Buying your teen a car? Ask yourselves these questions

Choosing a safe car for your teen is a big milestone, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one. Find out how to make the shopping experience easier for you and your teen driver.

Tags: Cars, Home, Planning
Published: January 23, 2020

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.

How can I find a safe vehicle for a young driver?

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.

Important safety features for young drivers

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Should I buy new or used?

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.

Do’s and don’ts when buying used

  • Do pay attention to your budget. hides details

    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.

  • Don’t forget about safety features. shows details

    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.

  • Do your homework. shows details

    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.

  • Don’t limit your search to one dealership. shows details

    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.

  • Do a vehicle history report. shows details

    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.

  • Don’t buy the car without negotiating. shows details

    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.

  • Do ask questions about mileage. shows details

    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.

  • Don’t forget to factor in interest payments and other costs. shows details

    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.

  • Do a test drive. shows details

    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.

  • Don’t be afraid to walk away. shows details

    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.

  • Do read the contract carefully before signing. shows details

    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.

  • Get it checked out. shows details

    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.

How can I finance my teen’s vehicle?

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.


Ready to roll

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.