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A Parent's Guide: Buying your teen's first car

Regardless of whether you've been anxiously awaiting or dreading this day, it's finally here—you have a teen driver. You've helped them log their training hours and celebrated as he or she passed the driver’s test; now it's time to help your teen buy a car.

By following a few basic guidelines, you can prepare your new driver to buy their first car while also setting them up for positive buying experiences in the future.

Set expectations (and a budget)

Guiding your teenager through the process of buying a first car can be an enjoyable learning experience if you set expectations from the start. Discuss how much each of you (you and your teen) will be able to contribute toward the purchase of the car. Use an online affordability calculator to establish a reasonable purchase price. Your teen will soon discover that the budget—and not merely their heart's desire—will determine their buying options.

Review the costs: Car maintenance and upkeep

There are ongoing ownership costs that every driver must understand and take responsibility for at one point or another. Before looking at specific cars, discuss general car maintenance needs and who will responsible to pay for them.

Help your teen make a list of all the costs that they'll need to account for, including:

  • Gas
  • Annual insurance premiums
  • Annual registration and inspection fees
  • Oil Changes
  • Maintenance and upkeep - tires, brakes, batteries, windshield wipers, etc.
  • Tire rotations
  • Car washes

Your teen might be focused on buying new speakers, seat covers, or custom light features; help them to reprioritize and set a budget for planned—and unplanned—expenses. If your teen doesn't already have an emergency savings fund, now is a good time to discuss how it could benefit them as a driver.

As you visit car lots and search online, highlight how each vehicle's ownership costs can vary depending on the age and type of car. Use a resource like Edmunds' True Cost to Own Calculator® to get a better understanding of how costs vary. By talking through the variables, you’re teaching your teen how to make sound buying decisions, now and in the future.

Emphasize safety and security

Speaking of sound decisions, help your teen understand the value of buying a safe, reliable car with a record of durability. While your teen driver may gravitate toward something sleek and shiny, steer them in the direction of practical, reliable cars with high safety ratings and features that fit their needs.

Encourage your teen to come up with long-term goals, like one year of no accidents or tickets, and decide what the reward and consequence will be for making or breaking those goals. You'll set your teen driver up for a lifetime of driving success by stressing safe, responsible driving behavior from day one.

Discuss the car buying process

Regardless of whether you plan to pay for the entire cost, part of the purchase price, or have your teen cover the full cost of a vehicle, talk through the pros and cons of buying from a car dealership versus a private owner. Use resources like Consumer Reports' annual used car buying guide to ensure you get a good deal.

If you plan on taking out a loan, discuss the total cost of financing a vehicle and the importance of shopping for the best interest rate.

By focusing on what truly matters—safety, responsibility, and understanding the true cost of ownership—you can help your teen driver be a wise buyer for life.

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