Buying a car can be one of life’s greatest pleasures, but buying your teenage son or daughter their first car can be…gut-wrenching! It’s tough enough to realize that your little boy or girl isn’t so little anymore. Or that they’ll be on the road driving–alone–with the same lunatics you’re on the road with everyday on the way to work. But then there are the costs of adding yet another car to the family inventory.
One of the factors that affect cost and everything else about a car for your teenager is the kind you buy—new or used. There are advantages going either way, and it always helps to analyze them in some detail before coming to a decision.
The new car advantage
Yes, buying a used car for a teenage will generally be less expensive, but there are certain advantages to buying new, especially if you’re thinking about the long term.
Let’s say your teen is 16 years old and a junior in high school—it will be a number of years before she’ll be employed full-time and able to buy a car on her own. A new car will last not only through the balance of high school and all the way through college, but also well into those early years in the job market when she’s just finding her way around. How many “beaters” would she (or you) need to buy over the same time frame?
Lower repair bills
Repairs are an expected part of owning an older car. By buying your teen a new car, you’ll be able to keep this expense to a minimum. Perhaps equally important is avoiding the down time while the car is in the shop. After all, part of the reason for buying your teen a car is so that you no longer need to do chauffeur duty. That status will return each and every time junior is without a car.
Latest safety features
Technology is advancing all the time, and part of it has to do with safety. A new car will include safety features that an older car won’t have. There will be enough risk with a teen driving at all, and safety features are one of the best protections against that risk.
Impress their friends (and yours!)
NO ONE ever wants to admit to this one, but it often is a factor in the decision to buy a new car for a teen. Let’s face it, there’s at least a little bit of vanity in all of us, and we’ll often feed it to the degree that our finances will allow. A used car just won’t have quite the same impact.
The used car advantage
Some parents might skip considering a used car if they can comfortably afford to buy their teenager a new one. But there are factors that go beyond money in the decision to buy your child a car that are worth thinking about.
A car to cut their teeth on
We should never assume that a 16 or 17 year old knows how to drive just because he has his license. He knows enough about driving to pass the state licensing exam but actually knowing how to drive is something altogether different. That only comes from experience, and that takes time. Do you want a 16 or 17 year old learning to drive in a $25,000 car? Then there’s learning how to maintain the car, which again comes with time.
Something to look forward to in the future
Too many kids have too much today and we wonder why they have no sense of value. One of the problems in “having it all” when you’re young is that there’s less to look forward to as you get older. Like most other things in life, cars should come in stages, with the more modest ones coming early, and the better ones coming later when they’ve earned it.
As much as we don’t like to think about this, teens will get into accidents. Somehow those will feel worse happening with a new car than they will on a used one. The repair options will be cheaper with a used car since you can go with used replacement parts—something you’d never do with a new car. This can be especially important if the repair is minor and you want to avoid filing an insurance claim that might increase your premium.
It’s not just that new cars cost more than used ones, it’s also the other expenses that go with new versus used. For example, you may be able to buy a used car for cash, but the same amount of money may be little more than a down payment on a new car. Then you’ll have payments—every month—that your teen can’t help you cover. Car insurance is another issue. You may not need to maintain collision coverage on a used car, but on a new one it will be required.
Which is the better option for a teen?
It will always be a matter of opinion, but mine is that used is the way to go. The cost advantage of used cars combined with the teenage driver learning curve is too big to be overcome by any advantages that a new car may offer.
In addition, one of the lessons we need to teach kids is to live within their means, and I don’t think that buying them a new car is conveying this message. A teen may be impressed with his new car for a few weeks, or maybe a few months, but once the newness wears off there’s a good chance he’ll want something even better.