By on June 22, 2010

Bernie asks:

Steve: great work at “Hammertime”! Having grown up on a car lot–my dad managed/sold at my uncle’s Chrysler/Plymouth dealership–I think I am savvy when it comes to buying cars. Take my ’98 F150 Supercab 4X4…bought used in 2001, it is still in great shape (I dote on it like a newborn).  I am an avid outdoorsman, so ‘Mavis’ (that it’s name) doesn’t get babied during deer season.  The rest of the year I take her on drives like one might take grandma out for a walk.

But here’s my problem. My soon to be 16 year old daughter will be driving soon. She is heavily involved in sports and marching band, so a car for her to get to such things would be a great relief for mom and dad. That’s 1000’s of miles to and from school, and whatnot! We will have NO car payments around the same time (wife’s 2005 Exploder will be paid-off in July).

So what to get??? A 3rd car to use as a city car? A newer used car for wife, I jump into the Explorer and share it with daughter?

A car for daughter solely???  We will not be getting rid of my truck or wife’s explorer. It has to be used, domestic brand prefered, but V-Dubs are OK. And no more than 8 grand.

Steve Answers:

A lot of kids these days care as much about cars as they do about linoleum floors. It’s a thing. An appliance. A machine for A to B and little else. Time will tell whether your daughter sees cars this way. Pray she does since cars can be an incredibly expensive and debt-full hobby these days.

I would start slow and let her drive the Explorer for a while. It would be better if one parent were with her for a good part of the time… but not all the time. A teenager has to get used to trusting their abilities and if she’s not the impulsive type, she should be fine.

I would simply let that be the status quo and car share for a couple of years. During that time you may want to put a word out to family and friends that you’re looking for a good used vehicle for your daughter. My neighbor managed to buy a hospital blue Olds 88 for the princely sum of $800 for his daughter recently. It’s not an enthusiast’s dream. But it’s a cash car… paid for… and the recent grad is absolutely in love with the freedom of owning a car.

If she takes good care of your property for a couple of years… and perhaps washes and maintains it every now and then. You won’t have to worry once a new set of keys are given to the deserving damsel.

Sajeev Answers:

Giving a kid their own whip can be a great relief for the parents.  Mine were thrilled to give me the family’s 1965 Ford LTD, as I helped deliver airline tickets on behalf of our travel agency.  Then again, I consider myself the minority: the monetary impact of my work had a direct correlation to our company’s bottom line. But owning a Ford from the “Total Performance” era (when your friends had half-dead junk from the 1980s) was more than a little helpful for my social life too.

With that in mind, buy her the cheapest, crappiest car (not truck or SUV, for fuel economy’s sake) you can find with a straight body and an un-ripped interior.  Hit up Craigslist and every community event board where people post fliers for anything. Make sure it gets new tires, brakes, etc. to ensure it isn’t a death trap.  But then make her clean up the interior and polish the paintwork.  Punishing a teenage girl like that makes for great stories to tell guys who dare question their skills. And women with this knowledge do go out of their way to talk about their teenage automotive hardships. Not that I’ve ever judged women like that, but I love their candid remarks when they realize I speak the Truth About Cars. So let her follow that path, she won’t hate you for it…in time.

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58 Comments on “New Or Used?: The Third Car Edition...”


  • avatar
    Omnifan

    Buy her a GM H body (Bonneville/LeSabre) from 98 on out. Great 3800 engine that gets 20 MPG in town/30 highway. Big enough to protect her should someone crash into. Lots of room for all the high school gear. Relatively cheap too.

    • 0 avatar
      03accordlx

      I just recently bought a 2006 Grand Prix. I know it’s been bashed to hell on this site before, but I like it. It’s the base model, but it’s loaded. After my trade (see username) I was out the door for $8500. I liked my Accord, but it got to be a hassle since I cart my friends around and they had trouble getting in and out as it was a coupe and the seats were very harsh.

