Teens' Cars

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Teens and car ownership

July 2013

Our 19-yr-old son wants his own car even though we let him use the uncool family mini-van. Our requirements for owning a car are: must have a part-time job at all times while away at school and at home (full-time while home even better) to pay for gas and all maintenance. We'll pay the insurance. And we'll help pay for half the car (and we have input into what make/model). The problem is he doesn't have a job this summer and not enough money saved to pay for half the car (although he is close). And we figure he must have at least $1000 saved after the car purchase for potential major repairs with a cheap used car. While he has applied to many places for a job, let's just say he is not exactly the most ambitious kid. But he still wants a car. We are willing to put up with the complaining and stand our ground. Are we being reasonable? Anon

You are being completely reasonable. If he has his own car, his insurance rates will be much higher than if he shares a car with you. Stick to your guns. Parent of Teenagers

In my opinion, you are being totally reasonable, even generous (i.e. you'll pay for half the car). If kids are to be successful, they need to have developed the ability to take care of themselves and their needs, and to be ambitious enough to get what they want. This ''kid'' is technically an adult. If adults want cars, they have to come up with ways to finance the purchase and maintenance. You are teaching him all of this. Definitely stand your ground

You're not unreasonable at all. Stick to your guns. You're offering him a good deal, plus he's already got access to a vehicle. If he doesn't have enough money, then he can't buy it. If it's really that important to him, it might spur a little ambition to find a job, or invent one (helping maintain neighbors' grounds, babysitting, etc.). This is a great life lesson for him.

I don't know if you really need the $1000 saved up for repairs; I've had to buy clunkers and never did that. And if the car breaks down and he doesn't have enough for repairs, well then, that will be another great life lesson. natural consquences are ideal

You sound like awesome parents! You set out very clear requirements for car ownership. (You are also being generous by picking up the insurance.) Your son hasn't met the requirements. Do not give in. You have good reasons for setting up the requirements you did because they prepare him for responsible car ownership. He's not ready yet. He may want it, hence the whining, but if he's not ambitious about finding a job, then he's not ready. Stick to your guns

Yes, you are being reasonable. If your son's not energetic enough to look for a job until he finds one (and that includes following up on inquiries, sending thank you notes after interviews, etc.), then he's not responsible enough to have his own car. If you'll pardon my bluntness, he sounds a touch arrogant, not an unusual trait in a 19-year-old male, and arrogance and driving don't mix well. Melanie

Car for college sophomore?

May 2013

Our daughter is just finishing up her freshman year in college (I'm actually heading to the airport this afternoon to pick her up!). We have a discussion taking place about whether or not she should have a car when she returns to school in the fall as a sophomore. She is 19 1/2, a very responsible, solid, trustworthy kid, never gets high, never drinks (and I'm not being naive here). She goes to school at a small liberal arts school tucked on the corner of a small rust-belt community in the Northeast. Getting into her little town is an effort, getting into her little town to get the bus to the nearest big city (Philly, NYC) is an effort, and she feels isolated and trapped at school. Is that enough reason to get a car? She's a big-city kid at heart and really wants a set of wheels. In the absence of a car, she's gone so far as to talk about transferring, which really speaks volumes about the extent of her feeling trapped. I suggested looking into Zipcar but it's not on her campus and she is not the kind of kid to rally the troops and petition the administration. So, here goes: Is it safe for my kid to even have a car all the way on the East Coast? Will it enhance or diminish her college experience? Will it separate her from campus life even further? Does that matter if its what she feels she needs to be happier? How do we manage the expenses of a car? Other pros and cons? What kind of say do we even have in this whole situation? She is coming home to a job and can put XXX number of dollars into the purchase, and we would make up the difference to make sure she has a safe car (whatever that means), and then we'd have to figure out the rest of the finances from there. She's a good driver and a great kid, and I want to help meet her needs here, but I am worried about this whole idea on many levels, most especially the safety aspect. If you've been through this with your college kid, I'd love to hear your experience or advice. Hard to let go in some areas, driving being chief among them

Let me put this out first: Your daughter is an adult and doesn't need your permission to save up and buy a car, although it will probably be less expensive for her if you add her to your insurance than if she has to go out and buy insurance on her own.

