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Buying Your Kid Their First Car? Here's What You Need to Know

Finance | 06/23/2022 22:00
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When your kid first gets their driver’s license, it’s a bittersweet moment. You are proud that they are growing up and have all of the freedoms that come with that, but on the other hand, you are terrified. Will they drive safely? Will they be distracted? Will they go where they say they are going to go? The questions and the worries are endless.

One way you can get some peace of mind is to buy your kid their first car (if you can afford it). This might be especially important if you live in a rural area where having a car is an absolute necessity. So today we are talking about the ins and outs of buying your kid their first car.

Here’s everything you should know when it comes to buying your kid their first car.

Should parents buy their kids their first car?

There’s a chance you are wondering if you should even buy your kid their first car. While this will depend very much on your financial state, there are pros and cons to this. Buying your kid their first car is helpful because:

  • You can most likely get them a safer car than they could afford on their own

  • They most likely don’t have credit, so you can help them with financing 

  • It gives them the opportunity to save for other things, such as education or the additional costs that come with owning a car

While these are all great reasons to buy your kid their first car, there is one glaring disadvantage: Kids who do not buy their own first car might not take the best care of the car. When people have a personal investment in something, they tend to take better care of it. There is a pride that comes with working for something, and if you buy your kid their first car, they might not experience that.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to this question. Some parents might choose to buy their kid their dream car, while others might encourage their kid to save and buy their own car. Others might suggest that they split the car costs and meet in the middle. Only you can make the decision that is right for your family. 

Should a first car be new or used?

Again, this will depend on your financial situation. There are a lot of benefits to getting a new car for your kid. The car will last longer, and will most likely have better gas mileage and be safer. It will have the latest technology as well, which I’m sure will make your kid happy. And if you choose to finance it with your kid, you can help them build their credit, which is invaluable at a young age.

But new cars come with a high price tag, especially today. And with the high rate of teen accidents, a new car might not be the best idea. In fact, the risk of an accident is higher among 16-19 year olds than any other age bracket. So there’s a chance a new car won’t make it out of your teen’s grasp unscathed.

You will likely find a better deal on a used car, and the insurance will be less expensive. Considering the depreciation on new cars, buying used might give you more of a bang for your buck.

Tips for buying your kid their first car

If you do decide to buy your kid their first car, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Safety Matters

As we said before, teenagers have the highest rate of motor vehicle accidents in the country out of any age group. This means that safety is at the top of the priority list.

When looking at cars, be sure to check out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety where you can see crash test scores and get a good indication of just how safe a vehicle is. Today’s new cars offer more and more high end safety features, but you will have to see what your budget allows. 

Set a Budget

When it comes to buying a car, it can be pretty easy to get ahead of yourself. Between the cost of the car, the add-ons, insurance, fees, and maintenance costs, there’s a lot to consider. That’s why it is so important to have (and stick to) a realistic budget.

Here’s a tip: If you are looking to save some money every month so that you can afford a car for your teen, consider refinancing your car. You could save hundreds of dollars every month with a car loan refinance.

Do Your Homework

Be sure to research which car will be the best fit for your teen. Think about your teen’s needs and how much they drive. Will they be using it to drive to school and activities? How many miles do you expect they will put on the car every week? Is there any technology that you really want? (Think entertainment systems, blind side protections, etc.)

When you have a loose idea of what you are looking for, be sure to shop around your community as well as online. Here are a few good sites to check out when researching and comparing deals:

Think About the Gas Mileage

Even if you decide to buy your kid a car, chances are they will be paying for gas. And we all know how expensive that can be (especially now). That’s why you want to think about the gas mileage of the car you select. Selecting a car with good fuel economy will also help with the car’s resale value later on.

And Think About the Size

If you are looking for a car with good gas mileage, you may be tempted to get a small car. But you want to make sure the car you select will be able to protect your teen. If your kid does get into an accident, you want more than a tin can around them to protect them. 

You don’t want to go too big however. Not only do minivans and SUVs have a higher center of mass, making them more likely to roll over, but they can fit more people in them. You don’t want your teen to be tempted to have too many friends in the car with them–distracted driving is a major cause of teen motor vehicle accidents. You are best served to find something that is sturdy enough to stand up to an accident but still has decent gas mileage.

Inspect it Thoroughly

Buying a used car may make more economical sense for you, but you will need to be careful. If you use a car dealer, avoid dealers with extreme sales and bad reputations. Used car dealers are very good at hiding damage and glossing over any issues a car may have, so you will need to be extra vigilant when looking to buy a car.

If you choose to buy a used car, make sure you have it thoroughly inspected. When you initially look at the car, be sure to do it in the daytime so that you can see it in daylight. You want to see if there are any dents or repaint spots that may indicate that the car was in an accident. Here are a few other things to check for:

  • First and foremost, test drive the car to see how it drives. Does it make any weird noises? Is there a lot of smoke coming out of the tailpipe? Does the engine sound ok? How does the transmission shift? These are all things to focus on during your test drive.

  • Check out the steering and the suspension.

  • Have all of the wheels removed and check the brakes, including the parking brake.

  • Check to see if there are any computer errors.

  • Check all of the fluids (you can tell a lot by the color of the fluids).

  • Check all of the valves and hoses.

  • Test all of the controls. Do the window switches work? Is the AC functional? These small repairs can be surprisingly expensive.

  • Look for any body damage or rust, as these can be indications that the car was in an accident (and is hiding more damage that you can’t see.)

  • Check for any signs of water damage, such as a mildew smell. 

  • See if there are any maintenance records or a CARFAX report. These reports and records may not tell you everything, but you can at least see what is recorded.

Use common sense when assessing the car you are interested in. If you are not well versed in car maintenance and don’t exactly know what to look for, bring along a friend or family member who knows a thing or two about cars.

And that’s what you need to know about buying your kid their first car.

Buying a new car is always part exciting and part anxiety-inducing, and buying a car for your kid only intensifies those feelings. But we hope these tips will help you navigate your purchase and get your teen safely and affordably on the road.

Remember: If you want to free up a little extra cash to make buying your teen their first car more manageable, Auto Approve can help you refinance a vehicle, and if you choose to lease a car for your child rather than buying, we can help with auto lease purchase if you want to buy the car at the end of the lease.


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