Should You Buy A Car For Your Teenager?

by Ron Haynes

This is a controversial issue in many families and a lot of times, the parents are split in their ideas. I believe that parents should address this issue very early so that there are no surprises when the teenager reaches driving age.
Car & Driver
Remember: the cheapest car you will ever own is the one you’re presently driving! Despite what marketing companies and manufacturers say, the only cars that gain value are antiques. Certain cars do depreciate more slowly than others, but no cars really appreciate in value. If you’re teaching your children the importance of investing in appreciating assets, you’re already ahead of the game. How you and your teenager view a car will determine the decisions you make and how you make them.

Cars are for transportation first and foremost, but 16 year olds think they are for style. The difference in price between style and functionality is staggering. Make sure your teenager understands the high price of style. Compare prices with them on a 2002 Jeep Cherokee and a 2008 Ford Mustang convertible. The difference can be staggering.

Possibility #1
Why are you buying the car? Convenience? Whose convenience? If the car is for the parent’s convenience, the parent should buy it, insure it, and pay for the associated expenses. Many parents look forward to the oldest child getting their driver’s license so he or she can ferry the younger children to baseball practice, ballet, the school play, to and from school, etc. If the children don’t like the choice of vehicles, or if they want something else, they should buy the car and pay for its expenses.

I believe that teenagers should have some ownership in the car. They should have some “skin in the game” from a monetary standpoint. It is just human nature to take better care of the things we work for as opposed to the things that are just given to us. Having a car is not a right, it’s a privilege. You teenager isn’t entitled to a set of wheels and they should have to work to get the one they want. If they aren’t willing to work, then you get to pick the car.

Possibility #2
I have told my children that I will match the amount they have saved to buy a car when they get ready to make that purchase. I don’t want my teenager to go into debt, but I also don’t want my daughter driving a $1,000 unsafe clunker, so I plan on helping her. After all, my peace of mind has its own value.

Possibility #3
Sometimes grandparents are willing to help. If you’re in this fortunate position, don’t let your pride stop a grandparent from having the joy of helping their grandchild. But also make sure the grandparent understands your values and your standards. The car should be appropriate for the teenager at their responsibility level. If you drive a 10 year old Honda, it really isn’t appropriate for your teenager to have a 2008 Lexus from the grandparents.

When looking at potential vehicles consider:

  • Maintenance costs. How much does an oil change cost? New brakes? A general tune up?
  • Larger expenses. How much will tires cost? What about insurance?
  • Gas mileage and how many miles the child will be driving per year.
  • The car’s safety record and reliability. What does Consumer Reports say? What do mechanics say? Have you asked?
  • How much will your insurance rates increase? How much if the teen gets a speeding ticket? How about a fender-bender?
  • How easy is it to change this vehicles tires in case of a flat? Can the your teenager learn this skill?
  • Does your teenager understand what the warning lights are and what to do if they come on?
  • Will you provide a cell phone to your teenager in case of an emergency while on the road? I plan to, so there’s yet another expense.

Don’t be forced into making a poor financial decision by your need to make sure your kid keep up with the Joneses. That is a horrible example to set. Buying a car isn’t a one time expense. The spending associated with owning and operating a vehicle never ends.

I hope I can instill these principles in my children. With two of them just around the corner from driving age, I don’t have much time.

On the web:
Edmunds “The True Cost to Own”

[tags]life, car, teenager, budget, teenage driver[/tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Trent Hamm

I think involving the child all the way along is worthwhile. Have them save for it, and also have them get familiar with the used car market.


Kids should buy their own vehicles. I bought mine, my sister bought hers. If my kids ask for a $10,000 present, it better be for something that gains value, doesn’t raise MY insurance rates, and can’t kill someone and get ME sued.


I think you should have a talk with your kids about what is important to you like reducing debt and not taking on more of it. You have to get them to understand how difficult it is getting out. We let our kids participate in our debt reduction plan by contributing a dollar here n there so they feel like they are helpnig. When time comes to get them in a car, we feel certain they will want to pay cash and not have moore debt.


Thanks Trent. I’m with you. Kids need to see the entire process and understand how it works.

I really appreciate your comments.


@ Roy
Good points. Children SHOULD be taught responsibility. I’m willing to help mine along just a little, but you raise some valid concerns.

@ Jenn
Wow, you let your kids get involved in your debt payoff? That’s an approach I haven’t heard. Talk about making them responsible! But if it helps you raise money smart kids, more power to you!


Driving any type of vehicle is a big responsibility. The various laws and road safety rules are ones that need to be fully understood. While this is all very true there are some drivers who need to have time to learn and gain the experience to become good drivers. These new beginner drivers are in most cases teenage drivers.

As the experience level of these people is still very low it is necessary for the teenage drivers to be careful as they begin to gain their experience. For these reasons they should make sure that at the beginning of their driving with a new license that their front seat passenger is an adult over 21 years who has a good experience of driving.

Early Retirement Extreme

I’m of the odd conviction that maybe kids shouldn’t even be driving in their teens due to their (much) higher accident rate. That said, I realize that the idea of not owning a car in this country makes someone somewhat of an outcast. I would leave this choice to the kid. They are legally allowed to drive and in many states legally allowed to be on their cellphone while doing so but I think they should pay for the privilege themselves. I for one am not willing to spend money on an extra car to have a convenient delivery boy at hand. I mean, why can’t the kids borrow the parents’ car(s)? That worked fine for me.


……..Statement about the delivery boy…… yourself might have not liked running errands for your Mom….;-)
Mine loved it!!!!
And it’s a benefit to the family to have another driver.
Whether they go to the grocery store or pick up their siblings from…… wherever.
That’s obvious.
It’s all the better, when they’ve had driver’s ED/training and have high honors grades too.

I’m not aware of any young boy/men in median income families that don’t have transportation.
In my area….there aren’t many, if any.
Now girls…..they just don’t seem to need the wheels as much as guys do. But I have known a few who did.

When we were thinking about this particular desire on our boys part…..I’ll tell you I was concerned about them getting a car.
Too risky, I thought. But that was some time ago.

Today they both are looking forward to their own boys getting behind the wheel. Yikes!!! :-)
I pity them. Because there’s a fair amount of panic you go through as parents. Today, with cell phones and even more cars on the road…well….it’s difficult situation.

But, that is life. And kids will still drive. And parents do survive.

You sound as if you don’t have children old enough to drive yet. :-)

And yes, ours had to pay for their rides. But we helped! :-)
They also borrowed our cars for a time before they got their own. As their Mom, I didn’t like that personally! :-)

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