Beyond that, all her reasons for wanting a car seem perfectly reasonable. I had a hand-me-down car starting about age 17, with far fewer good reasons (and did fine).

To me, the bigger issue is who is paying for what, and what lessons you want her to learn from this around saving money, taking responsibility, taking a workshop on basic car maintenance, being clear about who is paying for repairs, etc.

I recently gave my daughter, now 22, my old car when the one she'd bought completely conked out. We had a number of issues with the car needing repairs, so I'm reminded that it's good to talk about who will pay for those (I felt more responsible since I'd given it to her, whereas when it was the car she'd bought, I didn't). Also, I noticed my daughter, while hypervigilant about oil changes, was pretty casual about driving off with a nearly flat tire, check-engine light on, etc. That's why I mention a workshop on car maintenance, and talks from you about not putting off needed repairs.

But I think you're off the mark on the discussion of whether she should have a car. That's between her and her savings account balance.

If you can afford it, I say let her get a car! I was raised in the semi-rural south, and needed a car to get around my college town, as well as back & forth to home on weekends. In grad school I lived in Boston, but LOVED driving north into Vermont & New Hampshire on the weekends...sometimes with friends, but often on my own. I treasured those drives, feeling independent, and loving exploring parts of the country that I'd never seen before. I have amazing memories of meeting people from the small towns... shopkeepers, museum workers, cafe employees, and just feeling like I was on top of the world. Let her get a car! sk8ma

A car seems like one answer to your daughter's isolation, since she's so responsible. If you don't want her to drive across the country, maybe she could buy one there? Consumer Reports magazine April 2013 issue is a great source about safety and reliability of new and older cars; consumerreports.org goes back to '03 but costs money to use, while edmunds.com is a good free used car website. However, even used cars are expensive to buy, insure, and maintain, plus roadside service contracts like AAA. Where would she store it over the summers? Does she know how to drive in the snow; does she need 4WD?

Here's another thought: Can you give her money to call taxis to get to the train or bus station? Gotta be cheaper than a car.

If she has friends at college, and people to live with, and her grades are fine, I wouldn't worry too much about her leaving campus a couple of times a month to go to the city. Best of luck.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to get your daughter a car, I hope you will not overlook the other important issue embedded in your post: the issue of whether she should transfer to a school where she will not feel ''isolated and trapped,'' a possibility she has raised. She will have a much more satisfying college experience if she is comfortable in her location. Sounds like she miscalculated the importance of geography and local culture in her selection of this college. This happens from time to time and, luckily, it isn't unusual or complicated to make a course correction at this point. She can come home, go to a JC for a year, then transfer to a UC or CSU (or other). Or she could take a Gap year. It would be sad for her to spend 3 more years at a school where she is so unhappy. It might be worthwhile to have her spend a little time with a college consultant to help her make a better choice, based upon what she now knows about her priorities. I'm not convinced that a car is the panacea she thinks it is. Please have some long conversations with her to try to learn whether there is anything else unsatisfying about her college experience so far. Is she happy with her professors? course work? roommate? social life? extra-curricular opportunities? the weather?? It is hard to imagine that a car solves everything.

You are smart to wonder if having a car will enhance or diminish her college experience. It could reduce her incentive to get involved with what the school has to offer, leading her to feel even more isolated.

My son is also a good driver and a great kid. Nevertheless, there is no possibility he will have a car at college (even though you can't prevent her from owning a car, legally, as a practical matter you definitely can as long as she is your dependent.). Safety is a huge concern. Is she experienced at driving in the snow? Does she understand car maintenance (when to service? when it needs an alignment? what to do when it breaks down? what to do when she has an accident?....) Even if she were to put her summer earnings toward a car, that is just the beginning of the costs. Think: insurance, maintenance, repairs, annual registration, gas (!), traffic tickets, parking fees, etc. How many hours she would have to work at a low paying job just to support the car? That is not how I want my child spending his time right now.

But all this being said, the worst part of the car discussion is that it distracts you and your daughter from the more pressing issue of whether she should cut her losses at her current school. My son, also a city kid, loves his small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere in the east, but it is definitely *not* for everyone! Mother of SLA college student