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Do you owe your teen a car?

Some parents seem to think that driver's license = additional vehicle. Should it?

By Donna_Freedman Nov 6, 2012 12:03PM
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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112Comments
Nov 6, 2012 1:39PM
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I wasn't given anything as a child.  I had to get a job and pay for things on my own.  If you give children everything that they want in life then they end up having a problem and thinking that everything needs to be handed to them even within a career.  Make your child work for that car that they will be driving and just because everyone on the MTV show "Sweet 16" gets a brand new car does NOT mean your child has to as well.  Children need to learn to live on their own and be independent.
Nov 6, 2012 12:51PM
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My father worked for the auto industry as an engineer his entire life.  Cars were a way of life where we grew up.  He had an old Miata in the garage and he used to tell me it would be mine when I got my license.  I initially was very young and didn’t care but we used to work on it from time to time and I enjoyed helping him and learning how it worked.  I got to help him with basic maintenance and keep it in both good looking and running shape.  When I was about 12 years old, he threw down a boat cushion on the seat and forced me to start driving him around the subdivision.  I was absolutely terrified but I listened to my father’s advice.  He would take me out into the neighborhood and teach me how to drive it and operate the manual transmission.  As I got more competent we would drive through other neighborhoods and take short drives in the rural countryside early on Saturday mornings.  By the time I got my license I was a capable, safe, and a confident driver that he knew would be smart out there on the roads.  When I passed my driver’s test, the car was mine, along with it, its host of idiosyncrasies, but I had a car.  I learned more from that car because I felt I had earned it and I am thankful I had a father that pushed me. I think he knew teaching me himself would allow him to keep his sanity when I was able to drive legally and would be out on my own.  He said to me years after, that he wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t see it in me (that I could handle learning at such a young age) but I’m glad he did.  So no you don’t owe your teen a car but you can use a vehicle as a life lesson, as a carrot to dangle out there.  You can teach kids a lot more than just how to drive but how to be responsible, successful, self-sufficient and safe.  You can’t put a price on a good lesson that your kids will never forget, and more than likely pass down to their kids.  Again, I didn’t have a new car and would never buy my kids a brand new car.  That’s just frivolous.   So now that I am older, I have a 2000 Camaro SS in the garage that one day will get called into action for the same purposes. 

Nov 6, 2012 3:55PM
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The only way I would owe my teen a car is if they purchased one and I wrecked or lost it. 
Nov 6, 2012 3:59PM
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I started working at the age of 14, cleaning a elementary school for 3 hours a day after school. I purchaced my own car before the age of 16. It only cost 1000, but I paid for it on my own. It was a 75 datsun 280z. Everything I have I have worked hard to achieve. No I dont think parents should give their 16 year old a car. Having worked hard for my car, working a job, I feel more responsible, took care of my car and realized things dont come free, you have to work hard.
Nov 6, 2012 4:21PM
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My son did not do well in high school from the get go.  In 9th grade, he started ditching school and I had to constantly be yelling and punishing.  I didn't buy him a car or take any steps to get his licence whatsoever, heck, he was lucky I let him live by that point.  Why do I owe him a car when he won't do the very minimum of what is required of him?  When he was 17, I was forced by the court system to allow him to quit school.  And while he did pass the GED right away, he did not go out and get a job for two years!  Why should I have to buy him a car for goodness sake?  When he was 19, I told him he would have to make other living arrangements.   He is 20 now, and he bought his own car, but I am paying the insurance because I feel I owe SOCIETY that, not him.  He still only works part time.  I just don't have any understanding of the people that feel that I should have bought him a car.  My other kids got cars, (old hand me downs) but they went to school!
Nov 6, 2012 4:01PM
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Worked and bought my own car before I had a license. Didn't give my kids any cars. They worked and bought their own plus paid their own expenses. Totally off to buy these kids their car. How will they learn how to provide their own if parents keep buying them everything?

Nov 6, 2012 4:22PM
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Absolutely not!  All you owe your kids is a safe warm home, good home environment, and let them know they are loved.  Let them work for what they "want".  Teach the the difference between wants and needs early.   i went to work at 14 and haven't stopped since.  Bought all my own vehicles, paid for my own college also.
Nov 6, 2012 4:06PM
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I bought my own 1st vehicle (an old beat-up pickup truck for $300), worked and paid my own way through college.  I did live at home through 1st 3 years of college, but was responsible for all expenses (clothes, insurance, tuition, food, gas, etc). When I got married my last year of college and moved out "on my own", my parents told me to not even think about moving back home anytime in the future if it did not work out.  I never did.  I knew the value of hard work and money, and saving for the future.

