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Buying Your Teen a Car

First of all, nobody should have a vehicle purchased for him or her. Cars are a responsibility, both financially and from a safety standpoint. So when my wife asked me what kind of car we were going to buy my daughter Danielle for her 16th birthday I was not exactly enthusiastic. “Shouldn’t she save her babysitting cash and get a car when she goes to college?” I thought. By then she might have a better handle on both financial responsibility and safety. Besides, the cash she gets for watching some of my neighbor’s offspring is amazing.

My first car was a 1968 Ford LTD, which lasted less then 4 months before I had to shoot it and collect $100 from the junkyard. It was several years before I had a vehicle that I was proud of, so the idea of a teenager getting a car for her 16th birthday seemed like something from a script of “The OC”.
Transporting Children is a High Mileage Proposition
But then a few obvious facts started to sink in. First and foremost, my wife and I together put about 50,000 miles per year on our vehicles. Much of this mileage is logged as hostages to our children. Football, baseball, basketball, cross-country, church events, school events. While the events are great, the driving isn’t. Having a third cabbie would certainly help.
Mom’s SUV Has Turned into the “Dumpster”
Second, I like a clean car. I do not like the idea of food sliding across the dash when cornering. In fact, I think the entire car is a bad place to store food, regardless of how well the AC works. I wasn’t sure if my daughter shared this preference. So far she had seemed to go along with her brothers in their preference for storing all things in their mother’s SUV. The idea of sharing my car was a bit frightening.
Would Rather Have MY Child Driving than Riding With Friends Who May Not Be Good Drivers
Finally, I had met some of my daughter’s friends and thought about them driving her around. I think the last point convinced me. For the most part, Danielle is a good driver. Carolyn and I spent a lot of time with her, and she’s not the kind of person that is late and trying to make up for it. Some of her friends have trouble focusing on anything without an LCD screen. Done deal. We buy a car.
Selection Reasons: Good Safety, NOT Enough Room for Lots of Friends, Dependable, Slow, Cute
The vehicle requirements came down to the following partially logical list: First and foremost safety. That meant my 1967 Beetle was not going to be in the rotation…whew! Second, not enough room for many passengers. This arose out of the fact that most teen accidents are caused by in-vehicle distractions (i.e. friends). Third, dependable. I was not interested in receiving cell phone calls from Danielle with car issues. Fourth, slow, for obvious reasons. And finally, cute. This was a requirement from my wife, but I have to admit that there is a certain amount of fatherly pride that goes along with your daughter’s wheels in LA.
As Often Happens, Dealer Turns Daydream into a Dread
I won’t bore you with the purchase process other than to assure you that it was miserable, as expected, with all the games in the little glass puppy love room at the dealership. If dealers knew how to make buying a car as much fun as daydreaming about a car, they would be a lot richer.
And the Winner Is… Volkswagen New Beetle
So what did the lucky girl get? A 2002 New Beetle with 33,000 miles. I know, I know, not exactly the benchmark of dependability, but I decided the warranty and roadside assistance would be enough to let “cute” win the day. Besides, 33,000 miles is almost new.
As expected, it’s slower that a turtle in snow. The back seat will hopefully be small enough to convince her friends to ride with someone else. Its safety ratings have been great, and the car’s got excellent visibility.
I’ve driven it a few times (after moving the silk flowers to the door pocket). It’s comfortable and easy to drive. The 4 speed automatic transmission helps keep the 2.0-liter 115 hp engine at bay. You get passed by kids on bikes….perfect!
As for Danielle, she’s ecstatic! She went wild when she found the keys in a gift box at her 16th birthday. She screamed and ran out of the restaurant looking for the car like she was chasing Ricky Martin.
Best of all, last night she picked up her little brother from rehearsal. We’ll see how long that behavior lasts.


  • GB| December 15, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    What, no Corvette Z06 for a first car?
    My first car was a 280ZX and much slower than you would think, it was also an automatic and very unreliable. I still have “your door is ajar” running through my head also

  • Alex Rodriguez| December 12, 2005 at 10:00 am

    So, you say you shouldn’t buy a car for your teen, then you go through all of the emotional reasons to reject that logic. Then, you work to create control and limits to ensure your daughter complies with your line of thought on all matters. I imagine you’re a conservative as well, expecting to be taken care of, while knowing all the while that those in charge will ultimately do whatever they want to, regardless of what is right.

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