Recently, I was outside and couldn’t help but notice, across the street, a group of teens gawking over a brand new 2013 white Honda Accord in the driveway. The oldest teen said proudly, “I got a 92 on my learner’s permit test and my father surprised me with a new car.”
We live in an age where “keeping up with the Joneses” has taken on a whole new meaning. It seems sooner and faster than ever our children outgrow the basic doll and big wheel and beg for the latest iPod, iPad, flat screen or motor scooter. It’s no wonder why at age 16 some parents would think the next logical “toy” would be a brand new car. However, as we all know, a car is not a toy; it is a serious responsibility — both on and off the road.
Before you buy your teenager a car, it is important to discuss the following:
1. The Cost
Explaining to your teen that a car is a financial responsibility and not a birthright will set the tone for the purchase. After carefully reviewing your finances, it is important to discuss with your teen how much is available for a down payment and how much is available for a monthly car payment. If your teen has a part-time job or money set aside, clearly state how much you would like them to contribute. This will narrow the car choices down before you even leave the house.
2. The Gas, Insurance, Maintenance and Repairs
It’s important to discuss with your teen the financial costs of owning a car, such as who will be paying for gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs. If you don’t discuss it, your teen will automatically assume it is you for the life of the car. Often, owning a car is the first opportunity for your teen to actually have a bill. Don’t miss this chance to instill some financial responsibility.
3. The Accidents and Tickets
It’s bound to happen; the first traffic ticket, the first fender bender in Target. It is important to communicate the consequences. Decide ahead of time whether you or your teen will pay for these incidents and what driving privileges may be suspended if your teen is at fault.
4. The Rules
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. Discuss with your teen your expectation of 100% compliance to basic safety rules such as wearing a seatbelt, no texting and no phone conversations while driving. Let your teen know you will pick them up any time if he or she has been drinking, is otherwise impaired, or doesn’t feel comfortable in a friend’s car for any reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published an excellent contract that you can print out and sign with your teen.