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Wacko parents giving in to whiny teenagers

(I tried to email Tom & Ray but for some reason I kept setting off the Spam filter. So I’ll try here.)

Dear Tom & Ray

This past week’s show (“The Giving Trunk”) had yet another example of a problem that has become EPIDEMIC on Car Talk in the last year or so. We had another parent fretting—to the point of obsession!—that her teenage child would not approve of the car they were getting.

This is not the first incident. I can’t tell you the number of times in the past year I have heard a caller say, “Well, we have to get rid of this car because my child is turning 16 and refuses to drive it.”


And YOU—dutiful, benevolent hosts that you are—you have been trying to help these people!

But I’m begging you to call a wacko a wacko and nip this in the bud.

NO teenager lucky enough to get a car from their parents should have a say in what kind of car they get. And any parent who makes a car purchasing or selling decision based on what their teenage son or daughter wants to drive is a WACKO.

The teenager gets what the teenager gets. Or gets no car at all.

I am not a curmudgeon. (I am 34. The kids do not have to get off my lawn.) So I’m not going to be one of those geezers who insists every kid has to pay for their first car all by themselves or even pay all their insurance. Every family’s situation is different, and with AP homework and after-school activities and unpaid summer internships, a lot of today’s kids just don’t have time to make that kind of money.

But the only appropriate parental response to a kid complaining about driving the family jalopy is: “Tough.”

If they put their foot down…you put a FOR SALE sign in the window. Sell it and buy them something even uglier. If they don’t get the point after that, then they’re too dumb to drive anyway and we’re all better having them off the roads.

Remember parents: You are NOT there to make your kid popular. Your kid will NEVER think you are cool. You are there to help them build character. And NOTHING builds character like spending your teen years driving a truly crappy car.

Thanks, Tom & Ray.

Baltmore, MD

PS: And teenagers: Relax. A crappy car is one you can scratch, ding, dent, stuff full of your friends, go road-tripping, and even take off-road. If you’re really smart, ask for the minivan—the seats come out. You’re welcome.

(And yes, helpful folk, I tried taking out the all-capped words. I tried taking out the word “crappy.” I tried taking out the smart quotes. I even tried changing my name to “Patrick.” Nothing worked.)

Tom and Ray do not post here, just us Joe Public.
All the shows are now re-runs.
And I agree with you completely, a free car should be welcomed transportation and not nit-picked.
’’ here’s a car to drive. Don’t like it ? WALK…or ride with your buddy in his mom’s Pruis."

Does anyone else here remember the woman who called in for advice on a car for her 16 year old daughters birthday present? She asked if it would be better to get her daughter the BMW M3 with a standard transmission or an automatic transmission.

Tom and Ray were not very kind to her. But the mail and the comments on this forum were overwhelmingly supportive of them caller her a moron right on the radio. This call and all references to it seemed to have vanished from this web site, maybe due to one of those server crashes they experienced years ago.

Yup, I remember that one very well. I thought of that call specifically as I read the original post here. IMHO, Tom and Ray were right on, or maybe too easy on her. But then, the mom was clearly on a different planet on the subject, and not encumbered by financial limitations either. In other words, this kid is irretrievably spoiled.

I guarantee that this car became a major attractive factor for the girl, that is, boys chased this girl because of her car, not because of who she is. Mom missed that concept too, I suspect.

Hi Patchen,

On an unrelated topic, I spotted in your note that you were having problems with the spam filter on the Contact Us form. When was that happening for you? We’ve lowered the aggressiveness of the spam filtering to address this issue, and I was curious if you were on the contact us page before or after we made that change.


Doug Mayer
Car Talk

Are they in re-runs already? I totally spaced out that that was coming. Whoops!

Ya know I got a hand me down, sure it was my grandfathers 61 oldsmobile dynamic 88 that I had to share with my sister, and I do not think there was ever more than 1/4 full reading on the gas gauge. Maybe that was what inspired me to buy a 1972 used chevy nova on my own. Sure my daughter got a 2002 saturn hand me down from MIL, actually a good runner as I replaced a power steering pump and cooling fan tires and a battery so far, brakes next, maybe I help the kid too much but she is in college. I had to upgrade to 4wd for bad boat launch at the cabins, and offered to keep a 2003 ford ranger for her, she wanted no part of it so I sold it. Ironically she regrets that choice of hers. Life goes on.

Yeah, Barky. I sold my old S-10 and suddenly both my kids wish I had offered it to them but neither wanted to be seen driving it 15 years ago.

My son got my 97 Civic when he left for sophomore year in college, promptly totaled it (not his fault), and I got him a 98 Civic to replace the 97. Both were 5-spd manual with flaky AC. What he learned driving in bad weather, paying for his own gas, and maintaining and repairing his own car was priceless.