 

Both my kids were provided mom's old 100K+ mile hand-me-down Ford Taurus when they got their licenses.  Both kids worked in high school and college.  Both were responsible for paying for their own insurance, gas and 1/2 of their college tuition (or equivilant amount of scholarships).  Both kids graduated in 4 years with zero debt, and savings to boot in the bank - and jobs.  I gave both kids the down-payment for their 1st homes.  Both are married and doing fine.

 

I agree - you should not give your kids a totally free ride.  They have to understand the value of earning their way through life.  But I also agree that you have to be there to support your kids, and hopefully they will support you in return if ever needed.  It's a 2-way street.

Nov 6, 2012 4:40PM
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Worked over the summer de-tassling corn and hoeing beans in Iowa. Made good money, saw a used 1970 Chevy Nova 2 door. Grandpa went with me to look at it, said it was my money and if I wanted it I could have it. First he took me to the insurance company and let me see for myself how much car insurance was going to cost me, a 16yr, driving a big block Chevy. I could afford to get the car and drive 3 months before all of my hard earned money ran out. Waited till I graduated college before I bought my first car and could truly afford it. Great lesson, but I still dream about that car sometimes. Lol

Nov 6, 2012 4:21PM
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I had to pay for my first car, but my Dad did co-sign the note with me. I know these parents that got their kid a fairly new Corvette, and of course, he ruined the tires and suspension on it by driving it way too fast on the cow trails that they call roads around here. It wasn't in a wreck so insurance won't pay anything. Now the parents are making payments on a $30,000 car that can't be driven. If he had to pay for his own car, he probably would drive something a little bit more suited to our rough roads than a 'Vette and would be more careful about how he drove it.
Nov 6, 2012 4:34PM
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No. I worked for my first car and other things. If they want a car they can work too.

 

Nov 6, 2012 5:04PM
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The only thing I owe my child is love and being a good parent. Anyone who thinks they owe material things to their children are just headed down a road of grown ups being dependant upon mommy and daddy for EVERYTHING!!! Now, my husband signed for a car for our daughter, but she paid the payments, her own gas and when she got married she took over her insurance payments. 

Nov 6, 2012 4:08PM
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I inherited my first car from my parents just to keep it from getting junked.  I did, however, get a job to support the vehicle.  When my kids came of driving age, I let them drive my car, with restrictions but told them they would have to buy their own car if they wanted one.
Nov 6, 2012 4:33PM
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I did not have a car.  Each of my sons got a vehicle but it was made within a year of their birth.  It was for my convenience and they knew it.  For special occasions - prom - they detailed my car and drove it.  Our deal was I paid for gas if they were in extracurricular activities.  Otherwise, it was on them and they often carpooled with friends OR road their bikes - 14 miles one way to and from school.

Each of the three thinks they are far better off than their classmates who were given nice cars.
Nov 6, 2012 4:15PM
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If you decide to give a car to your teen, it is up to the parent.  I am a single parent with four teen/adult (do you still call them children!). and currently have only one vehicle to the whole family.  My two oldest have no interest in getting a car and even if they did, I would NOT buy them a NEW one!  First, the cost of insurance, even if I could afford it would be outragious and second, a majority of teens in the first 4 years will be in an accident.  So why go through the hassle and the cost of a new car!  And like some of the other posts, why GIVE them the keys when they should earning.  Sure they will not like you for it now, but they will appreciate all that you've done later on.
Nov 6, 2012 5:47PM
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A few years ago my step daughter who was 11 at the time mentioned us getting her a car when she turned 16. I instantly informed her this is not the Disney channel and just because you turn 16 you do not automatically get a car. I told her she needs to start thinking about saving her money and needs to keep her grades up. I bought my first car with a year and a half worth of saving from work, birthday, Christmas and graduation money (oh did I mention i waited until I was 18 to get my liscense because I managed to have friends that drove and walked anywhere else I needed to go- I rarely asked my parents for rides.) My parents never paid for anything for my car unless it was considered a Bday or Christmas gift. I had guy friends that would help me if something was wrong with it too. As for the good grades that helped my insurance stay low.

Nov 6, 2012 4:32PM
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I have been working since before i even had working papers, haven't had a summer of since the 7th grade when i started working at a camp. I am 23 years old and my parents split the cost of my first new car, i have ALWAYS been grateful for that. There is nothing wrong with getting your child a new car provided you raised him right.

Nov 6, 2012 5:04PM
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"Do you owe your teen a car"

I don't think so........
Nov 6, 2012 5:18PM
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No, and No.  I bought a old beat up vw bug for 100 dollars and then re-built the engine with my mom.  She is a mechanic and she taught me everything I know about cars.  I bought the car when I was 15 and we worked on it together and that was a really fun experience.  I plan to do the same with my kids.
Nov 6, 2012 6:11PM
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You'll owe them a car when they drive you to and from dialysis three times a week !
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Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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