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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 11, 2012 4:29PM
I grew up lower middle class and my parents couldn't afford to provide me a car.  My kids grew up upper middle class, and they still worked, saved, and bought their first cars - when they could afford the purchase, the gas, and the maintenance.  Though we could easily have provided cars for our kids, my wife and I felt that saving for and being able to afford a car was a major step in our kids "growing up". 
Nov 11, 2012 4:21PM
I just got my first car, being 17 and all. My Dad bought it while I was away on a mission trip over the summer, and when I got home he told it to me straight. It was the only car he ever planned to buy me. It is a good car too, and my parents both agreed they wanted to give both my older sister and I cars that would last us until we could buy our own. That is one thing I have seen with friends. Their parents buy them crappy used cars or make them buy their own car, so it is a junky car that isn't really worth that they do not even care about. So tip for buying cars, just because it is cheap, doesn't make it worth it. It could save money to hunt down the right car than cheaping out and buying the clunker that is older than the kid. I have seen far too many friends have a few crappy cars in a couple years, compared to others who spent a bit more money to have a decent car that lasts.
Nov 8, 2012 8:49AM
I managed to make it through high school and college without a car.  My parents could not afford it nor could I as I used all of the money I made working in the summer for college expenses.  Finally bought my first car at 22 (a Porsche 914) when I began working as an adult.  I had friends both in high school and college who had cars and while it would have been "nice" to have had one myself, I never had a problem finding a ride if I needed one.
Nov 7, 2012 8:22PM
I remember in school the kids who were rewarded for their efforts did better. I know many people just can't afford to reward your children's efforts but if you can it works. As long as you know your child because if you insist that they make A+ grades but they are not capable of A+ work you'll just cause frustration. But I believe paying a kid to go to school and work hard teaches them how to work hard for their money. How much you pay should depend on how old they are. Plus in school the kids with money in their pockets hang together and the ones with none do too. Otherwise people look or feel like leaches and get left out of things that cost money. And in my school the kids with cash did better and that's who I want my children to hangout with. Not out of snobbery but those kids had higher expectations for themselves and I want my children to have high expectations for themselves and for the future. College, not "a job cause I need money". I believe a kid should work for their money but I think they deserve money for their work. Considering that the whole world works the same way it should come as no surprise that it works well at motivating kids to work hard and stay out of trouble. Penalties and rewards, they even train dogs the same way
Nov 7, 2012 8:07PM
It's the way of Obama....get something for nothing. Don't worry kids, here's your car, someone else will foot the bill.
Nov 7, 2012 5:44PM
Pay for the car----I had to pay for my first bicycle let alone my first car/////////////////////////
Nov 7, 2012 11:33AM

I had a great car at 16, but I paid for the monthly carpayment and my own gas every month. 

Nov 7, 2012 6:17AM
I don't think giving teenagers a car is the problem. Its not like these teens worked hard the first 16 years of their life, earning everything they got, then suddenly turned into spoiled brats when given a car. If they expect things handed to them its because they got the candy they threw a tantrum for at age 3, the barbie doll they screamed for at age 5, the clothes they had to have or you would ruin their life at age 14 etc. Like most people in America (whether you can afford what you want or not) the older you get, the more expensive your "toys" get.

I worked as a nanny for 10 years. I know many wealthy families who gave their children cars, both new and used. Some felt entitled but most were grateful. The difference depended on whether or not the parents commanded respect and taught them to be appreciative.

I certainly do not think teens are owed a car, but I do not think there is anything wrong with giving them one either. Its how you have raised your children, what you expect from them, and what consequences you follow through on.

Nov 6, 2012 9:21PM
yup. Had a car when I got my license. So did my sister. We were a family that always had a spare car. My sons got cars when they turned 16.

The difference is that my 2 sons knew they were spoiled by having a car, gas and an allowance while they were in high school.

 Now that they're grown, they're doing the right things for themselves. My younger one works while working on his masters degree.

Should all kids have a car while in high school. Probably not. I may be one of those that shouldn't have had one, but I think it has to do with how we as parents explain why they are getting the car, what we expect in school and school sports, and from them as future productive members of society.

Nov 6, 2012 8:38PM
I had to buy my own car. I went and got a 1976 Camaro in 1998.  My girls are currently 7 & 9 and we already have their 1st car/truck.  They are vehicles that their dad & I are currently enjoying.  The 9 yr old get his 1963 Chevy pickup 4x4 lifted & the 7 yr old gets my 1978 Camaro.  The deal we have made with them is that they have to help with all the restoration of them, including rebuilding the motors.  This way even though we paid for them, they worked off that money spent with labor.  And it also teaches them skills and how to repair their vehicles in the event of a break down on the road.  These are skills they will be able to hold on to for their entire lives and good bonding time with the family.
Nov 6, 2012 8:15PM

Taking and oassing driver ed in HS was mandatory in the eyes of my parents. Then, my siblings and I could only take the course in our HS senior year. As long as we attended college my parents paid for the additional insurance on the family vehicle. There was no vehicle given to any of us for exclusive use and we were required to pay for the gas used.


