Teenage drivers

As I’m sure many mothers have experienced this terror of their teenager being able to drive, (HELP ME KNOW), we unfortunately have come to the painful conclusion that me are going to have to pick up an extra used car for said teenager. In all your wisdom what kinds of older cars should we focus our search on, beaters included.

With much gradutude for any help you can give me on this,

Terrified Mom

You are going to get a lot of very varied advice on this topic, including a lot of people who will tell you that you want a car that has “a lot of metal” surrounding that teenage driver. I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic, but I will pass along the advice of Consumer Reports.

CR advises that a car for a teenager should be one that is neither too fast nor too slow. They also advise getting a car that features good braking ability and good emergency handling, as well as features like ESC, ABS, side air bags and side curtain air bags. The list that they published recently includes those qualities, as well as the requirement that the model performed well in CR’s test drives and has very good reliability. Factoring all of these things together, CR recommends:

Acura RSX
Acura TSX
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord (4 cyl.)
Honda CR-V EX ('05 or later)
Honda Civic EX
Honda Fit
Hyundai Sonata (4 cyl., '06 or later)
Hyundai Tucson
Kia Optima ('06 or later)
Mazda 3 (w/side curtain air bags)
Mercury Milan
Pontiac Vibe ('06-'07)
Scion tC
Subaru Impreza (Not the WRX model)
Subaru Forester (Not the XT model)
Toyota Camry (4 cyl.)
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Matrix ('06-'07)
Toyota Prius
Toyota RAV-4 (4 cyl., '01 or later, w/o 3rd row seat)

Clearly, their bias is for newer cars and that is undoubtedly because of the much better passenger safety protection of newer models. While many people advocate as much sheet metal surrounding a young driver as possible, things like side curtain air bags, Electronic Stability Control, and ABS will do more to keep the driver and passenger safe than a lot of sheet metal would. On the above list, you can probably get a very good deal on a Kia Optima, as that brand doesn’t have the general appeal of the other makes listed.

Vehicles NOT to get them.

ANY SUV - They are NOT for the inexperienced driver. If driven within it’s limits and and a careful driver they’re fine. Teenagers are far more apt to drive OUTSIDE a vehicles limit and don’t have the experience to handle emergency situations.

ANY SPORT CAR. Again…they don’t have the experience nor wisdom to drive the vehicle in a safe manor.

The list VDC gave is a good list. I tend to go toward a car like the Honda Civic. Reliable, not sporty so they won’t be trying to drag race it. Easy to drive safe. And if they get into an emergency situation it’s easy to handle and help in those situaitons. I’d get a car the size and power of the Civic. There are plenty to choose from.

[i]Been There, Done That![/i]

How responsible is the new driver?

I have a son who just turned 21 and a daugther 13. Let me say that you are going to get all kinds of conflicting opinions, I believe. You don’t give a price range that we are working with here. That would help us, greatly.

Here’s my opinions:

Teens can make driving mistakes and other drivers can, too.

The newer the car, the more safety features may be on it: Air bags, ABS brakes, traction control, etc.

I like a lot of metal around my children (Got ya, VDCdriver). I go for medium to large domestic cars. State farm insurance backs me up on the size. I would never forgive myself if my child was hurt in a little “clown car,” trying to save a buck.

Your insurance agent can help you. My son got discounts for keeping a special driving log (State Farm program) and for getting good grades in High School and College (and will continue, beyond). You need to decide if you are going to put collision coverage on the car.

Different cars have different insurance premiums. Check before you buy.

1996 or newer cars have on-board diagnostics to help with repairs and usually some safety features.

Sometimes it makes sense if you give up your car to the teen and you get a new/different car.

We wouldn’t let him have passengers for a long time, not even little sister.

There are a devices like one called CarChip that plug into 1996 and newer cars to track your driver’s driving speed, habits, etc. You download the info. I’ve never tried one.

I would make a contract with the driver. My son understood that he would pay additional premiums for any accidents or violations and risk driving privileges as well.

This does not have to be a bad experience. It comes in handy sometimes.

My son was fairly responsible. Early on, he slid off the road in snow, on a curve. The car got stuck, he was scared, there was no damage, no injury, no tickets. That one little incident worked better than all of my instructions about being careful and going slow, etc. He was even more resposible after that (I wonder if he actually thought maybe Dad was right?).

Don’t be terrified! If you post a possible price range and what other cars are in your family, it would help us help you decide.

Civic’s are a bad choice when it comes to paying insurance bill. As a general rule check your insurer before purchasing anything, you will be shocked at differences in rates.

For inexpensive purchase balanced by decent reliability I would seriously consider a Buick product used. Honda or Toyota you simply overpay in the used market for a name however unless you know owner it can be a nightmare just like any other make.

Buick may be fine…as long as you stay away from any of their V6’s. I sure wouldn’t want to buy a car and then have to pay a couple k for a new engine.


I’d say you should turn down the terror a notch or two. Most kids survive their teen years, and yours most likely will too. I taught two children to drive, a son and a daughter, and never had a significant problem.

The trick is to set STRICT rules and stand by them, such as;

  1. No alcohol in the car, period. Don’t care who it belongs to, no alcohol.

  2. NO CELL PHONE USE WHILE DRIVING!!! None, zero, zip, zilch, nada.

  3. If you wreck it, you walk. Simple as that. Your parents cannot afford to keep handing you cars, so take GOOD care of this one and drive carefully.

  4. Learn how to check the oil and other fluids, and do so periodically.

VDCdriver already sent you a nice list of used cars from which to choose, and I can’t think of too much to add, but I think I’d delete the Acura RSX, which is a bit of a hot rod, and probably extremely expensive to insure for a teenage driver.

