June 14th, 2010

Is Your Teen Ready For A Car?

Graduation season is here and so are the never-ending pleas from teens to have their own car. Summer is a great time to be young and mobile, but how do you decide whether your teen is ready? Here are a few things to consider before making a decision.

What kind of driver will your teen be?

You know that having a car is a big responsibility. You also know your child better than anyone, so you know how well they handle other things. The decisions they make in other areas shed light on what kind of driver they would be. Are they disciplined in their schoolwork? Do they help around the house? Do they show concern for the welfare of the people around them? These answers can indicate how they will handle the responsibility of driving.

Do they need a car now?

You know that your teen will likely have a car someday, but is that day today? Consider the impact another driver might have on the family schedule? Sometimes ferrying teenagers around town can be a full-time job for parents. However, if your teen has access to alternative modes of transport like public or school transportation, their bikes or feet, or friends that already drive, there may not be the same urgency for them to have a car.

Also review whether they have enough money to pay the costs associated with driving, such as gas, insurance and maintenance. If your teen can’t afford those expenses, you may end up paying.

What is the best car?

Once you have made the decision for your teen to have a car, the next, and perhaps most important, question is what kind of car to buy. They will undoubtedly have opinions about the car they want, as well as the cars they don’t. While it is important to consider their wants and involve them in the buying process, safety should be your number one priority.

According to the Centers for Disease Controls, auto accidents are the NUMBER ONE cause of death for teens aged 16 to 19. Teen drivers are also four times as likely to crash as are more experienced drivers. As such, you want to make sure that they are protected when behind the wheel. Consumer Reports recommends avoiding large trucks and SUVs due to their mediocre handling capabilities and high centers of gravity. They also recommend staying away from sports cars with powerful acceleration and high top-end speeds. See their article here to find out which cars they pick as best for young drivers.

In addition to the car, you may want to review driving services, like AAA™, or a product like SMCU’s Mechanical Breakdown Protection, which can protect both the car as well as help the driver if they are stranded.

Paying the bill

The last thing you have to address before putting them behind the wheel is who will be financially responsible for the car. Here are several options.

Pay for the car yourself. Whether you pay cash or finance the car in your name, the teen has no financial responsibility. This option can provide extra leverage when setting down the rules.  You can even sell the car if rules are not followed.

Your teen pays you. Much like above, you initially buy the car. Then your teen makes payment to you for either the entire balance of the car or just part. This allows them to understand the mechanics of buying a car without having the credit burden associated.

Your teen pays for the car. If they’ve saved enough for a car or you want to co-sign a loan with them, you can go this route. The primary financial responsibility lies with the teen. This may not be the best option if your child does not have a steady stream of income, as any missed payments reflect on their credit and yours.

Having a new driver can be stressful. Doing your homework before they get on the road can prevent anxiety and start your teen on their way for a lifetime of good driving and auto-buying habits.

More information
SMCU-New & Used Auto Loans
Consumer Reports-Cars for teen drivers
Centers for Disease Control-CDC – Motor Vehicle Safety: Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet
Edmunds.com-Young Drivers Guide

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