Wondering if You Should Buy Your Teen a Car? Read This First!

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My 15-year-old son is learning how to drive. He has a permit, passed driver’s ed, and can’t wait to get his license.

As his friends begin driving on a regular basis, the standard question we parents ask each other is, “Are you going to buy your teenager a car?”

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Should Parents Buy Their Child a Car?

Before buying a car, you should consider if the vehicle is necessary and if your teen is responsible enough to have their own vehicle and how payments for the car will be made. There’s no one right answer. It will vary for each family.

Buying a Car for a Teenager

Nearly every teen looks forward to the freedom of having their own wheels. Driving a car allows teens to be independent and to feel self-sufficient.

They no longer have to rely on parents to give them rides to school, work, and activities. They can see friends and go on dates with more ease than getting rides from others affords.

The idea of buying a car for a teenager is one that is filled with angst. Parents worry that their teens won’t be responsible enough to drive safely in their new vehicle without constant oversight.

They are troubled that children will be spoiled if they don’t have to buy their own car. They grow concerned that kids who don’t have cars won’t feel the sense of empowerment that comes from owning a car.

There is no perfect answer that works for every family. However, there are some good questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does my child need a car for work or other responsibilities?
  • Can my family afford another vehicle?
  • Could my child use my car when needed?
  • Is my teen a safe driver?

The Decision to Buy a Car

No one can make this decision for you. It should be based on the answers to the above questions and possibly others that are unique to you.

Maybe you work late hours, which would make your child having their own car more beneficial to you. Perhaps you have a disability or illness that may make having another driver in the family very convenient.

It can be scary to hand your teen a set of keys, but it can also be wonderful. Conversely, you might not believe your teen is ready to drive on their own. Not everyone matures at the same rate, so putting off buying a car for a year or longer is a possibility.

Is Buying My Teen a Car Helping or is it Causing Entitlement?

The issue of whether or not a child will be spoiled by being given a car is a non-starter. One purchase, even a large one, is not enough to give a teenager an attitude of entitlement. That type of behavior starts long before the 16th birthday.

A way to ensure that a teen doesn’t feel spoiled by being given a car is to help them find a way to buy it themselves. A teen may be able to take out a loan if they have a job and a co-signer.

An easier option is to pay for the car yourself and have the teen repay you in whole or in part. Having a monetary stake in the vehicle can help your teen feel even more independent and may help them treat the car with greater care and respect.

One purchase, even a large one, is not enough to give a teenager an attitude of entitlement. That type of behavior starts long before the 16th birthday.

Picking the Perfect Car

What is the ideal car for your teen? If you ask my son, it will be brand new, cherry red, and a price tag higher than the sum total of his college savings account. The actual best car for a teen is a safe car with driver-assist features that won’t break the bank.

Teens are not known to be the safest drivers. In fact, drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are far more likely to be in a car accident than any other age group.

The best way to keep your teen driver safe is to buy them a car with excellent crash test ratings while also remembering there is a real chance that the car will be damaged (or totaled) within the first year of driving.

Managing Automobile Expenses

The cost of the car is entirely dependent upon which car you choose. Will you pick a new car or a used one? Will you go for the vehicle that will impress their friends, or will you take a more conservative approach?

Either way, one of you will probably have a new car payment. Having your child take out the loan with you as a co-signer is a good way to help them establish credit, but it might be more of a headache than you want.

If your family values being debt-free (or having as little debt as possible). You can go the route of paying for the car in cash, assuming it’s a car cheap enough you can afford.

Paying for the car is not the only expense involved with a teen owning a vehicle. You will also need to pay tax and licensing on the car. It will need to have car insurance, and it will be insured at a higher rate than you are used to as an adult driver. You will also need to cover the cost of gas and upkeep.

Many parents choose to pay for the car and ask their children to cover the miscellaneous expenses. Before making the purchase, sit down with your child and explain how much the costs will be on a monthly basis.

For starters, the average insurance policy cost of a teen driver is about $2,000 per year. You will also need to study gas prices in your area and the amount of expected driving per week.

Explain to your teen they will need a job to pay the agreed upon amount. Outline what will happen to the car if those expenses are not met.

Going over the expenses of having a car can be a great teaching moment for your kids on money management and the actual cost of owning a car.

Safety First

My son balked at the idea of driver’s ed. He did not want to take it, he did not think he needed to take it, and he fought with us over the idea that anyone could teach him how to drive.

Even now, after he completed the course, he believes it was a waste of time. I tend to take a “choose your battles” approach with my teen. I don’t fight with him over everything, but driver’s ed was a hill I was willing to die on. My hope is that, when he is behind the wheel, that driver’s education course will help him to be just a bit safer.

Driver’s ed isn’t the only hurdle a teen driver needs to pass. Most states have requirements that permit drivers practice for a specific number of hours before a graduated license can be issued.

As a parent, you should ensure your teen is comfortable behind the wheel in many driving conditions. Have them practice driving in the daytime, at night, in the rain, and if your area is prone to winter weather, even in snow and ice.

Another factor you have to consider is your own behavior. Your child watches you as you drive. Make sure you exhibit good habits when you are behind the wheel.

Always wear your seatbelt. Don’t text and drive. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted, and always check your blindspot. Your children will learn these good habits from watching you, but they will also learn your bad habits.

Be aware, and you will all feel more comfortable when and if your teen has their own car.

Alternatives to Vehicle Ownership

Maybe you have decided not to buy a car for your teen. What are your other options?

My family has decided that our children will not own their own cars when they turn 16. This is simply because I work from home and rarely drive the car that I already own. My son will drive one of our cars when he needs it, but it will not be his car alone.

Another option is to put the breaks on licensing altogether. Some teens aren’t ready to drive when they turn 16. A bicycle is a good choice for teens who still need to get around but don’t have too far to go. Larger cities may have public transportation that is even more convenient than owning a vehicle.

As a teen, I did have my own car, but I rarely drove it. A friend of mine with a similar schedule picked me up and took me wherever I needed to go. We felt we were impacting the environment less, and we were able to enjoy each other’s company.

Ridesharing can be a great thing for teens to work out as long as they can continue to be safe while riding together.

The Best Decision For Your Family

In the end, only you can decide whether or not to buy your teen a car. Likewise, only you can decide how to manage any vehicle you might end up buying.

What are your thoughts about buying a car for a teen? Tell us in the comments!

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