I regularly answer people’s car buying and selling questions on Yahoo Answers (My user name is TiggyWiggy, my cat’s name) and one of the most frequent questions that comes up several times a day is, “Is this a good first car for a teen?” And in the details, they’ll state what car they are talking about. It might be anything from a 1980s Oldsmobile with 200,000 miles, to a brand new high priced luxury car, to a big SUV, a high-powered sports car, or a 1960s muscle car.
More often than not, the car they like is NOT a good first car. I sometimes think they know that, but they are looking for some opinions otherwise. Often, they are in disagreement with sensible parents who are opposing their poor choice.
Here are some of the kinds of vehicles asked about:
Old inexpensive used car, unknown condition, high mileage
Many old cars, even with high mileage, can be in excellent first cars. However, most old cars have problems, some serious (and expensive), some not so serious. And no car, even a reliable brand such as Honda and Toyota, are exempt from problems when they begin to age. The only way to know whether such a car is a good first car is to have a professional mechanic inspect it before the purchase. It’s not a good practice to rely on the word of a seller in determining a car’s condition. Not that sellers are all dishonest, but sellers and dealers often don’t know the real condition of the cars they sell.
Large SUVs and large trucks
Big vehicles are much more difficult to manage and control in emergency driving situations, especially top-heavy SUVs. Because they aren’t safe in those situations, they simply don’t make good first cars for inexperienced teen drivers. Smaller SUVs and crossovers such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are much safer and easier to control.
Expensive new luxury cars
Teens frequently wreck cars, luxury or not. Insurance for teens in luxury cars is very expensive. Some luxury brands are not especially reliable. Repair and maintenance costs for luxury cars are high. Teens often can’t pay their own way to buy and operate luxury cars. Most teens learn about cars, car buying, and financing by starting low and working their way up. Starting with a luxury car is not a very good life lesson.
Classic cars and old European cars
Although very appealing, old classics are not good first cars. Most were never reliable when they were brand new, and are certainly not reliable now. They require frequent work to keep them in good running order. Parts are hard to find and expensive. Most cars of this type are bought by collectors who restore them (at great expense) and rarely drive them.
Sports cars and high-performance cars
Sports cars, especially those with large engines, are very attractive to young drivers. Many teen males are looking for a “fast” first car, which is not a good idea. These types of cars are frequently wrecked, many with disastrous results, which explains why insurance rates are extremely high. Young drivers are simply not experienced enough to handle a high powered car.
Not-so-old Honda or Toyota vehicles
Generally, we recommend and approve Honda or Toyota as first cars since they are very reliable, are relatively inexpensive to drive and insure, are fuel-efficient, and are very safe. As the teen gains experience, improves his finances and credit in the future, he can move up to better cars.
It’s important that teens make realistic decisions about first cars and not be in a hurry to get the most expensive, the fastest, the newest cars out there.