that can help them when it’s time to buy a car on their own.  

 

 

Written by
Allison Martin
Allison Martin's work began over 10 years ago as a digital content strategist, and she’s since been published in several leading financial outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money, MoneyTalksNews, Investopedia, Experian and Credit.com.
Edited by
Auto loans editor