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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.

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

More on MSN Money:
Nov 6, 2012 4:54PM
i wasnt given anything either but i just bought my daughter a five thousand dollar car and i dont give a **** what anybody thinks its my kid and if i die tomorrow id rest easy knowing she has a good car and i provided a start for her
Nov 6, 2012 4:52PM
Part of the problem I came across though is that in the tough economy, grown ups have been taking many of the jobs teens used to do, and with labor laws the way they are, it's awfully hard for a kid to start working at 14 anymore. 
Nov 6, 2012 4:52PM
I drove my mother's Toyota Camry (she works at home) for 4 years of college as a commuter living at home. At the beginning of my first year of graduate school last year, with a new hour long commute to a new school, I used student loan refund money to buy myself a used Civic and my mother's Toyota (now 11 years old) went to my sister who was commuting to her 2nd year of college (first year she shared my dad's car: That's right, she dropped him off at work, went to class, and picked him up after class). It wasn't fun, it wasn't cool, but it worked and none of us could afford anything else. I don't think parents should be handing their children cars, especially new ones. They can buy one themselves, or split the cost, or inherit an older family vehicle when it's replaced with a new one.
(Oh, and I took the bus to and from high school EVERY DAY until the day I graduated - the Toyota wasn't used for my driving until I started college, because public school buses don't charge for gas).
Nov 6, 2012 4:52PM
I was very fortunate when I turned 16, my folks said I could have any car I wanted....As long as I bought, insured it , maintained it and bought my own gas. That's just what I did. It taught me life lessons I would not have learned otherwise if it had been handed to me. 
Nov 6, 2012 4:40PM

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 4:34PM

No. I worked for my first car and other things. If they want a car they can work too.


Nov 6, 2012 4:33PM
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 4:32PM

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 4:31PM
Just provide her with a set of wheels that will allow her a chance at getting a job.  Once there, it will be her doing...
Nov 6, 2012 4:23PM
Guess what, my kid will get a new car when he is old enough . . . why because I can aford to give it to him. He has great grades is involved with sports and overall is a good kid. If I can afford to get him a BMW or a Benz why not. I will assume most of you nitwits don't have the resources to be able to do this or are just old and bitter. It is one or the other . . . fools!
Nov 6, 2012 4:22PM
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 4:21PM
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 4:21PM
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 4:15PM
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 4:14PM
Kids?  Who said anything about rodent kids???  This year i'll be buying myself a porsche 911 turbo becuase I owe it to myself.  If having kids is your thing then I guess your experience will be a bit different...
Nov 6, 2012 4:14PM

Tue 11/6/12  YES on the Car for Your TeenAger !

Great Motivation Tool !    You will be Amazed with the results of TAKING AWAY THE CAR

when Your Child misbehaves. Taking the Car gets Their Undivided Attention Immediately !

Riding a School Bus is NOT Cool !


You can't wait until Your Child get their Drivers License & are able to Drive Themselves. Then You worry yourself Sick when they don't return Home on Time & don't answer their phone .

Damned If Ya Do & Damned If Ya Don't  Catch 22


SPW in Alaska "Airborne"




Nov 6, 2012 4:12PM
The author's argument doesn't make sense here:

     '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.... 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.'

The parents did not say that they felt they HAD to buy their kid a car just because the kid passed the driver's test.... They said that she earned the car by helping out, behaving, and doing well in school. How else would a teenager gradually earn ANY privileges? And if they can afford to reward their kid with a new car, then that is THEIR right.

Also, just because the kid gets the keys doesn't mean that they get complete freedom and there are no rules. If the kid doesn't follow the rules and curfews then the keys get taken away.
Nov 6, 2012 4:08PM
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 4:06PM

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 4:01PM

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?

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


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.