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Shopping for Your Teen's First Car

Tips On How To Help Your Teen Shop For A Car

It seems like just yesterday when you saw chubby little fingers grip the handlebars of a shiny red tricycle. Eventually, the tricycle is upgraded to a two-wheeler -- without training wheels.

Today, the fingers aren't so little anymore. Yesterday's small child has visions of his hands on a steering wheel instead of handlebars. His thoughts are about tomorrow night's date, not last night's bedtime story. It's time to help your teenager shop for his first car.

Safety First

Most likely, a sharp-looking set of wheels will grab your teen's attention, and it is difficult to sway that attention elsewhere. Whether it's something sporty or something cute, the outside package is what ropes teens in.

Sharon White of California purchased a car for her son shortly after his 17th birthday. Sharon's son was thinking "sports car." Sharon was thinking "big and heavy."

"He wanted something that would be a cool ride to the beach," she says. "I wanted something that would increase his chances of surviving a serious accident."

Some of the most important factors that influence safety are size, durability and dependability. A stalled car on a busy highway can be hazardous, as can a vehicle that won't start after dark or in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Buying a Used Car

If you are considering purchasing a used car, ask friends and co-workers for a reference. A report from a person who had a positive experience in the vehicle marketplace can help set your mind at ease.

It's also wise to get a reliability report from the Better Business Bureau. You'll be able to find out if a car lot or dealership has a record of selling faulty vehicles.

Investigate the vehicle's recall record. Have any parts been recalled by the manufacturer? Have they been replaced?

If possible, check out the repair record of a used car. A well-maintained engine is likely to get your teen from point A to point B on a daily basis. Whether or not you have access to the vehicle's repair record, have the vehicle thoroughly inspected by a professional mechanic that you select and hire.

"I have done business with hundreds of parents in particular," says Andrzej P. Szarek, owner of A's Auto Service in San Mateo, Calif. "They are worried for the safety of their teens and want them to have something reliable, something that won't break down in the proverbial cornfield."

Szarek recommends that special attention be paid to a vehicle's tires, transmission, motor and suspension. "In short, all drive components should be intact," says Szarek, who frequently provides good used vehicles for private parties with a thorough 100-point diagnostic inspection for safety.

New Safety Features

If you are still driving your late 1970s four-door sedan, you may not be aware of the newest safety features offered today.

  • front and side air bags
  • head air bags
  • anti-lock braking systems (ABS)
  • four-wheel drive with traction control
  • automatically dimming rear-view mirrors (reducing glare of highbeams in traffic)
  • daytime running lights

Crash Test Ratings

Information about crash test ratings is available online at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's Web site.

The NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program, NCAP, reports test results in a range of one to five stars, with five stars indicating the best crash protection. This information and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are available on the Web site, too.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports crash test results from frontal, head restraint and side impact tests.

The Test Drive

A test drive can be great fun for a teen. While your teen is enjoying himself, start scouting for safety. Make sure his seat belt fits properly. Head restraints, roof structures and windshield designs should not interfere with his view of the road. The seat should adjust to allow your teen's feet to reach the break and accelerator.

Does the vehicle have a spare tire and jack? Do the windshield wipers and all electronic devices work? If possible, drive the vehicle at night to ensure the headlamps give adequate light.

The vehicle you choose will carry precious cargo: your teen. Its purchase shouldn't be taken lightly. Do your homework and involve your teen in the decision-making process. It will be a learning experience for you both, as well as a memorable event.

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