Get CARFAX Reports
Ford Motor Company's Driving Skills for Life teen safe driving program.

Buying a Car for Your Teen isn’t as Complicated as You Think

When it’s time to buy a car for your teenager, parents think first of a car’s safety. Few, if any, would be surprised to learn that teens are involved in fatal or police-reported crashes at a rate nearly three times that of adult drivers. In the event their child is in a crash, they want the best possible car around them.

[Read: Tips for Preventing Distracted Driving]

Add in the price factor, which includes the cost of the car and the sharp rise in insurance rates that come with adding a teen driver to the family policy, and many parents worry the dinner table conversation over wheels will turn tense. How will you handle it if your teenage son or daughter wants a head-turning set of wheels, while you want to put them in a safe and affordable vehicle?

Relax. It probably won’t be as bad as you think.

Look for Vehicle Safety Features

When parents think safety, they think air bags and seat belts. It’s a good start, but it shouldn’t be the end of the conversation with teenage drivers.

The age of the car matters. A lot.

A 2014 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for example, looked at teenagers involved in fatal crashes from 2008 to 2012 and the cars they were driving. The results are sobering. Eighty-two percent were behind the wheel of a car that was six or more years old. Forty-eight percent were in cars 11 years old or more. Comparing this with adults over the same time period amplified the danger of placing teenagers in older cars.

Eric Teoh, senior statistician for IIHS, explains why. “Older vehicles are less likely to have key safety features like electronic stability control (ESC) and side airbags, and are less likely to show strong performance in crash tests.”

You don’t have to purchase a new car to gain these features. Electronic stability control became required technology on American automobiles in 2012. In 2009, most Ford and Toyota vehicles in the US came with ESC.

[Read: IIHS says Better Designed Vehicles are Reducing Death Rates]

The move to place side airbags in cars began in earnest in the 1990s. There is no federal mandate regarding side airbags, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, NHTSA has recently recommended updates in this area.

Finally, the size and weight of the car matter. Teoh says that “basic physics dictate that larger/heavier vehicles do a better job of protecting their occupants than smaller/lighter ones.”

Buying a Safe Car won’t break the Bank

Parents clearly intuit the importance of safety. Another IIHS study, for example, asked parents what their number one consideration was when buying a car for their teenager, and safety was at the top of the list.

A close second, however, was price. And in an economy where many are still recovering from the Great Recession, price can be a mitigating factor.

So what’s the right price for parents? The average (mean) price is a very affordable $5,300.

Is it even possible to find a car with ESC, side airbags, and of reasonable size and weight (i.e., a midsize car) without breaking the bank?

[Read: Should You Pay for Your Teen’s First Car?]

Yes, as it turns out. The IIHS compiled a list of used cars that all offer good ratings in moderate overlap front crash tests and come with standard ESC. The list is broken into two segments. Cars starting under $20,000 and those starting under $10,000. Each provides the model years that meet the criteria for large and mid-size cars, small and mid-size SUVs, and minivans.

Safe cars are out there, but will teens bite?

Teens View Cars Differently

As it turns out, teens’ relationship with cars may be developing very differently from that of their parents.

To begin, more teenagers are taking a pass on securing that first driver’s license. In 2012, 73 percent of high school seniors had earned their licenses. This a 12 percentage point drop from 1996, when that number was 85 percent.

The reasons vary, from social media making it easier to connect with friends, to the cost of owning a car simply being too much for many to handle. Yes, they are as concerned about cost as you are. In fact, The Huffington Post reports that teens would sooner give up their car than their mobile phone or computer.

[Read: Understanding Safety Ratings]

Moreover, NBC writes that eco-friendly cars are becoming more appealing to older teens and young adults. It’s clear that today’s first-time drivers may be smarter about that first car than we adults imagine.

Start the Conversation

Feel good about beginning the discussion with safety. From there, move on to price. And be ready for them to raise concerns about a car’s environmental record.

That first car discussion might raise some tensions, but not the ones you likely experienced when talking with your parents about your first set of wheels.

Shop for a Used Car »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *