Reader Question: Teen Car Suggestions?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Vic asks: Thank you for your latest interview on The David Knight Show and the useful info that you provided. My son will be turning 16 later this year and we want to buy him a car either at the end of 2021 or first part of 2022. I’m thinking of getting a 1 to 2 year old used car in very good condition, that is reliable and has good safety features. Are there any specific car brands and models that you would recommend for a teenager? Where would be the best place to buy? Should we buy a so-called “certified pre-owned vehicle” with warranty from a dealer? Also, car insurance for teens is expensive. How important is car model and age of the car when considering the cost of insurance?

My reply: A first car is kind of like a first horse; you want one that is predictable and easy to control, without any weird quirks.

You also want a car that encourages the paying of attention to driving.

I will therefore begin by suggesting – strongly – that you consider finding him a car with a manual transmission. These not only require more skill to drive, they are inherent distracted driving deterrents. They require the driver to . . . drive. To pay attention and so avoid the wrecks that come from the not-paying of it.

I’d also suggest a car that is easygoing, which handles and brakes in a forgiving manner; this will further reduce the chances of an accident occurring as a result of such things as loss of control caused by over-correcting (as when the car’s right-side wheel or wheels dip off the edge of the shoulder).

Lots of glass area and being able to see clearly, especially from the sides, is also very important.

Cost to insure is another important consideration. A teenage driver will pay through the nose regardless because teens are considered “high risk.” But the cost will be much higher if the car is considered higher risk. Anything “sporty” (and more so high performance) will fit this bill. Stay away from coupes and any car with a powerful engine, which a 16-year-old needs (as his first car) like most if us need Face Diapers.

Therefore, I recommend a car I often recommend – and not just teenagers: The Toyota Corolla sedan. This car is available with a manual. It is very easygoing, has perhaps the best reputation (deserved) for being a great value, for low depreciation and very long/reliable service life. This is a car he can learn to drive, get experience driving – which he will not outgrow by the time he turns 18. It’s a car he could drive for years, in fact – and will enjoy it.

With a manual, this car is more fun than you might expect. It also gets great gas mileage and ought to be about as affordable to insure as you’ll find for a teen driver.

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. DEFINITELY Manual, but instead of 1 to 2yo, get something from the ’90s or ’00s.

    Civic, Corolla, Celica, RSX, Golf, Jetta, something along those lines, you just want the kid to learn and get the hang of things, though who says it can’t be a nice looking one, Vic.

    Instead of safety features, have the kid learn the ropes, know how to drive, so he’s less likely to rely on the computer saving his ass over an otherwise simple mistake. I know you want the best for the kid and everything, but save something newer for his 18th birthday, though stick with stick still as again, it’s better to focus on the road than be a cog in the machine

  2. “My son will be turning 16 later this year and we want to buy him a car”

    My advice? Don’t. Why is he not buying himself a car?

    Buying my first car was my first foray into understanding actual costs and total cost of ownership. He would probably be better off long term if he learned these lessons.

    Things given are rarely appreciated as thing earned.

    • “Why is he not buying himself a car?”

      Here we go again!

      Why in the world would he want his son to learn such an outdated thing as personal responsibility?

      A society that rewards failure and holds demonstrable need as a virtue will never tolerate such people.

      Why do you hate children?!?

    • I don’t see the issue in gifting the kid a car if he’s not a little shit, there are responsible and grateful teenagers out there.

      Plus sometimes someone else is the one to come outta nowhere running a red light or stop sign and ends up taking them off the road through no fault of their own.

      So give em the gift of mobility. He’ll be able to get to and from work with ease and start puttin cash away.

      Give him one with a stick shift and it’ll probably have the added bonus of impressing the ladies 😎

  3. Nearly guaranteed: the kid will wreck the first one. Also nearly guaranteed: the kid will come out unscathed.
    If you’ve got cash to burn, then a 1 to 2 year old car is fine. However, the two cars that worked well for the teenager in my household were an ’03 Jetta station wagon (driven summer ’19 to winter 20, when he ran it up on a guard rail) and an ’02 Camry (from winter ’20 to today). Both manual transmissions, both reliable, neither had any sort of traction control or other nanny features, both cheap enough not to justify full coverage. When he ran the Jetta up on the guard rail, it was totaled but no insurance claims were made, no tickets issued, and therefore no impact to his insurance costs or driving record.
    These cars are also still simple and cheap enough to be maintained by a teenager, allowing him to learn basic car repair and maintenance (you are making your kid take care of it, right?).
    Also, “safety features” will teach the teenager NOT to think or react on their own, and to depend on the car to warn them or take control rather than learning this skill now. I have to keep telling my wife that learning skills like this young is important; learning skills like this when you’re 40 is more difficult.
    Learning to drive is more than keeping it between the ditches, just like owning a dog is more than just dumping food in it’s bowl.


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