Take the stress out of buying your teen a car

June 30, 2023

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


Even though car prices have not yet levelled off following a spike due to supply chain issues and increased demand, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a great option out there now.

The time has come: Your child is preparing to get their driver’s license and get behind the wheel of their own vehicle. For many teens, 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. But if you shop smart — and safe — you can go a long way toward alleviating stress.

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 there are many robust safety features that come standard in today's cars, and that should help put you at ease. Even used cars are equipped with tried-and-true features like driver- and passenger-side airbags.

To help you make a smart decision about safety check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s safety ratings and crash test results. Limit your search to vehicles with four- or five-star safety ratings. Another great idea is to look at reliability ratings from a trusted source, such as Consumer Reports or J.D. Power and Associates.


New vs used: What are the do’s and don’ts when buying 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?

For many parents, buying a used car as a first vehicle for their teen driver is the most common option.

What does that mean with the price of used cars remaining high? If you have $10,000 to spend on a car, you can still buy one, but it might be an older car for the same money. There is a silver lining though, if you have a trade in, it might be worth more today and you can factor that into your purchase.

Here are some do’s and don’ts to help ease the stress of the buying process.

  • Do consider important safety features: Each state has different requirements regarding safety features, so make sure the used vehicle you’re buying meets the requirements in your state for air bags, seat belts and child safety features. 
  • Don’t limit your search to one dealership: Whether used or new, a car is a big purchase. When shopping for a used car, in particular, prices can vary greatly based on dealership and region. Put in the time to comparison shop, and you could save some serious money. 
  • Do ask questions about mileage: 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 high. If the mileage of the car you’re looking at seems alarmingly high or low, ask the dealer if they know why. 
  • Don’t skip taking the car for a test-drive: Make sure your teen test-drives the car to learn about the safety features and to see how the car handles. As a parent you should also test-drive the car so that you have confidence in the purchase. 
  • Do get the car checked out: Prevent unexpected surprises by taking the car to a trusted mechanic to get it looked over before you make the purchase. Mechanics will, for a nominal fee, look for potential red flags or upcoming maintenance concerns. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a vehicle history report: Many dealerships will offer a vehicle history report, but you can also search online using the car’s vehicle identification number. 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. 
  • Do factor in other costs: The monthly payment on the used car is the most important figure to consider, but the costs don’t end there. Factor in dealer add-ons like rust-proofing and extended warranties. Also consider the price of auto insurance — younger drivers often have higher premiums. 
  • Don’t buy the car without negotiating: 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. Just realize that you may not be able to negotiate much on price in this market.
  • Do read the contract before signing: Spend time thoroughly reading the contract. Make sure any verbal promises made by the dealer are included in writing. Check for commitments to repair the vehicle before the purchase and details about payments and money down. 

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to walk away. If you’re not satisfied with the test drive or the deal being offered, remember that it’s OK to pass on the purchase. 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.

According to Consumer Reports, if you can wait to buy a car, it might be a good idea. With interest rates going up prices may start levelling off soon.


What are the options for financing a vehicle for a young driver?

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 pay for the vehicle. Even if you’re buying a used car, this will be a significant purchase. Research your financing options and determine the best one for you before you settle on a car.

If you choose to finance a car, you may want to stop into a bank and get pre-approved before you visit car lots, that way you know exactly what your buying options are. Although car dealerships are eager to offer in-house financing, it is wise to speak with additional lenders before deciding on the financing option that is right for you.

Other considerations when choosing a financing option include low interest rates, flexible payments and down payment requirements, and for leased cars, mileage caps.

Be prepared when you are ready to apply for a car loan by bringing:

  • Proof of address 
  • Employment history and gross (income before taxes) and monthly income 
  • Car details including year, make and model 

Depending upon the amount you need to finance or the year of the car, a car loan may not be available, and an unsecured personal loan might be a better option.

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.


For more information on buying a new vehicle, visit these additional resources to help as you navigate the process. And visit the U.S. Bank Vehicle Marketplace where you can shop for vehicles, calculate payments to see what you can afford, get pre-approved, and locate a dealership.

Related content

How to save money while helping the environment

Opening a business on a budget during COVID-19

When to consider switching banks for your business

Working with an accountability partner can help you reach your goals

7 steps to prepare for the high cost of child care

What are conforming loan limits and why are they increasing

How to save for a wedding

How I did it: Turned my side hustle into a full-time job

Multiple accounts can make it easier to follow a monthly budget

5 things to consider when deciding to take an unplanned trip

How to talk to your lender about debt

Stay committed to your goals by creating positive habits

A who’s who at your local bank

5 tips for creating (and sticking to) a holiday budget

How to test new business ideas

Bank from home with these digital features

Can ABL options fuel your business — and keep it running?

Preparing for retirement: 8 steps to take

How I did it: Switched career paths by taking an unexpected pivot

How to use your unexpected windfall to reach financial goals

How to build wealth at any age

Year-end financial checklist

Good money habits: 6 common money mistakes to avoid

Key components of a financial plan

Achieving their dreams through a pre-apprenticeship construction program

Evaluating interest rate risk creating risk management strategy

Tech lifecycle refresh: A tale of two philosophies

How to winterize your vehicle

Beyond Mars, AeroVironment’s earthly expansion fueled by U.S. Bank

Do your investments match your financial goals?

Credit: Do you understand it?

Test your loan savvy

Webinar: Mortgage basics: What’s the difference between interest rate and annual percentage rate?

