When choosing your teen's first vehicle, parents have options while staying within the budget and keeping young drivers safe.
AAA National

Buying a car is a major financial commitment. But it also involves major safety issues, especially if the vehicle is being purchased for a teen driver. The fact is that nearly half the deaths among 15- to 17-year-olds result from car crashes.

In addition to cost and safety, other factors, including reliability and responsibility, should also be considered in the vehicle-buying equation. But where do parents begin?
“It’s important that parents do their homework,” said Dr. William Van Tassel, Manager of Driver Training Operations for AAA. “Looming deadlines like graduations should not compromise the thoroughness of your car-buying decision.”

AAA recommends that parents consider the following before buying their teen driver a car:

While a new car is desirable for reliability and the latest safety features, it’s not always in the budget. Consider buying a certified used car. Study the used-car market to avoid paying too much. Also, research insurance costs, which can vary greatly for different vehicles.

Driving is probably the most dangerous thing your teen does. Teen fatality rates are more than double those of adult licensed drivers. For this reason, parents should consider a car with features like electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, which have been found effective in reducing the risk of a crash. Also, look for features that will help reduce the likelihood of injury, should a crash occur. Front and side airbags and adjustable head restraints are two such features. To learn the crash-worthiness of a vehicle you are considering for your teen, AAA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration produce the Buying a Safer Car brochure, which provides crash-test ratings for numerous makes and models.

Finding a reliable used vehicle is important not only for driver safety, but for your peace of mind. Avoid vehicles with excessive mileage, and have any vehicle you’re considering inspected by a certified facility to ensure it’s rust-free, mechanically sound and that all safety components are operable. You can review a specific vehicle’s history by ordering a vehicle history report from CARFAX. AAA members are eligible for a discount.


Consider entering into a “contract” or agreement with your teen on expected behavior behind the wheel. AAA offers a parent-teen driving agreement that helps set rules for night driving, driving with passengers, speeding, distractions and other safety issues for parents and their teen driver.

“How your teen drives is as important as what your teen drives,” said Van Tassel. “Making a smart vehicle choice is one more step that parents can take to help keep their young drivers safe.”

To help parents decide on the right vehicle for their teen driver, AAA offers a brochure titled So Your Teen Wants a Car? A Parent’s Guide to Choosing a Vehicle. It answers many questions parents have and can help them steer clear of unsafe or impractical purchasing decisions.

Along with providing a checklist of safety and mechanical features that can be referenced while car-shopping, the brochure reminds parents and teens that driving is a privilege.

To pick up a copy of the brochure, call (314) 523-7350, ext. 6311 or send a stamped, self-addressed, business-size envelope to: AAA, So Your Teen Wants a Car?, 12901 N. Forty Drive, St. Louis, MO 63141.

Jul/Aug 2008 Issue

Parents might consider a certified used car for their teen driver. Many are affordable, safe and reliable. AAA file photo

Top 10
safety features

• Dual-stage front airbags
• Side-impact airbags
• Anti-lock brakes (preferably with electronic brake force distribution)
• Electronic stability control (or traction control at a minimum)
• Adjustable and locking head restraints
• Pre-tensioning seat belts (height adjustable)
• Side-impact door beams
• Daytime running lights
• Tire pressure monitoring system
• Fresh tires, brakes and other critical components

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