      It has the bullet-proof 3800 with 69k. I had the same engine in my 91 LeSabre and it was a hoot. By the way did I mention that I’m 22 and this is the first GM that I’ve owned in about 5 years.

      EDIT: I have not idea of this is an H body or not since I’ve never known platform names, but I do enjoy cars and like learning about them. Maybe this car will be a good one to learn to start doing my own maintenance. I’ve heard that domestics tend to be more forgiving when it comes to ease of repair.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @03accord: No, this is a W-body.

      But not to worry, GM has building those things for 200 years, they’re pretty locked down.

      I was in love with the GXP Grand Prix which had a 5.3L V8 in it, but I would be equally happy with the supercharged 3.8L V6 in the earlier GXP, from about the 2004-06 timeframe. I think the 3800 got better city mileage than the V8. And all of the tires are the same size, too.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Domestics are generally cheaper to repair just cause you can get parts in “Nowhere, USA.” If your serious about learning your own repair, go online now and find the shop manuals or join a w-body forum. There are some really active one’s out there, including guys who have tried to swap 3.8 supercharged and 5.3 mils into 90s Ws.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Share the Explorer with her and buy momma a new car. That’s my first recomendation. Having you drive the Explorer every once in a while will let you know how badly she’s beating on it and if she’s ignoring little noises and things that might become problems later.

    If you have to get her a car, you could do a lot worse than a GM H-body (as suggested above) or a W-body (Impala ect.) They’re cheap to buy, roomy, and parts should be pretty cheap. No enthusiast will love them but hey, it’s a first car! Unless she get’s easily car sick, then the wallow-y ride might make her throw up. (I’m speaking of course of the base model Impala, and my girlfriend who does get car sick.)

    • 0 avatar
      86er

      Sorry to hear about that Dan. Cleaning up puke is nobody’s idea of a Saturday afternoon. :P

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Hey, the uplevel versions with firmer suspensions are fine. And I’ve realized that if for some reason I had a base model, well… get some high quality shocks. (BTW the Impala was a “loaner” a 2004 model with 65,000 miles on it, definately time for some supsension upgrades.)

  • avatar
    ott

    “It has to be used, domestic brand preferred, but V-Dubs are OK.”

    Not sure I’d put my 16 yr. old daughter in any used VW. They are prone to lots of fun little leave-you-stranded issues. Go for the Bonnie or Buick. Bulletproof and safe to boot.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Check about costs with your insurance agent. For us it was cheaper to get an older used car (a well used Volvo, the classic first time driver’s car) and dedicate it to our then new to driving daughter than it would be to list her as one of the drivers on our other vehicles.

    Decent $3k-4k used cars can be found, and that is both what I did and what I recommend in this situation. Bumps and bruises to the vehicle are going to happen. If not at the hand of your daughter, than thanks to the other youngsters she is going to be parking next to. Get something sturdy with excellent crash test ratings.

    The Explorer would be a bad choice IMO. Inexperienced drivers are more likely to end up in single vehicle accidents than experienced drivers are, and a high center of gravity makes pickups and SUVs a poor choice for beginning drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @John Horner: Never was a more truthiness truth spoken;) Unfortunately for me, it worked the other way around.

      When my oldest was still in high school, it was cheaper to put her on my beater Cavalier than to insure her separately (She was an excellent student and only drove to sports practices). Once she got out of high school, her grandfather gave her a fairly recent model Sunfire, it ended up being cheaper to put her on her own policy (but only by a few bucks/month). Whatever you do, find out what discounts you can get on the insurances; it has saved me a few $$’s over time.

      Of course, since the car was a gift, I still wanted her to have some “skin” in this arrangement, so she foots the bill for the insurance and the regular maintenance. Since she’s in university and carrying a pretty good work (and debt) load, I have been known to kick in a few bucks for out of the ordinary expenses. I gave her a new set of tires for Christmas last year… but she has been very good about managing the rest of it.

