A young person’s first vehicle is their initial taste of freedom. As a parent, you want to do everything in your power to ensure your child’s safety. But that safety and reliability come with a high price tag and can feel overwhelming.

Whether you’re purchasing a new vehicle or financing a used one, there are a few tips to keep in mind so you the best deal on a vehicle that’s safe and reliable.

7 tips for buying your teen’s first car

Whether you plan to buy a car from a dealership or a private owner, it’s important to be prepared to shop confidently. Review these tips on buying a car for a teenager before you start your search.

1. Set expectations in advance

Your teen’s first car is an exciting time for both parties. But before heading to the lot, it is important to set expectations for the vehicle and the buying process.

This conversation doesn’t need to be a lecture but a dialogue outlining the responsibilities of owning and operating a vehicle. It is also best to discuss the budget early to avoid possible disappointment.

2. Invest in driving school

Before your teen gets behind the wheel of their vehicle, consider enrolling them in driving school. Classes taught by professionals can be found in your community and are offered in either group or solo settings.

Classes are a great way to ensure your teen knows the rules of the road. Some insurance companies also offer benefits for new drivers who complete driving classes.

3. 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. Avoid the V-6 engine and stick with a more traditional four-cylinder that is capable but won’t push past speed limits. A midsized vehicle with safety features like air bags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control could be easier for a new driver to handle.

Bankrate tip

4. Consider whether used or new is better

Buying a new versus used car for your teen can come down to more than just price. Consider the following pros and cons when deciding which route is best for you and your teen’s needs:

Buying used Buying new
Cost Used cars sold for $27,143 on average in December (Kelley Blue Book). New cars sold for $45,578 on average in December (Kelley Blue Book).
Safety Depending on the model year of the used vehicle, it may not be outfitted with as many safety features as you might want. Aim to purchase a vehicle made after 2018, as most will have a backup camera. Many newer vehicles boast advanced safety features such as lane assist or blind spot monitoring.
Insurance Insurance is less expensive for a used car, even with a teen driver. New vehicles tend to carry higher insurance premiums than their used counterpart.

5. Check used cars for quality

Although used car prices have increased recently, used cars are still cheaper. However, putting a teen in a car that has not been well-maintained can lead to disastrous results.

So, if you opt for a used car, check it over thoroughly before buying. Go for certified preowned or ask a National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence-certified mechanic to inspect the vehicle to confirm it’s in good condition before you buy.

6. 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. This approach can likely give your teen a greater sense of responsibility and pride for the vehicle, as they now have a financial stake.

But 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 will be partially or wholly responsible for any of the expenses and keep communication open.

Bankrate tip

If your teen is covering the purchase price and is over the age of majority, they might qualify for a first-time car buying program.


7. Opt for teen-friendly 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 the best deal on your teenager’s first car to maximize your dollar. But you need to factor in costs beyond the purchase price to avoid 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.