If we chose to get our own vehicle, then all expenses were ours to make. Once out of school (no student discounts) we were expected to pay our own way.  Even in times of economic turmoil we were expected to contribute some nominal $$ amount or via chores around the house back into the family.

Nov 6, 2012 8:13PM
i bought mine and the wife bought an old car from her uncle while making 25 cents an hr at a dept store.
Nov 6, 2012 8:13PM
I was a farm kid who was put on the tractor in the summers at seven years old.  Even during the school year, I had plenty of farm chores to do when I got home from school.  I worked like a dog from the time I was a child, and was beaten regularly.  I was never paid for my farm work at home, and was never given anything but clothes to wear, food to eat, and a roof over my head, things that are basic requirements to make sure your free farm labor is able to work.  I had to buy my first bicycle with money I earned working for other farmers during my "time off".  By the time I was 15 or 16, I had more than earned an old beater truck or something to drive, but no, I had to buy my own car.  Human nature compels us to form opinions based on our own experiences.  I had to earn the money myself to buy anything I have ever owned, so no, I would not buy my kid a car outright.  I might, perhaps, help them buy a car if they earned their own money and understood the purchase, insurance, and maintenance costs of owning a car.  Otherwise, no car from me.
Nov 6, 2012 8:11PM
Another MSN stupid question.......
Nov 6, 2012 8:10PM
My Dad was insistent and clear from the time my sister and I were in elementary school- when the time comes to drive, you'll need to pay for insurance and chip in for gas. I started saving birthday money like crazy from then on out so that I could pay for insurance when I became a driver. When I got my license, things became a lot easier on my parents. I could drive myself to school early if I needed to make up an exam. I could pick up my sister after basketball practice. I could run and get groceries if they needed me to. While my parents appreciated the help, they didn't back down on their deal. I still paid insurance (and the increase after my first accident). When I went to college in another state, I couldn't come home unless they came to get me. It wasn't until I received an internship offer after freshman year that he ever wavered. The opportunity was too big to let being car-less be the reason I turned it down. My father agreed to lend me the second half of the money I'd need to buy a 10 year old Nissan Altima, but the loan was only until the end of the summer (the length of the internship). During my internship, I'd also need to pay for my housing, insurance, food, and parking. He knew how much I was making, and the loan was basically asking me to put 50% of my internship money towards the loan. At the end of the summer, I managed to pay off every cent I owed my Dad. for the car. To this day, that summer was the best crash-course in money management my Dad has ever given me.
Nov 6, 2012 8:09PM
My husband and I have four kids.  There are ten years between the middle two so, suffice to say, we have bookends.  We have always espoused the idea of earning your license as well as your car.  Our older two had to pay for their driving lessons, driver's permit, driver's license and car.  As a result of that, the oldest didn't get her license till she was 22 and the second oldest didn't get his license till he was 19.  While they were in school, we made them ride the bus to school till they graduated.  When they attended community college, they had to arrange rides or we would drive the to the bus stop as we lived 5 miles outside of town.  All in all, it made them very appreciative of having a car.  Now it's the younger kids turn and we are still keeping the rules the same as far as a driver's license goes.  To us, having to earn a driver's license and pay for a car makes the kids much more appreciative and responsible instead of expectant and entitled, like a lot of their peers.
Nov 6, 2012 8:05PM
In a word...........................NO

I had to EARN everything I got in this world my "Parent" did not give me everything I saw and wanted.
I had a job at 13 w/a SS card to boot.  I've been working steady till I was 42 and I fell off my truck.
I can't work now but if I could I'd be pulling down some hard hours.  Oh and not one dime to that snot nosed kid for a car, stereo, house etc.  EARN IT LIKE I DID KID!!!!!!! I may not have a "Pair" but man up put some sweat on that "Grindstone".  Just like my Momma told me to do, it won't hurt one bit!!
Nov 6, 2012 7:40PM
What a stupid stupid STUPID article!!  We parents are not so inept that we need a pointless article about what to provide for our children. Go analyze how lazy journalists have become, write a lenghy piece about it, and maybe it would be worth my time to read.    
Nov 6, 2012 7:38PM
Kidding, right? We owe our kids a loving home, good values, etc, clothes, food, a roof over their heads. A car? Wow!
Nov 6, 2012 7:37PM
I took the public bus to highschool to and from after sports and events all 4 years., didn't have a car until I almost graduated from college (which I payed for myself $2000 was not to safe), why it costs lots of money no one was going to give me one and the public transportation works better than you think. You don't need a car but there are a lot of excuses to give your child one thats for sure. Oh and I graduated high school in 05' not that long ago.
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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.