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Advice on buying a 17 year old boy first car

We need advice on what to buy our high school age son. We would like for him to buy his own car however, He has NO money, certainly not enough to buy a car and we cannot wait for him to save it. We do not want to spend more than $16,000. We want safety and good gas mileage. He would want some coolness so a Prius is probably not in the cards. We had thought of pick ups as you can only take three people but the rear ends are light leading to poor handling and the mileage is pretty poor. We had a 2001 Volvo Xcountry. I do not want to have to pay those constant repair bills. Any thoughts?

If you care about your son taking responsibility for the car (which often translates into more conscientious driving), then make sure he makes a financial investment in the car, with the need to continue to pay for it (like a monthly payment from a weekend job).

With a teenage driver, doing the above dwarfs the concern of make, model, etc. I’ve seen too many teenagers given an expensive car, only to have the parents end up with regret and/or sorrow later on.

How Is It That The Boy Has NO $ ? Never Mind. Anyhow, I’d Hold A Goodly Portion Of That Money And Buy A Car Of Much More Modest Cost, Say $5,000 To $6,000.

I have a 25 year-old son and a 17 5/6 year-old daughter, so I’ve been there, done that. New drivers sometimes make “mistakes” in their first couple of years and park in High School and University parking lots. These situations are ideal for “experienced” cars and are not well suited for newer, nicer cars.

But, beyond that, a car that requires some care, maintenance, and repairs teaches valuable lessons to the new driver. I listened to my daughter complain about no air conditioning in her car and how all the other kids’ parents all bought them wonderful cars, etcetera, etcetera.

She learned about the importance of checking fluids under the hood, oil changes, Check Engine lights, and really appreciated a sportier car with working air conditioning and more features after she demonstrated good driving skills and helping taking care of the car.

I was “lucky” to have resposible kids that got through this frightening time without major incident, even though town and High School is 20 miles from here, one way.

I helped furnish them with larger cars (Intrepid, Impala) with good restraint systems and ones that were kept safe for the road. The Impala ($4,200) lasted for 2 years of under grad, grad school and now my High School aged daughter has it !

Check with you insurance company. My kids got substantial discounts for completing a safe driver course and maintaining good grades in school (through age 25 !).


Make sure your son is involved in the process (but make it clear that you have final control over the car). First step is to determine the transmission: I learned on a stick and am forever grateful for it (still drive one 12 years after getting my license!). It will honestly make your son a little cooler in high school and keep him safer by making it harder for him to be a distracted driver.

For a good mix of safety, reliability, low ownership cost, and not getting made fun of by his friends look for something in the small to mid-size car category that is at least a little sporty. Ford Focus or Fusion; Mazda 3 or 6, Subaru Impreza, or Nissan Sentra or Altima (Nissans are not sporty at all, bust still good cars).

I drive a pickup at work and would NEVER recommend a truck or SUV for a new driver-you are just asking for a rollover. I am 28 and drive a manual Focus that I bought new for just over $16k-of those I listed the Focus and Mazda 3 would be my picks.

I think that a nice compact car would be fine. He’s 17, and will be ecstatic that he has the freedom a car offers. There are a (very) few new cars that are under $16,000. The Chevy Sonic is one. I think that I’d look at 2 year old cars. You should find a 2011 Chevy Cruze worth 20,000 miles in outstanding condition for around $13,000. A Ford Fiesta S sedan in similar condition and mileage should set you back $12,000. Both of these cars are priced with automatic transmission. Check out Kia and Hyundai, too.

If you plan on selling the car in less than 5 years, you might consider Toyota or Honda. They sell for a lot more initially, but will have a higher resale value. If your son will drive it until is is around 10 years old, then buy on price and condition. Any of the above mentioned cars will have good reliability.

Personally, I like older cars for new drivers. They will have judgment issues due to lack of maturity and lack of experience and the first car will likely get some nicks and dings as they learn how to drive. Many parents are “hyper” IMO about safety, even car 10 years old have good safety features; airbags, belts, traction control, and ABS brakes. You don’t need to buy a new car for good safety. Size still matters in safety too. I’d avoid a very small car (Smart Car, Fiat 500, Yaris, sized cars) and I’d also avoid very large cars. All size SUV’s should be out as they are top heavy and new drivers can get into trouble entering corners too fast for an SUV and realize the mistake too late and roll them or get into an accident.

