The time has come: Your child is preparing to get his driver’s license and get behind the wheel of his own vehicle. For many teen drivers, this moment is an eagerly awaited rite of passage, a day they have looked forward to for years.
Parents of teen drivers, on the other hand, are concerned with practical questions surrounding the purchase. Navigating the vehicle options, safety features, ratings and financing options can be more stressful than parallel parking an SUV.
Here we answer some of the most common questions and concerns parents of teen drivers have when shopping for a vehicle for the teen driver in their family.
Many parents have lost sleep worrying about the day their child trades in a learner’s permit for a full license. Thinking about your teen behind the wheel might cause jitters, but if you shop smart — and safe — you can go a long way toward alleviating stress. This slideshow takes a look at some of the key safety tips and features to look for when vehicle shopping for a young driver — so that you can rest easy.
When you’re ready to start car shopping for your teen driver, look into various reliability ratings from a trusted source, such as Consumer Reports or J.D. Power and Associates. You can also check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s safety ratings. Limit your search to vehicles with four- or five-star safety ratings.
(Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
Look into the safety research statistics. You can view crash test results — perhaps the most important safety metric — through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Newer cars feature more robust safety features, such as forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. If you get too close to a vehicle while traveling at a certain speed, vehicles with these features will issue an auditory warning and will slam on the brakes for you.
Safety experts recommend other newer features like electronic stability control (ESC). Cars with ESC allow drivers to maintain control on slippery roads. Blind-spot warning (BSW) is another safety feature that can help your teen driver stay safe on the road. BSW systems give drivers a visual or audio warning when you’re changing lanes with another vehicle in your blind spot.
Don’t forget about tried-and-true safety features. Airbags, for instance, have saved over 40,000 lives from 1987 to 2015. Make sure your teen’s vehicle features at least six frontal and side airbags in total.
(Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
Newer models generally feature additional safety features you might want to consider for your teen’s first car: lane-departure warning, lane-centering assist and adaptive cruise control can help young drivers maintain a safe distance from other drivers. Recognize that an older model might save cost upfront but could require more maintenance or repairs over time and might lack newer safety features.
(Source: Consumer Reports, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute)
At the end of the day, this is about your child. So it’s important to make sure your teen driver feels comfortable behind the wheel of her new car. Make sure your teen test drives the vehicle and knows about all of the safety features.
Now that you’re up to speed on the most important safety features of your teen’s vehicle, it’s time to think about what car to buy. And that means asking yourself an important question to start: Should I buy new or used, or should I lease?
For many teens, buying a used car as a first vehicle is the most common option. But it’s a purchase that tends to stress car buyers out, and it’s particularly fraught for novice drivers and first-time vehicle owners who might not know where to begin.
Here’s a rundown of what to do — and what not to do — when you’re used-car shopping for the young driver in your family so that you can make an informed, confident decision.
How much can you afford to spend on a used car? Before you step onto the lot, arrive at a figure that won’t break your budget, and stick to that figure.
Shop around for a car that you and the young driver in your family can be comfortable driving. Also, remember that each state has different requirements regarding safety features, so make sure the used vehicle you’re buying meets the requirements for air bags, seat belts and child safety features.
Read up on reliability ratings of the used vehicles you’ve got your eye on. Not all cars are created equal, so find a model with a proven record of going the distance.
Whether used or new, a car is a big purchase. When shopping for a used car, in particular, prices can vary vastly based on dealership and region. Put in the time to comparison shop, and you could save some serious money.
Using the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), search online to find out the car’s history. Any accidents the vehicle has been in will show up in the report. Also read up on whether there were any recalls for the model and year in question.
You’ve done your research and have a sense of what experts say the used vehicle is worth. Put that information to work for you, and negotiate with the dealer toward what you think is a fair price.
Twelve thousand miles per year is generally regarded as average, while 10,000 miles per year (or less) is low and 15,000 miles per year (or more) is considered high. Look at the odometer, which tracks mileage, and do a quick calculation based on the age of the vehicle. If the mileage seems alarmingly high or low in comparison to the average, ask the dealer if they know why.
The monthly payment on the used car is the most important figure to consider, but the cost doesn’t end there. Factor in the cost of interest and other dealer add-ons like rust-proofing and extended warranties. Also consider the price of auto insurance — younger drivers often have higher premiums.
Just as it’s important that your teen driver feel comfortable behind the wheel of her car, you want to make sure the used car you’re buying feels right for you. Always take a vehicle out for a spin before buying it.
If you’re not satisfied with the test drive or the details of the deal being offered, remember that it’s OK to walk away. Remember, too, that this is a business transaction, so there’s nothing personal in telling the dealer you’re not prepared to sign on the dotted line.
Spend time thoroughly reading the contract. Are all verbal promises the dealer made included in writing? Are any commitments to repair the vehicle before the purchase spelled out clearly? Does the contract include details about payments and money down? Make sure everything is in writing, and if you have questions, be sure to ask.
If you have a trusted mechanic, take the car for a visit. Many mechanics will, for a nominal fee, go over a car and give you their perspective on what might be potential red flags or upcoming maintenance.
You’ve shopped around for a safe vehicle, you’ve decided on the right car, and you’re ready to make the purchase. Now it’s time to decide how to finance the vehicle. Even if you’re buying a used car, this will be a significant purchase that can affect your finances. Research your financing options and determine the best one for you before you settle on a car.
You may want to stop into a bank and get pre-approved before you visit car lots, so that you know exactly what your buying options are. Although car dealerships are eager to offer in-house financing, it might be wise to speak with additional lenders before deciding on the financing option that is right for you.
Picking out a car for your teenager and handing them the keys is an important milestone. It doesn’t have to be a stressful one.
Before you hit the dealerships, find out the right auto loan option for you.