Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

16 Year Old Son...Olds Alero or Buick Century?

My father in law is going to give my 16 year old son either one of two cars, a 1998 Buick Century Limited or a 2004 Oldsmobile Alero. Both cars have new tires and anti-lock brakes, and no major mechanical problems. The Buick has 43000 miles and has rarely been driven for the last few years. The Oldsmobile has 70000 miles and has been driven daily. Both cars have similar equipment options, the major difference being that the Buick has a V6 while the Olds has a 4.

My son is leaning towards the Buick. It is bigger, has a smoother ride, has fewer miles, and is in better shape cosmetically. The downside to the Buick is that it is 6 years older and it looks kind of like a “Grandma” car. I’m open to either car. Does anyone have an opinion either way?

They seem about even to me. If your son is allowed to choose between them leave it up to him.

The Alero might get better fuel mileage, and be cheaper to drive.

I’d also ask your insurance agent if there is any difference in price for coverage on these cars. Insurance can be a major cost for a young driver.

Military school. Failing that, give him the smaller car with the smaller engine.

How many jobs has this fine young man held? You see where I’m going with this?

The Buick should averge about 21 MPG; the Alero 25 MPG. The Alero is also newer and may be subject to fewer repairs in the next few years since it is newer. Reliability should be exactly what your FIL has gotten since he bought them. You should spend about $300 more for every 10,000 miles driven. If your son drives 10,000 miles per year, that’s less than an extra dollar per day. As far as looks ae concerned, both are Grandma cars. If he likes the Century more, go with it.


I wouldn’t want the Alero. A 98 Century might be one of the junkier Buicks but I can’t remember. If it looks like an Olds Cutlass, the Alero is looking better.

It’s sort of a wash, really. Personally, I would prefer the Buick. It’s a nicer car, but a 16 year old boy doesn’t really need a nice car. This sort of breaks with a general rule of thumb, but you will probably see fewer repairs out of the Buick. For some reason, the four cylinder Aleros I have seen over the years have been plagued with reliability problems, particularly with the ignition systems and security systems. That means potential breakdowns. For some reason, I have not seen the same problems out of the V6 cars. The biggest problem the V6’s had (and still have) is a bad habit of developing lower intake manifold gasket leaks. The good news is that this is usually easily identified by most good mechanics, but will cost about $500-700 to repair. If the repair is done properly, the problem should be gone for good.

As kind a gesture as it is, you may want to think twice about giving a 16 year old boy a car. Not necessarily because of the usual reason that many of them tend to destroy vehicles, but as a lesson in responsibility. Even a responsible teenager can learn a lot from having to purchase and keep up a vehicle on their own, out of their own pocket. This may sound like “old timer” talk (I’m not that old, I’m 25), but I have had to work for, earn, and pay for everything I have ever had, and that includes purchasing my first car at 15. I think it made me a better, more responsible person, and I encourage you to have your son do the same. Perhaps he could purchase one of these cars, maybe even at a deep discount price, perhaps $1k? Saving up for it will be a lesson in discipline, as will giving him the responsibility to pay for insurance, registration renewals, and maintenance/repairs to the car. If he doesn’t want to pay for maintenance and repairs, he can get a repair manual and some tools. Both these cars are very easy to work on, and besides, how do you think I know how to work on cars?

I think the Buick Century was built on a very traditional GM body and there are tons of them on the road. Any mechanic can fix them.

The Olds was also built on a GM platform, just not as good of one. Not as many on the road, but share parts with many GM models with exception of body panels. It might be harder to do body repair after an accident on the Alero. The 4 isn’t as good a motor as the 6 as far as reliable and the Alero steering rack is prone to failure, expensive fix.

It really is pretty much a toss up, but I’d go with the Buick for the son. Father in law won’t miss the Buick since it is rarely driven anyway and he keeps his daily driver.

Is the V6 a 3.8L? If so, those engines are pretty reliable and shouldn’t give much trouble.
I’ll echo what mcp said, call your insurance agent and see which would be cheaper to insure. With it being a grandma car, it’ll also be less likely to get broken into or stolen

The Century had the 3.1L and was the last car to use that version of that engine line. After (and even during production of the Century) production of the Century ended, they were all 3.4L. Same basic engine, slightly different displacement. The whole 2.8/3.1/3.4 engine line was pretty reliable, with the only weak spot being those plastic lower intake gaskets. I would put that engine line as a close second right behind the 3.8L in the list of great modern engines from GM.

The Ecotec four cylinder in the Alero is a derivative of the Quad Four. I was never too fond of the Quad Four. Big pain in the butt to work on if something mechanical went wrong, like a water pump failure, or if maintenance was neglected, causing important oil passages to become blocked, starving the timing chain of oil. They had a rather high incidence of timing chain failures, and they were all interference engines.

I will guess that the next thing that you will say is that if he, at 16, can afford to run a car, then he should volunteer more tax for his HS education so you can subsidize his car ownership less.

Pretty even, how about airbags? When they’re this close I’d lean towards the one that had more airbags, side airbags in particular.

Why would I say that? I’m not subsidizing his car ownership. If anyone, his family is. If that’s what they want to do, God bless them, or whatever words of encouragement work for you.

My 1998 Regal has front air bags; so will the Century. I don’t think side bags were available at the time. I also doubt that the Alero has side air bags.

Side bags MIGHT have been available in 04, but they were most likely an expensive option at the time.

Edmunds doesn’t list side air bags on their short list of available options.

Always give a teenage boy the safest, newest and the slowest vehicle you can. At some point he’s going to jump on it just to “see what it will do”. The four of course.