This leaves lots of “mid-size” cars to choose from. For the last new driver in my family we bought a 2000 Camry in 2008. He is now a Sr in college and the car is doing OK. It has needed a new rear bumper twice, both times he was rear ended once by a “friend” following him. He was also hit by another young driver and that dented the driver’s side fender and tore off the driver’s side view mirror. There have been some new tires, one was a curb hit that destroyed a relatively newish tire. A few mechanical problems but nothing too dramatic for a now 12 year old car with 160K miles, it had 70K miles on it when we bought it. Young drivers tend to drive more miles than you expect. There is no money for a new car graduation gift, due to paying tuition bills and upon graduation loan payments. So, the Camry is going to have to last awhile and he knows it.

Don’t blow your budget buying the car. You’ll need money for insurance, for mechanical repairs, upkeep and maintenance (new tires and brakes), and out of pocket body shop repairs (you don’t want to report everything to your insurance company when it is a young driver). There are lots of choices. Right now I kind of like the Chevy HHR. It is a reliable car, shares lots of parts with other GM cars, mostly the Cobalt. It isn’t too fast, it does have some character, and it can hold a lot of stuff like surf boards, bikes, and move into college dorm things when the time comes.

Problem cars (like that Volvo XC you mentioned) to avoid; any Volvo, VW, BMW, Audi, Chrysler (PT Cruiser, Avenger, Stratus, Neon). Toyota and Honda brands are fine, but can be pricey. There are good Ford and GM options. Focus, Cobalt, HHR, etc. When you find a car everyone likes before you buy it have it inspected by your trusted mechanic to find out if there are any major issues with the car.


We would like for him to buy his own car however, He has NO money

That sort of stops it right there.

I am strongly supportive of your son buying his own car.

Be fair, if he can buy the car (find some way of making the money) the end result is likely to be much better.

Yea I paid for my car, but my father helped with the cost and I bought a really cheap car, In the end it work out well.

That experience helped get me ready for the death of my father, which put me out on my own at age 16.  

I believe every kid should have the opertunity  of facing a serious event, early in their life.

Cover Yourself. You Have Assets To Protect. If You Do Not Already Have A Liability Umbrella Policy, I’d Be Talking To My Insurance Agent. With Most Policies Comes Required Minimums On Auto Policy Liability Coverage, Too. Also, Make Sure You’ve Got Unisured And Underinsured Coverage On Your Policies. Your Agent Can Advise You On Titling The Car In Your Son’s Name Only, Even If You Are “Joint” On Car Insurance.


I think there is a law of physics that says all kids will have an accident within their first year of driving. Most of the time is will be a minor fender bender due to a misjudgment that comes simply from lack of experience. For example, a parking lot ding because he misjudged exactly where the corner of his vehicle was.

Another rule seems to be that they will lose control the first time they get on ice or snow. This may not result in an accident, just a little unplanned change in the direction of travel. This can even be done on purpose with parental consent and control by finding an empty parking lot and let the kid learn how to control a skid.

What I’m trying to say here is go cheap. After that first fender bender, then take the remainder of the allocated budget and get something a little better. Going cheap also means not having to get collision insurance, spend the difference in the cost of the policy to get higher limits on liability. Go for a $250/500k instead of the minimum $25/50k, just in case that first one is a little more than a fender bender.

Oh yeah, start him out with a stick if you can find one, He is far more difficult to text and drive with a stick in city traffic, or even use a cell phone at all for that matter. To me the ideal car would be a 2000-2002 Saturn SL or SC with a 5 speed. They are rugged and generally available for around $2k, and thats for one in very good condition.

Talk to your insurance agent, they’ll have the best choices for you. 2 door cars will cost more to insure than 4 door cars, even if they’re the same vehicle.

Image is the last thing you should think about when buying yourself a car to give to your kid(face it, this is really what’s happening). The cool cars will be a nightmare to insure.

So, buy yourself a newer car and give him your older one and tell him he has to get a job to pay for the insurance and upkeep of the car(gas, oil, mechanical) himself.

It is fine for us “old timers” to advocate for a kid to pay for his first car; but is this advice practical today? There are not many $500 cars around anymore. Earning $6000 dollars isn’t easy for some kids if they are into sports, and activities. I’m not sure in this economy if there are as many after school jobs available to high school age kids anymore?