Stick with tried-and-true 4 door sedans, like the Corolla or Chevy Prizm. They are cheap to run, safe to drive, and extremely reliable.

Good luck, and don’t worry so much.

Mom. It is a little late now for the most important part. I hope you have been on top of this one all along. You teenager need to have the maturity and responsibility to drive BEFORE you allow them to drive. Frankly I believe it is best to require them to buy or at least contribute a significant amount towards the purchasee of THEIR car. Giving them one is not a good gift in my opinion.

I would (and did) let my kids pick out what car they wanted. The only limit I would have had would be no muscle cars. It turned out my kids chose a VW and a small Toyota. We made it past those years without an accident. They are now both parents themselves.

You want to protect them, but they are not at an age that they should start making their own decisions. Let them, they may surprise you with good decisions.

Good Luck

All of the above, and
depending on the kid, something he/she can tinker with themselves( and with your assistance, is beautiful age-appropriate quality time. )would be great. For my daughter it was a ranger pickup from the GSA motorpool auction. Cheap to buy and together we dressed it up to her “girl” specs. She learned to; change oil, spark plugs, belts, hoses, etc.; check and mintain fluid levels, change a flat tire, and drive a manual transmission. We also practiced dirt and ice skid control and trailer towing/backing as age appropriate quality time.

Terrified Mom
There seems to be a lot of good advice out there. What I haven’t read yet is that most of us are limited on how much we can spend and what we can buy with what we have. What I found is that I don’t get as much car as I’d like for the money or that when a car seems to be a good deal, then I check it out, it is a piece of trash. This is (unfortunately) a bad time to be looking for a used car in good shape that is good on gas, as that is what everyone else wants who are trading in their SUV’s and big pick-ups on. I’d stick with a newer car (1996 or newer) as that’s when the government mandated standardized emission controls (OBD II) which means it is easier to troubleshoot when it does break down. From my experience, there are two kinds of older cars, just as there are two kinds of teenage girls. Cars: Those that have already broke down at least once, and those that will soon. Girls: Those that have been in fender benders, and those that will soon. I had a teenage daughter several years ago, and even though she was a good student, drove responsibly, never got a speeding ticket, etc, she eventually got in a wreck. As did most of her friends. Mostly just minor fender benders, but it happens, same with boys, so I wouldn’t spend more money than you can afford to replace.

Something under-powered and not an SUV due to rollover problems. The best you can do though is make sure they always always always wear the seat belt as well as any passengers. Every year it is just heart breaking to see kids killed in accidents that would have simply walked away with a seat belt on. It is the main cause of death among teenagers.

I would get an old Volvo. Even if their safe reputation is all marketing hype, it does give Volvo owners some peace of mind. An older Volvo will need regular attention, so hopefully, your teenager will learn to maintain and repair it. They usually don’t have much power. Volvo’s attention to safety basically means a 2000 Volvo is about as safe as a 2005 car made by somebody else, which gives you the option of buying something older. Generally, the newer the car, the more safety features it has.

If you want a disposable car, a Dodge Neon would work. They are very under-powered. Don’t make the mistake of getting a Civic. They don’t have much horsepower, but they are such light cars, the power-to-weight ratio makes it easy to drive them in an unsafe manner. Remember, horsepower is less important than the power-to-weight ratio.

Nobody got me a car when I was a teenager. My family couldn’t afford it. I rode a bike. I bummed rides from my more spoiled friends. I took the bus. I even took a cab on occasions. I got my own car when I was 21. A 1975 Civic bought in 1981. I paid for it with cash and I learned how to take care of it.

No price range=no recommendations.

No Frills Childhood
I suppose you’re going to say that you didn’t have your own cell phone, I-pod, and equipment for the three or four sports you played. I didn’t either. I rode the crowded school bus standing up every day, through High School. I worked and paid for college as I went. This would be considered child abuse, now. It’s a funny thing. Now I understand the value of money and hard work, I pay cash for everthing, charge nothing, don’t expect any free rides or free lunch, and take care of my stuff. It’s a funny thing.

You mean you wouldn’t recommend a Lamborghini Muricelio? :stuck_out_tongue:

My vote goes to an old Crown Victoria or Impala. Big, dumb, reliable and cheap to maintain.

I would say pick-up a larger domestic car that has fallen out of favor (hence lower price) due to less than stellar mpg.
Domestic=lower maint. cost
Large=big crumple zones
Only average mpg= lot of car for the money
My 2004 F-150 that I paid $21,000 new,blue books private party $4100-$4500 truck never gave any problem,just not desireable now.

Here’s to curmudgeon power! Cell phones and I-pods didn’t exist when I was in HS. The five cars I’ve owned in my life were all paid for in cash. I have one credit card I pay off each month. My wife owns our house outright. It’s been in her family for 3 generations. When she/we die it will stay in her family. The only time I had revolving debt was student loans.

“Buick may be fine…as long as you stay away from any of their V6’s. I sure wouldn’t want to buy a car and then have to pay a couple k for a new engine.”

I haven’t had a problem with my Regal LS - with the dreaded 3.8L OHV engine. I would not hesitate to buy another if I were in the market.

Terrified Mom

We’d like to hear what you think.

Also, some of us would like to know if you have a price range. I’ll tell you, that having gone through this once and getting ready to go through it again, these responses represent hours of work and offer some of the best, honest, experienced advice I’ve seen compiled in one spot, seriously!

Chime in, and if you have more questions, let us know. We’d be happy to help.