Logo: Convertible (Carlos S.Pereyra, Pixtal, age)
The anonymous author of the Squirrelers personal finance blog recently cautioned readers against spoiling teenagers with expensive automobiles. Having a luxury car, he said, could initiate a lifelong love affair with pricey rides.

"An old car is perfectly fine, as long as it’s safe.  It doesn't need to be cool, it doesn't need to look good.  All it needs to do is be safe, reliable, and get a kid from Point A to Point B," wrote the blogger, a father of two.

"I have no idea what the parents who are buying these kids expensive cars are thinking."

One commenter suggested that parents were buying their children's love. Another warned that getting too much too soon might kill a teen's motivation. A third suggested that youths be given "modest" cars, lest they develop a sense of entitlement.

Allow me to play devil's advocate: Why buy your kid any kind of car?

Oh, I know all the usual reasons: extracurricular activities, after-school jobs, sports teams, parents with long commutes and/or non-flexible schedules who can't get their teens from place to place easily.

But should that inevitably lead to a third car in the household? I've heard parents say stuff like, "She's such a good kid/works so hard in school/does so many things. We figure she's earned it."

Wrong. Driving is a privilege, not a right. Your kid should earn that privilege on a gradual basis, not be given the keys to a new car upon passing the driver's test.

To buy or not to buy?

You'd be looking at a car payment or cash outlay for a used auto right when the focus should be on saving for college or trade school. Talk to your insurance agent about the cost of insuring a third vehicle. Estimate the weekly price of gasoline and any expected repairs.

Add all this up. Sit down and fan yourself.

Next: Look for other solutions. Carpooling with friends? Public transit? Paying a friend or relative to pick up and drop off your teen?

Or, maybe, biting the bullet and rearranging your schedule a bit. Perhaps you and your spouse can take turns driving, or set up carpools of your own. Inconvenient, yes, but relatively short term. Driving three kids home once or twice a week might actually be easier than driving one kid five times a week.
If your kid really does need wheels, they shouldn't be trendy or spendy ones. Let him drive one of the family's current vehicles; if a new car is to be purchased, it should go to Mom or Dad.

Keep in mind, though, that a kid with his own car is usually somewhere else, whereas a parent's vehicle has restrictions. Many teens would be happy to use home as just a place to sleep and shower, but no 17-year-old needs that kind of freedom.

Working to feed the car
I'm all for high-schoolers working part time as long as it doesn't interfere with grades. But once your kid has a car, he runs the risk of taking on extra hours to pay his share of auto expenses. Teens shouldn't work so much that their education or health suffers.

If your kid is employed, he should chip in for gas and/or insurance. Yes, that will nibble away at his meager earnings. Welcome to adulthood.

Or try this: You'll pay the car costs as long as your kid saves at least 75% of his paycheck. That's the deal I swung with my daughter; I drove her or let her use my car to get to work after school and on weekends. (Hint: This is something you need to bring up when they're still too young to drive -- and it needs to be an ultimatum, not a topic for debate.)

Do your kid a favor: Don't make things too easy. Getting everything he wants right from the start could lead to some tough adjustments later in life. Unless, of course, you plan to be around forever to help him pay for things he can't afford.

It won't kill Junior to drive his mom's Subaru to the dance. And if he feels it will? He could always walk, or take the bus. Or stay home.

Readers:
Were you given a car as a teen? Do you plan to give your kid one?

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