I certainly would like to see young drivers pay something toward either the car, the insurance, the repairs, maintenance, and gas. But to buy the car and then pay all these items too seems impractical or will result in the kid being in an unsafe car. The buying of a car and all the expenses that go along with it are great opportunities for kids and parents to work together on the “project”, to communicate concerns, and negotiate the terms. Simply turning over the keys to a car to a young driver misses a great opportunity toward greater maturity and responsibility for young people. But demanding the young driver to buy his or her own car is too much IMO.

I’d get a mid-sized intermediate with side airbags. 3-5 year old models should be well inside your price range. Safety is more important than a few mpgs at his age. Here’s a good web site that ranks cars according to their overall safety:

I was going to ask the same question about why a 17 year old has no money. By that age I had bank CDs enough to cover two years of private college. Until our son bought his own, he just used one of our cars which happened to be a Riviera that we bought as a spare. Not saying he didn’t like it, but the purchase was for our own benefit as well as his. So some kind of a sportier car under $10,000 that you can use yourself also.

I don’t think a pickup is necessarily a bad idea. Back when I was 16 (mid 90’s) I had a 1974 Ford F-100 2WD, 3 on the tree with a 4bbl 390 big block under the hood. No power steering, no power brakes, No AC, not even a radio initially. And I did fine with it. Never put a dent on it. I think’s beneficial to learn to drive on a vehicle that’s more difficult to drive, it makes every subsequent vehicle you drive seem easy.

I’m sorry. I have to call a spade a spade here. There is no way it makes any sense whatsoever for a 17 year old kid to drive a $16,000 vehicle, not as his first, second, or even third car. $16,000 will buy a nicer car than most of the posters on this BBS drive, and probably nicer than any of his friends drive too. If he wants something that expensive, he can wait until he’s out of school and can afford to buy it for himself. IF YOU MUST buy him something, go for something he likes that is relatively safe and affordable to drive. There are lots of good cars out there that will serve to get him from A to B for under $5000, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to see any of them in your driveway.

MG, you need to drop by some high school parking lots. $16,000 is high, but not unusually high. And $5,000 won’t buy a car that has many safety features, features that are MAJOR factors in improving the survival rate. A 17 year old boy will likely do nothing more dangerous in his life than be a new driver.

The fact that we survived in our heaps means nothing. Dead drivers seldom post.

I still think a 2WD, four cylinder, five speed S10 or Ranger is the perfect teenager’s first car. They are cheap to buy and repair, plentiful, not very fast, reasonably safe, not particularly easy to roll over, and carrying more than one other person is pretty much out of the question (as long as he doesn’t stick his friends in the bed, which these days immediately draws the attention of the police, so probably not going to happen). The five speed will prevent the ever popular habit people have these days of texting or browsing the web while driving.

I am also kind of old fashioned in thinking that the kid should have to bear at least most of the responsibility of buying and maintaining the vehicle. I bought my first car at age 15 with money earned at a summer job with no help from my parents at all (other than my dad drove it home since I didn’t have a license). I have always bought my own vehicles, paid my own insurance, bought my own gas, and made my own repairs. My parents have never given me a car, but I have given them a couple. My brother and sister have always done likewise as well, and I’m the oldest at age 27. Perhaps times have changed, but my brother, sister, and I always regarded the other kids in high school driving shiny new cars as spoiled brats who couldn’t exist on our family’s income.

@Texases I drive by high school parking lots once or twice a week. While I see cars that are expensive, the vast majority are not. I’m sure some of the kids are driving their parent’s cars too.

An old friend struggled to send his son through law school, and living large in a fraternity house. At graduation the new lawyer went to work for a large firm. After a few months in his new position the son called home and pleaded for a new BMW because he was embarrassed to go to work in his old Toyota. The son couldn’t believe that dad said no. And dad couldn’t believe that his son was clueless about the mortgage on the house and empty retirement fund and student loan that had financed the education.

Of course, every family has its own situation and I am clueless to give advice to anyone regarding their family. But often, drivers, especially adolescent boys, drive to suit their car. And it might be enlightening for the OP to read some prior threads regarding young drivers and the cars that their families bought for them.

Whether a $16,000 car is high priced depends on the neighborhood you live in. It definitely is not where I am. My kids drove a 1998 Buick Regal to school starting in the fall of 2005. But many of their friends drove more expensive cars. There are a few more expensive areas than mine in our county and they can drive some very expensive cars. A friend of my middle daughter had a BMW 335 convertible that her mom gave her. Mom is a medical doctor, and the cost was not a significant factor for her.