First Car: How to Buy a Car

August 30, 2012
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The Chevrolet Cruze was named a Top Safety Pick for 2012.

I joked with my daughters that when it came to their first car, I was going to buy them a battery-operated Barbie mobile to drive to school. I mean, we only live .8 miles from their high school–technically, they could walk their faster–and they could “drive” on the sidewalk the whole way.

Of course, I wasn’t serious about buying them this car–or any car, for that matter, because in our family getting a teen a first car would be more of a “want” than a “need.”

Is it convenient having a third driver in the house? You bet. Do we need a third car to go with this convenience? No way. We figure out our schedules and work around one another so that whenever anyone needs to drive somewhere, there is one of our two (bought used) cars available.

Now that said, maybe your own teen has worked and saved enough to buy his or her first car. Good for them! And you may be thinking that how you go about buying a car is looking at price first. Well, sure, that’s part of the consideration. But I think safety should come first. In fact, I was recently on a press trip with a gaggle of auto writers, and when the topic of how to buy a car for a child came up, the consensus was that you buy the safest car you can find.

I recently spoke with the folks at Chevrolet about what to looking for in buying a first car. They concurred onthe safety part, and when providing me with these three tips, you’ll see that safety is number one.

  1. Safety Comes First. Before shopping check out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for vehicle safety. This site rates vehicles on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests, a rollover test, plus evaluation of seat/head restraints for protection against neck injuries in rear impacts. Vehicles that earn the highest ratings in IIHS tests are named a “Top Safety Pick” for the year.
  2. Fuel Economy Counts. Since many teenagers will be paying for their own gas, fuel efficiency should be part of the first car shopping equation. At the U.S. Department of Energy’s website on fuel economy, you can find a list of the most fuel efficient vehicles in each segment.
  3. Think Technology. Today’s car technology can help keep teen drivers connected but still safe. Some systems can offer safety through technology with hands-free calling, which gives parents like me peace of mind.

Back to the conversation with those auto writers about what to look for in a car for your kid. When I brought up the issue of saving money, one of them said, “If your child is in a car accident and the car wasn’t safe enough to protect him, will you really remember how much money you saved?” Point well taken.

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