My college car was a jalopy with a 3-spd manual (and bad clutch). In terms of lessons learned about cars, it was the best car I ever owned. I would never have cheated him out of the experience of driving a car that needed a little TLC to keep going.

I bought my own '61 Beetle. In '68.

Anyway, I agree with you…sort of. I recall a buddy of mine whose parents were wealthy, and in HS they bought him a brand new 1968 Camaro SS396, which he promptly souped up and put track bars on. Yeah, he was spoiled. Yeah, he was a “hood”. But now that I’m in my 60’s, I look around and what do I see? The people in charge are all the spoiled “hoods”!!! Those brats all took over!!!

Just when I think I have an answer, the question changes.


Geez, what more did the guy have to do starting with a 396 in that little car? How many cars could match that in stock form?

Those were the years of true musclecars. In '68, it was one of the fastest stock vehicles, but Ford and Chrysler had their own competitors. The hard part in those days was getting those skinny old bias ply tires to “hook up”. The handling of all of those old muscle cars was terrible, but man, you certainly could cause a lot of aggrevated citizens on the main drag.

I miss the old days. The roar of muscle engines through lakepipes, the smell of burning rubber combined withburning oil and unburned gasoline. Man, what sweet memories.

Of course, now we have cars with 1200 HP, but nobody but millionaires and billionaires can afford them. The old Camaros, Mustangs, and Chargers were affordable by the working class.

In 1978, I bought my first brand new car–a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon with the 4-4-2 trim package. I got a very good price on the car. Older people didn’t want it because they didn’t like the numbers on the doors. Younger people didn’t want the car because it wasn’t a ‘real 4-4-2’. My son was 5 years old at the time. We hadn’t had the car three weeks when he accidentally blew up a bottle of root beer in the car. We had been visiting friends and he hadn’t finished the root beer, so we put a cork in it. He was playing with the bottle on the way home and carbon dioxide blew the cork out. At any rate, root beer went all over the car. The next day, I made him help me clean the car up and explained to him that the car had to last because he would be taking his dates out in that car. Eleven years later, we still owned the car. When he went out on a date after he obtained his driver’s license and came back home, he remembered the incident with the root beer and what I had told him. He said, "You weren’t kidding, were you dad?"
I did let him take the car to college for his freshmen year. His second year of college, he had an internship 350 miles away that involved interstate driving. We put him in a better car under his protests. He said that he and the old Oldsmobile “understood each other”. When he became engaged and brought his fiance to our house, he had to take her out in the 23 year old Oldsmobile.

Parents who obsess over indulging their children with every luxury and status symbol that they can afford or can finance might be doing them a disservice. I recall a friend whose daughters were growing up expecting too much and the summer before their senior year in high school the girls spent living with a distant relative who owned a restaurant at a coastal resort area. Folding napkins and busing tables for $1 an hour while hustling for tips from tourists until 3:00 am when the clean up began that lasted until… was a great education I was told.

Rod, some years back I would have agreed with you emphatically. But now I look at those spoiled kids and they’re all doctors, lawyers, and successful self employed people. All us nice guys? We finished last.

So I wonder if I just never understood the real world…

" and they’re all doctors, lawyers, and successful self employed people. All us nice guys? We finished last".
@the same mountainbike–How do you define ‘successful’? I think if a person enjoys what he is doing and is able to put food on the table and a roof over his head, he (or she) is successful.
I turned down an opportunity to work for a large pharmaceutical firm at three times the salary I was earning as a teacher, but I liked what I was doing. I have no regrets about this decision. Our son is an elementary teacher. He has to really watch every nickel, but he loves what he is doing.
I don’t know where I finished, but I really had great satisfaction in my career. To me, doing the lifetime work you like and feeling good about it is understanding the real world.

More and more it seems only the children of families that can afford to be generous and indulgent can afford the education to become doctors, lawyers, etc, TSM. But the daughters that I spoke of did OK. The older got a college scholarship and finished to pass the CPA exam on the first attempt and the younger married and runs a building supply company with her husband.

You guys make excellent points. It is true; if you enjoy your days and your bills are paid, you’ve won the game.

Speaking of overindulgence, there was a story not too many years ago about a 17 year old girl in CA I think it was who was killed in an accident while on her way to school one morning. She was darting in and out of traffic on the expressway and hit a bridge abutment at about 90 MPH.
The 100 grand Porsche Carrera her parents had bought her was mangled so bad that from the pics it was difficult to even tell that it had been a car at one time.

Back when I was in school everyone drove a 10 year old or older car if they were fortunate enough to even own a vehicle. Drive by a high school now and the parking lot will have a large number of new or nearly new cars with some of them leaning towards the high end.