Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Sean asks: My son is turning 15 this year, which means he’s going to have a learner’s permit and I’ll start teaching him how to drive. (North Carolina is a good state for many reasons, and their licensing process is one of them.) Once he can drive on his own (2020) I intend to give him my 2015 Forester. This is because I want to start driving a manual transmission again!
That said, he’s interested in, and I want to teach him, how to drive manual – and I’d love to start as soon as he can. I would love your advice on what models and years I should look at. Here are my ranked criteria for this car:
1. Comfortable for a daily city commute, 10 miles each way.
2. Known reliability and affordable maintainability.
3. Sporty enough for having fun on country roads.
4. Rugged enough for dirt and gravel country roads.
5. Useable back seat (although it can be a coupe).
6. Good for learning to drive in.
7. Good-looking, but not a police eye-catcher.
I will pay cash and have flexibility to spend up to $15k, but I’m looking for value. So if I can get what I’m looking for for under $5k, for example, I’m happy to spend only that. On the flip side, if there’s a real strong contender at 20k, I could look at saving for a while and buying it later in the year. Following on from that comment, I have time on my side for making the purchase, so makes and models and price ranges are all I need, not specific listings or anything like that. If you wanted to turn this into an article, I think it would be fabulous. I’m sure I’m a bit biased, but I doubt I’m the only one looking for the kind of car I’ve described with my criteria.
My reply: I’ll begin by expressing great satisfaction with your decision to teach your son to drive using a manual-equipped car. This alone will render him a better – and so, safer -driver than his peers who never acquire the skill (and habits) that come along for the ride when you shift for yourself.
Cars with automatics are terrible teaching cars because they encourage passivity and inattentiveness, especially to the ebb and flow of traffic – which (in a car with a manual) you necessarily must pay attention to. And that situational awareness alone makes one a better (safer) driver. A kid who develops those habits when first learning to drive will retain them for life.
As regards the car itself:
I would not buy a new anything, because (a) it’s a poor financial decision and (b) I think it sends the wrong message to a teenager. I would look for something older and get him invested in the car, by having him pay for part of it at least and for all of the insurance on it. This will serve the very good purpose of instilling in your boy responsibility and respect – per Ben Franklin’s line about esteeming too little the things which come too cheaply.
Given all your criteria, my dowsing rod is pointing toward a Subaru. An Impreza (or Outback or Baja) without the turbo engine but with a manual transmission. These cars are all kinds of fun to drive, great for learning how to drive – and have the goods (AWD, ground clearance) to deal with backcountry roads. Excellent for commuting, too. Just really good all-around cars. The hatchback/wagon layout is a boon, too. And the Baja has a small bed!
You ought to be able to find a good one – reasonable miles (I’d define this as under 120,00 for a teenager’s first car) and in very good overall mechanical/cosmetic condition – for well under $8,000.
This is a car he’ll probably love – and have many lifetime memories in!
. . .
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