How do I prequalify for a mortgage?

Can you take advantage of the dead equity in your home?

Webinar: Mortgage basics: How much house can you afford?

Webinar: Mortgage basics: Finding the right home loan for you

8 steps to take before you buy a home

Is a home equity line of credit (HELOC) right for you?

Webinar: Mortgage basics: 3 Key steps in the homebuying process

Webinar: Mortgage basics: Buying or renting – What’s right for you?

How to use your home equity to finance home improvements

Webinar: Mortgage basics: What is refinancing, and is it right for you?

These small home improvement projects offer big returns on investment

Should you get a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit?

6 questions to ask before buying a new home

What is refinancing a mortgage?

What to know when buying a home with your significant other

Webinar: Mortgage basics: How does your credit score impact the homebuying experience?

What is a home equity line of credit (HELOC) and what can it be used for?

Is it the right time to refinance your mortgage?

Overcoming high interest rates: Getting your homeownership goals back on track

Money Moments: How to finance a home addition

Dear Money Mentor: What is cash-out refinancing and is it right for you?

Home buying myths: Realities of owning a home

10 uses for a home equity loan

How grandparents can contribute to college funds instead of buying gifts

Is a home equity loan for college the right choice for your student

How to apply for federal student aid through the FAFSA

Tips to overcome three common savings hurdles

Money Moments: 8 dos and don’ts for saving money in your 30s

Helpful tips for safe and smart charitable giving

Growing your savings by going on a ‘money hunt’

Friction: How it can help achieve money goals

It's possible: 7 tips for breaking the spending cycle

What to consider before taking out a student loan

Here’s how to create a budget for yourself

Common unexpected expenses and three ways to pay for them

Webinar: Mindset Matters: How to practice mindful spending

Are savings bonds still a thing?

Webinar: Uncover the cost: Wedding

Allowance basics for parents and kids

9 simple ways to save

Do you and your fiancé have compatible financial goals?

What military service taught me about money management

How I did it: Paid off student loans

The A to Z’s of college loan terms

Costs to consider when starting a business

Questions to ask before buying a car

Investing in capital expenditures: What to discuss with key partners

Webinar: Uncover the cost: Building a home

Webinar: Mortgage basics: Prequalification or pre-approval – What do I need?

Adulting 101: How to make a budget plan

You can take these 18 budgeting tips straight to the bank

Your financial aid guide: What are your options?

Changes in credit reporting and what it means for homebuyers

An investor’s guide to marketplace lending

ABL mythbusters: The truth about asset-based lending

What is a CLO?

5 financial goals for the new year

Using 529 plans for K-12 tuition

How to get started creating your business plan

Your 4-step guide to financial planning

Personal loans first-timer's guide: 7 questions to ask

Dear Money Mentor: How do I set and track financial goals?

Retirement income planning: 4 steps to take

How to stop living paycheck to paycheck post-pay increase

What you need to know about renting

What’s in your emergency fund?

Certificates of deposit: How they work to grow your money

Common questions about electric vehicles (EVs)

Car shopping: Buying versus leasing your next vehicle

What you should know about buying a car

What you need to know before buying a new or used car

Take the stress out of buying your teen a car

How to choose the best car loan for you

Practical money skills and financial tips for college students

5 reasons why couples may have separate bank accounts

Co-signing 101: Applying for a loan with co-borrower

5 things to know before accepting a first job offer

What’s a subordination agreement, and why does it matter?

Understanding the true cost of borrowing: What is amortization, and why does it matter?

Investment strategies by age

How to use debt to build wealth

How to talk about money with your family

How to build credit as a student

30-day adulting challenge: Financial wellness tasks to complete in a month

Money Moments: Tips for selling your home

How I did it: My house remodel

Everything you need to know about consolidating debts

Does your savings plan match your lifestyle?

Student checklist: Preparing for college

Webinar: Uncover the cost: College diploma

How I did it: Bought a home without a 20 percent down payment

Your quick guide to loans and obtaining credit

Webinar: Uncover the cost: Home renovation

Webinar: Bank Notes: College cost comparison

4 questions to ask before you buy an investment property

Collateral options for ABL: What’s eligible, what’s not?

Parent checklist: Preparing for college

Are you ready to restart your federal student loan payments?

Prioritizing payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic

Closing on a house checklist for buyers

Evaluating interest rate risk creating risk management strategy

Make your business legit

11 essential things to do before baby comes

How to fund your business without using 401(k) savings

Webinar: Uncover the cost: Starting a family

How to maximise your infrastructure finance project

4 benefits of independent loan agents

Middle-market direct lending: Obstacles and opportunities

Checklist: 10 questions to ask your home inspector

How to establish your business credit score

Maximizing your infrastructure finance project with a full suite trustee and agent

What’s the difference between Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

At your service: outsourcing loan agency work

Streamline operations with all-in-one small business financial support

Talent acquisition 101: Building a small business dream team

How a small business is moving forward during COVID-19

5 tips to help you land a small business loan

Preparing for adoption and IVF

Checklist: financial recovery after a natural disaster

Tips for handling rising costs from an Operation HOPE Financial Wellbeing coach

Start of disclosure content

Loan approval is subject to credit approval and program guidelines. Not all loan programs are available in all states for all loan amounts. Interest rate and program terms are subject to change without notice. Mortgage, home equity and credit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Deposit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Member FDIC.