      In the end, I guess you know your kid the best and what they can handle. I definitely would not buy something super-nice, because you know this thing will collect a few dents and scratches here and there. Additionally, if gas prices go back up, something good on fuel may not be a bad idea, either.

      I’m voting for getting her her own car.

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      Agree with John here. I’d NEVER let a 16 year old kid of mine drive a conventional top heavy SUV like the Explorer. I’d feel much better about the GM H bodies mentioned above if you’re staying domestic.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Oh, I neglected to mention that my daughter was 17-1/2 before she got her license. There was no way in Hell I would send a 16 year out into the traffic around here.

      She only drove the last half year of her senior year, and even then she carpooled with one of the neighbor kids.

  • avatar
    threeer

    When my son turned 17, he “inherited” the 1997 Toyota Tercel my older sister had bought for her commuter car. Straight shift, no frills, reliable to the point of disbelief. When he went off to college, he wasn’t able to take the car with him, so I’ve kept it and drive it at least once a week. It’s one of those types of cars that I love…easy to own and operate, little fuss about worrying about it leaving me stranded and if anything ever did happen to it (say, an accident), cheap enough to not worry about being out a ton of money for the car to begin with. Now with almost 200k on it, I’ve no desire to see the little scooter go!

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    Speaking as a not-that-terribly-far from 16-year-old *son*, I’d say whatever you get her, make sure the back seat is cramped and uncomfortable.

    Your daughter will hate you for it.

    Your wife will love you for it.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Um… Amigo, I’ve had fun in a standard cab F150 and I didn’t even leave the drivers seat. I’m a skinny guy but the woman in question was not exactally “model thin.” This was at much past teenage age too. You forget the flexabilty of the young. All you can do is raise them to the best of your ability and stay involved in their lives. I say this as a teacher and future administrator.

    • 0 avatar
      EChid

      Perhaps this is why my dad got me a 2001 Jetta back in the day. Those back seats were useful for putting your backpack on, but almost nothing else.

      As for the question, well here is what I have: if she really must have something go cheap or go to your budget max. Cheap? Buick Century. Safe, secure, comfortable and reliable. Best $800 car? Look at the Ford Five-Hundred (since you are a Ford family). Uber cheap used, Volvo platform, super safe and comfortable.

    • 0 avatar
      03accordlx

      @echid

      I would say an older Taurus 2000-2005. I would think that the earliest 500 might be a little over budget. My older brother has a 2003 that he got last year for about $7k. They’re relatively large and relatively gutless. I’ve read that they’re 155hp for a 3500lb car. Since they’re like cockroaches they’ll last a while and be cheap to repair (lots of them in junkyards so you can probably find decent parts cheap). Just my $0.02 worth. Also, the Taurus isn’t a looker, but it isn’t hideous either. In my world bland is good.

    • 0 avatar
      PeregrineFalcon

      @Dan – It’s a joke. Nothing will keep two horny teenagers apart; I’m just saying don’t make it any more convenient. We had to sneak around and contort into uncomfortable but kinky positions as teenagers, why let the new generation off easy?

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Sorry, Amigo, jokes relate poorly on this stage, as I’ve found out the hard way many times. But I appreciate the sentiment.

  • avatar
    86er

    While Ford Escorts aren’t the safest thing to put your daughter into, they’ve proven pretty reliable (91-96 esp.), and they’d wouldn’t even come close to $8,000 in any configuration.

    I got a 96 Escort for my dad who needed a runabout. Paid $950 with 67,000 miles on the odo. Crossing my fingers that it’ll be a good running vehicle. Maybe it won’t, but lord knows I would’ve paid 3x that much on a dealer lot.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      My dad has a 99 Escort (same generation) and has had no major problems with it. He’s done the routine maintenance and all of that. Also this car has been smacked up a couple times and nobody has been injured. If she’s a good driver the OP could certainly do a lot worse than an Escort. You can probably get a good 99 or 00 for $2500 if that. Again they’re like cockroaches and are everywhere.

