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Picking a ‘starter car’ for your teen, Part I

Here at Fred Beans Family of Dealerships, many of us are parents, too, and we know the concerns that most parents have when “putting wheels” on their teens. We all find ourselves juggling the sometimes contradictory goals of cost, safety and reliability.

In fact, when choosing a vehicle for their teen, most parents say that reliability (81%), a high safety rating (73%) and affordable auto insurance (63%) are their top priorities, according to a recent survey commissioned by top-rated auto insurer United States Automobile Association (USAA).

When USAA developed its “first cars” list – called Top Ten for Teens – it included USAA “preferred” vehicles with a manufacturers‘ suggested retail below $25,000 that are also rated International Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Picks. They were then ranked based on reliability and cost to insure.

1.    Scion tC
2.    Nissan Cube
3.    Honda Fit
4.    Scion xD
5.    Scion xB
6.    Toyota Yaris
7.    Honda Civic
8.    Hyundai Elantra
9.    Honda CR-Z
10.    Kia Forte

Of course, we’re pleased to see that we sell seven of the vehicles on USAA’s list: Scion tC, xD and xB; Nissan Cube; Toyota Yaris; Hyundai Elantra; and Kia Forte. And we’d be pleased to have our teens driving any one of them.

New or Used?
While the price may be right for a pre-owned car – and who hasn’t thought they don’t want to put a new car through those frequent minor fender-benders teens seem to attract – the technology and safety features available on new vehicles should make you think twice about that.

Newer cars tend to have the high-tech safety features that parents finding especially reassuring when they put their kids behind the wheel and send them off. Electronic stability control (ESC), which helps drivers maintain control of a vehicle, is standard on all 2012 cars. Although front airbags have been mandated for some time, side-impact airbags aren’t required but are standard on many new cars. Those back-up cameras on the new models? What a bonus for your teen driver.

And there’s no retrofitting for most of these safety features. You can install rearview cameras, but the screens are smaller, and you can’t add ESC or airbags.

Teaching teens to be responsible
Researching and buying a car, and then setting up rules and regs for use of said vehicle, make for a teaching opportunity that may not come again. Have your teen take part in all stages of the purchase, from reading reviews and manufacturers’ specs to getting insurance and car loan quotes for your top picks. How much will your family’s insurance bill increase by adding the new driver and vehicle to the policy, and how much will good grades, an accident-free history and a safe-driving class lower it?

Go over the other expenses of owning a vehicle, from fuel to scheduled maintenance, tires, oil changes, inspections and state registration. Even if these are costs you expect to be covering, not your teen, he or she should be aware that buying a car is more than the purchase price.

And please, please, please – don’t miss this opportunity to discuss your own and your teen’s expectations and to negotiate the rules they’ll follow as responsible drivers and any consequences of breaking them. For help in starting that oh-so-important discussion, download the 2012 Safe Driving Contract developed by CB Cares and Fred Beans Family of Dealerships.

More tips for buying a car for a teenaged driver in our next post.