All revved up: a teen's first set of wheels
Big or small? Used or new? Who pays for gas? So many decisions to make about teens' cars.
As the mother of a 16-year-old son, Nancy Sayles Kaneshiro remembers the family's conversations when he wanted to buy a car.Skip to next paragraph
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"First he wanted a truck, then a Lincoln Town Car, then a reconditioned police car," says Mrs. Kaneshiro of Woodland Hills, Calif. "We said no. We wanted him to have a fuel-efficient car, a safe car, and one we could afford."
Their search, conducted primarily online, took weeks. Finally they settled on a 1989 Honda that had been serviced by the same mechanic Kaneshiro used. After a few improvements – a coat of midnight-blue paint, a spoiler from a salvage yard, and a sound system – the gleaming car was ready to transport Ian to school, baseball practice, and social activities.
"It's cool," his friends say.
As a new school year begins, automobile showrooms and used-car lots are sprinkled with families undergoing a rite of passage: choosing a first car for a teenage daughter or son. Questions about safety, reliability, and affordability loom large for parents, who must balance their offspring's desire for something sporty or "cool" with their own preference for a more modest and safer sedan – or maybe a Sherman tank.
"It's the parents' responsibility to help their kids through this process and not just be bullied by their kids that they must have a new Mustang," Kaneshiro says.
Brandon Bogart, a professional race car driver and founder of In Control Advanced Driver Training in Massachusetts, has trained more than 10,000 teen drivers. He says, "If a teen is brought into the process of choosing the new vehicle, they'll inevitably be a more responsible and hopefully safer driver."
But what vehicle to choose?
In a survey last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that few parents consider size when providing a vehicle for a teen, even though size and weight are crucial aspects of crash protection.
"It may be a hard nut to swallow for parents concerned about fuel prices, but small cars are a bad choice for young drivers," says institute spokesman Russ Rader. "Parents should start with midsize cars that have top crash test ratings and the latest safety gear and stay away from the smallest cars."
Mr. Bogart advises parents to beware of SUVs and trucks for new drivers. "They're difficult to control," he says. He emphasizes that the most important safety feature is not how many air bags a car has, but whether it has an antilock braking system – ABS. "Air bags help you in a crash, but ABS helps you avoid a crash."
Bogart thinks the "absolute safest" vehicles on the road are mid-size four-door sedans, such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Ford Taurus. "There's a difference between sporty and powerful," he adds. "The Honda Civic, Volkswagen GTI, Scion tC – they're all safe, reliable, sporty cars. They have excellent crash-avoidance capabilities."