      FWIW I had a 93 Escort when I was 16 and loved it. 25 mpg without trying and cheap to insure.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I think you should shift to a “family fleet” philosophy. Share the Explorer, yes, but also buy a third car. Within the fleet philosophy, a small car would fit best. You save money by using the smallest vehicle capable of doing the job at hand. I saw quite a few 2007 Ford Foci (Focuses) for sale under your $8000 limit. I also found a few 2007 Chevrolet Impalas. Though larger, the Impala gets very good highway fuel economy, and it is safer. Both are about average for reliability, and average now is the same as much better than average 10-15 years ago.

  • avatar
    snabster

    A 08-02 saab 9-3.

    Actually a safe car, and thanks to recent troubles cheap. Yes, depending on where you live repair might be a pain, but if you’re in a major metro there is a saab independent nearby.

    Just talked to a junker whose daughter flipped a 9-3 convertible. She was fine and the damage to the car was amazingly slight. He is sold on them.

    I believe kids will crash at some point, and something with semi-decent safety protections is important. Me, on the other hand, am immortal…

    • 0 avatar

      As the (soon-to-be ex-) owner of a ’98 Saab convertible, I’d think twice about that choice. The non-turbo ones are reasonably reliable, but not any more than the comparable domestics or Japanese cars. And when (not if) they break, it’s an expensive proposition to fix them. I do my own wrenching, and it’s still painfully expensive to replace parts on that car. If I were taking it to a mechanic, it would be extra harsh. Their electronics are especially finicky, which might end up being a frustrating experience for kids.

      As for safety, they’re probably about as safe as the average car from the period. Maybe slightly more, but not what I would call legendary. And there are a number of safety device-related recalls for Saabs that it would be good to check on before purchasing a specific model. It might save you from the spontaneous airbag deployment that most likely totalled mine a couple of weeks ago.

    • 0 avatar
      EChid

      I love SAABs, but they would not make good teenage cars. Sure, if an accident occured your chances are better, but the cost of keeping them up is ridiculous. I have also considered a SAAB for want of something safer then my Mazda 3, but the level and expense is not worth it in the face of so many other safe cars.

    • 0 avatar
      snabster

      the 98 was the last run of the 900; the 99 and later 9-3 did have a lot of improvement: more airbags, better side impact, better head restraints. So, for a car of that vintage, I’d say, they are better than average — 4 star?

  • avatar
    LeeK

    Having three teenagers, one who was a bass drum player in the high school marching band, I can attest to the insidious role that school schedules play on the normal lives of parents. There are times that I felt that my primary duty in life was shuttling kids back and forth to the school (seven miles away), hauling musical instruments. Band practice didn’t start until 5:00PM, two and a half hours after school ended and for some stupid reason students weren’t allowed to stay on the campus during that period. Practice was over at 7:30, necessitating another pick up. Then there were football games on Friday nights, parades on the weekends, and then weekend competitions after the football season was over. My son, who is a good boy and graduated at the top of his class, simply wanted to be part of it all and therefore needed regular access to transportation. Bicycles and school buses weren’t realistic options. On one day last year, I went back and forth to the school six times because of various commitments that my children had. That racked up another 100 miles on the odometer.

    What bothers me the most about it was the school administration’s automatic assumption that every kid has access to a car and that inconveniencing parents (let alone those who work full time and can’t get away from their jobs) is secondary to the impossible schedules that they decided upon. No amount of parent complaining changed their minds one bit. A car or access to one is practically a necessity for a modern teenager and not because they do anything remotely out of the ordinary. Either the kid does all the driving (you’ll gasp when you see the annual insurance bill for a 16 year old), or the parents do it for them.

