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Best first car for a 16 year old boy

I know this is a perennial question, but what’s a good car for a 16 yr. old boy, and what price range is reasonable? How about an upper limit on mileage? He’ll be driving almost entirely locally, but might be making a few trips of up to 80 miles. My husband thinks $2000 should buy us an acceptable used car. I’m dubious. We live in Texas, so rust shouldn’t be an issue. Any suggestions?

Bigger is better, slower is better, so a mid-sized sedan with a 4 cylinder is one good choice. Safety was my #1 priority, new drivers are bad drivers, compared to what they’ll be in 3+ years.

I made the mistake of letting my 16 year old son buy a 350 equipped 73 Nova (he had to work for the money). Even though he was a responsible kid…his friends were not so much and goaded him into doing burnouts. I sold the Nova and he had to make do with a Dodge Colt. I suggest you learn from my mistake and get your son a Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra/Altima or Chevy Cavalier. Good fuel economy and no burnouts.

Four cylinders. Manual transmission. Newer = Safer. At your price range, get an American brand. Preferably Ford or GM like a Focus or Cobalt. Avoid Korean brands and Chrysler.

GM mid size. 2000 grand prix. Buick 3800 motor is rock solid. U cannot stop these cars.

I agree with most of @texases, sedan, 4 cyl, low power. I’ll add my favorites, Gray (no on will race it from a light), automatic (first car, first clutch job!), running (unless you are pretty handy at fixing cars) and its best if its ugly and already banged up a bit (if you even THINK of buying collision coverage for this, the car’s too nice for the kid). He will have accidents, maybe small, maybe a compete total so look for airbags and a good Insurance Institute crash rating.

Tell him if he wrecks it, HE pays for his next car (remember, no collision!)

As for cars… Agree with @Stoveguy, GM 3800 V6 in any sedan. Its bulletproof. Camry, Corolla, Sentra/Altima, Ford Focus

Whatever the car, @mustangman is correct - no collision insurance. If he wrecks the car he is out of a car until he figures out how to pay for the next one himself. This is the best way to make him responsible behind the wheel. It has worked with 5 kids of mine so far.

For young drivers I’ve had good luck with Honda Accords, especially if you can find one with a 5 speed manual transmission. Some cars are just junk so avoid Dodge Neon and Stratus models.

$2,000 won’t buy much, but you can find something for him to tinker with and drive locally for a few years. With this budget you are looking at old cars with lots of miles. Don’t expect it to last long, but if you get lucky he might take it to college for a couple of years.

My last kid is now a college senior and we bought an '00 Camry for him in '08 for $7,000. It had 68K miles in '08 and is now just over 150K. It looks good, and runs good so he will be driving it at least until he finds a good paying job after graduation. You won’t get that kind of miles and years out of a $2K car, but if your son handles the first car well perhaps the next one can be an upgrade.

@missleman, Doing a burnout for some friends, provided they aren’t doing it a crowed/busy area isn’t the end of the world, especially if you have a muscle car. No offense intended, but he if didn’t damange the car or get a ticket, I would’ve just let it go, that’s part of the appeal of those cars. I did my share of burnouts in when I was in high school, and have maintained a fairly clean driving record (1 speeding ticket in 17 years of driving, and no accidents).

FoDaddy…I was the “burnout KIng” in my neighborhood ('67 GTO with a 400 engine) and a '65 Pontiac 2+2 with a 421 tri-power. My son chose to do burnouts in crowded parking lots and at school. The high school had the Nova towed and I sold it after paying the impound fees. Most of us did burnouts at one time or another but not in front of our high school principal.

Four cylinder five speed S10 or Ranger would be my first choice. They’re slow, shifting means no texting and driving, and they can only carry one passenger (it was more like six passengers when I was in school, but those days are gone). As for the GM 3800 motors, true enough, they are bulletproof, but they are also powerful enough to be very exciting for a 16 year old boy, especially in a midsize car like a Grand Prix or Buick Regal, so one of these may not be the best choice. In fact, my father recently got a Pontiac Bonneville with the 3800 (non-supercharged) and said it almost scared him the first time he floored it on the highway, it picked up speed so fast. His previous car was a five speed Cavalier he had for twelve years, probably had something to do with his impression of it since it has over twice as much power as his Cavalier (Cavalier = 95hp Bonneville = 200hp)

@missleman In that case, I agree entirely with your decision. It’s one thing to do a smokey burnout at the end of some country road in the middle of nowhere, it’s quite another to do one in a school parking lot.

Sorry not to bash American cars but for $2,000 you won’t get a reliable one. For $2,000 get an older Corolla or Camry. Both car are built to last and cheap on insurance. The best thing about them is they have the non interference motor. If the timing belt snaps, just re-time and slap on a new belt. Honda Accords are nice too but they tend to burn oil and they have the interference motor. Also, Hondas has problems with their automatic transmissions. Once the timing belt snaps, bye bye engine.

Doing a burnout isn’t really a big problem IMO. Drinking and driving is a big issue, texting and driving is a concern, speeding and reckless driving is a concern.

I’ve got a 2001 Accord with a 5 speed, and it’s a great car, with good mileage. I would recommend an Accord or Civic with 150K or so on it. It will still have plenty of life left in it, won’t be fast enough to do anything stupid, nor so slow it’s dangerous, and will be safe and reliable.

I would also plan on spending more than $2000, I would say $4000-5000 would buy you a much better car. You can often save a decent bit of money buying a manual in your average compact or midsize sedan, as they are a bit harder to sell.

You should consider paying around $5000 for a car. A 2005/006 Cobalt should be in that price range. I would avoid Toyotas and Hondas. They retain value well, and that means you will have to buy an older car (2 or 3 years) with higher mileage. This is not a knock against Honda or Toyota. They are fine cars; just overpriced IMO. BTW, I own a Honda (bought new).

Talk to your insurance agent, they’ll have a better idea of what you should get. ANYTHING will be expensive to insure for a 16 year old male, they’ll tell you which ones are cheaper than others

I agree with others. $2000 is pretty low since used car prices have been high in recent years. Now that new car sales are rising they may start to fall. You’ll just have to see what you can find. Simple, low powered, mid-sized if possible, though I wouldn’t turn down a well-maintained compact. The safety difference is measurable, but not huge. It probably matters more if it has air bags or not. I like to look for less popular models that are still well made. A Nissan Altima, Mazda6/626 or Mitsubishi Galant will usually cost less than an Accord or Camry (and the Altima sold well, so they are plentiful, but Nissans aren’t valued like Toyotas and Hondas. The Sentra is also common and unloved. The Mazda Protege, predecessor of the Mazda3, is also a very nice little car (we nearly bought one new) . Most non-rotary Mazdas are decent.

The Geo Prizm/Chevy Nova of a decade ago and back to the eighties are just Corollas with Chevy and Prizm badges. More recently a Pontiac Vibe is mechanically identical to a Toyota Matrix. The Scion xA and xD are related to the Toyota Yaris. Any Scion is just a Toyota in drag, for less money. The only domestics I like a lot are the Ford Fusion and Focus. Maybe the Escape, too. The Chevy Cobalt isn’t so terrible, but the back seat is punishing and it feels cheap inside. The Chevy HHR is basically a Cobalt wagon, but probably too new for your price range. It wasn’t very popular, so who knows? It is a nice, practical size.

I would do whatever you can to make sure your son has some investment in the car. If he puts some of his sweat equity or money into helping to make the purchase happen, it will help make him “think twice” before making common young-driver bad decisions.