    A third car will ease the pressure somewhat, but at significant additional expense. I bought a used manual transmission Honda Element, deciding it was the perfect vehicle for my kid’s needs. The manual transmission discourages lending the car out to other kids because almost none of them (in the US at least) learn this skill anymore, it’s decidedly uncool and unhip and underpowered, so getting into trouble is a little more difficult than in say, a Mustang. The Element can also carry a ton of stuff like a huge bass drum and it’s dead reliable. But you have to do what makes economic sense to you, and balance that against the constant aggravation of child transport.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      “What bothers me the most about it was the school administration’s automatic assumption that every kid has access to a car and that inconveniencing parents (let alone those who work full time and can’t get away from their jobs) is secondary to the impossible schedules that they decided upon. No amount of parent complaining changed their minds one bit.”

      I’m sorry to hear that, but this something that highly varies depending on the school and district in question. In my rather rural, high poverty, western state district, almost everything is immediately after school for the reasons you mentioned. I’m also sorry that you haven’t gotten any traction complaining about it. At least if practices were right after school you’d cut down on a trip.

      BTW kudos on teaching your kid to drive stick and figuring out that it was an effective way to keep your kid the only one driving it.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    My 14-year-old’s recommendation: get a Panther. Reliable enough, safe as sin, not likely to inspire sporty driving, cheap to insure. Downside: roomy back seat.

    And for God’s sake, listen to most of the other posters and don’t let the kid drive the Exploder. I want to scream every time I hear of kids getting killed in rollovers…it’s so predictable and preventable.

  • avatar
    Roundel

    Either a PT or an HHR. Both are reliable, comfortable and versatile.
    Don’t bother with late 90’s GM cars, or land yachts. Get something thats manageable in size and far more usefull than just a sedan.
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/2007-Chrysler-PT-Cruiser-Brilliant-Black-w-LOW-MILES-/320549607869?cmd=ViewItem&pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item4aa23ed9bd
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/Chevy-HHR-LS-sport-wagon-1OWN-27k-Auto-50-pic-4cyl-L-K-/120584996295?cmd=ViewItem&pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item1c136d05c7

    • 0 avatar
      radimus

      Except that the PT Cruisers are expensive and difficult to work on due to the cramped design of the front end.

    • 0 avatar
      Roundel

      The OP never mentioned that he was a shade tree mechanic… so i’m not sure what the issue is. The PT cruiser in our family has been trouble free, and dirt cheap to own.
      I would reccomend one for the simple fact that its a good value on the used market, and a lot more usefull than other small cars. Escorts and Saturns may be cheap, but they are cramped and useless in comparison.
      Maybe my Mr. Euro is showing, but I think a small, 4 cylinder car is whats needed here, and it might as well be versatile.
      Im sorry, I still stand by the fact that I think smaller is better, I surely wouldn’t want a 16 year old tooling around in a Crown Vic.

  • avatar
    HalfMast

    First… go cheap. Odds are that at somepoint even the best teenage drivers will back into a light pole, slide into a curb in the winter, or slam the door into a wall (or another poor teenager’s cheap care). Pray one of these happen because it’ll scare the pants off her and keep her alert to avoid a real accident. I think 8k is way high… I’d try to keep it under 5k and plan on helping her first “real” car somewhere in college.

    Second… go slow. Think 4 cylinder/hamster engine. Don’t want her, her friends, or (heaven-forbid) a boyfriend thinking this is something to race around with. And if it takes a while to get to 60, that means she’ll really have to work at getting up to speed, even on the freeway.

    Third… go small. Several reasons for this. As a new driver, she is not going to have a great sense of where her car is on the road. Make her spend lots of time in the Exlorer with you to help with this, but in the meantime, keeping it small will give her plenty of room to work with to keep in her lane, shorter stopping distances (esp. in winter, if your climate includes snow), and with smaller turning radius. All will be helpful as she learns. A small car also helps avoid the temptation to become the local teenage taxi-driver. Offer the Explorer for special circumstances to be negotiated later.

    With that in mind, some options that I always thought would be good for first cars:
    Sunfire
    late-model Cavelier or early Cobalt (well used, though)
    Escort or Contour (if you can find them)
    Saturns sedans/coupes (don’t know them well enough for models)
    Geo Prizm or Storm (may be too old or hard to find, though)
    Neon
    Focus (though I am not found of the build of the early models)

    There are some other possibilities out there in the early 2000’s Pontiac or Dodge line-up’s, but I would worry about getting too “sporty”.

    That’s my 4 cents worth.

  • avatar
    MR2turbo4evr

    You can’t make a better decision than buying a 93-97 Corolla for her. Yes, it’s a boring car to drive, but it will be the most reliable car you will ever own. It will be cheap to buy, cheap to maintain (tires, oil & filters), cheap to insure and cheap on gas. My sister bought my parents 96 Corolla when she got her licence. She rolled the car while trying to pass someone on an icy highway. We bought it back from the insurance company, pounded out the dents somewhat and away she went. That was several years and over 60,000km ago. The car now has 270,000km on it (165,000mi) and we had to replace the brakes and struts. That’s it! (of course we replaced the transmission fluid, fuel filter, air filter, spark plugs, etc, but that’s part of normal maintenance). My mom’s ’97 Corolla has been just as reliable….and so has my ’91 Corolla (first car), 90 Corolla and all the other older Toyota’s my family has owned. I don’t care for newer Toyota’s (2000+), but the old, simple ones (like Corollas, Tercels, etc.) are dead reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Re: 1990-1997 Corolla. I couldn’t agree more about reliability. My brother has a 1994 Corolla (5 speed manual) and he hasn’t had any issues except that once he couldn’t get the thing to start because it had sat for a long time and the battery was flat. Other than that nothing. Also, he’s not mechanically inclined and routine maitenance is out of his budget. Yet it keeps running with 205k or thereabouts.

  • avatar
    radimus

    Yeah, don’t give the kid the Explorer. An SUV is the last thing that someone who might be prone to a false sense of invincibility should be driving.

    I’ll also chime in with the “get her a car of her own” crowd. GM W-body or H-body, last gen Ford Escort/Merc Tracer, last gen Cavelier or one of its siblings, first or second gen Ford Focus, or some used Toyota or Nissan are worth consideration. Maybe a Honda too if you think she can be trusted to make sure the timing belt gets replaced on schedule. I’d even consider a used 2WD 4cyl powered pickup if she was interested and willing to learn how to drive it in the winter. Any of those should be reliable enough and cheap enough to run.

  • avatar
    amripley

    No Explorer. No SUVs in general, or crossovers. The center of gravity is just too high to be safe for a young driver (speaking as one myself.)

    Hence, my recommendations:

    – Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix (first gen.)
    – Aforementioned GM H and W-body cars
    – Saturn L-Series (don’t have to worry about rust or body issues; standard side-curtain airbags after 2002.)
    – Volvo 850/S70 (foreign, I know, but built like a tank.)

    I love the Panthers, but they’re probably too heavy on gas to be a reasonable proposition. Likewise, a Saab 9000 or early 9-5 would be excellent, but the repair costs can be steep. Very steep.

    I also suggest you check out http://studentwheels.wordpress.com. It’s a website I help to manage that is dedicated to doing reviews of cars that would be good buys for student, and to providing consumer advice for student buyers. There is an H-body Bonneville review in there somewhere too.

    Good luck!

    • 0 avatar
      HalfMast

      I drove a Matrix for 3 or 4 years. Not a bad idea (he wanted American, so you go with the Vibe). It drive’s fairly small (a good thing in my mind) but has all the safety of a bit larger car and a Toyota.

      I would still give the warning about bigger cars… if you give her 5 seats and an open back, there will be a time when they are all occupied by chatting, singing, arguing teenagers. I drove a Camry Station Wagon in high school and had that thing full many times… including when I was broadsided while making a left turn. I was distracted by the crew in the car and was taking my sweet time making the left, not seeing the older couple heading towards me in the Grand Marquis through the intersection (to be fair, he was pretty oblivious too).

      There will be plenty of opportunity for your teenager to be distracted, I’d make a choice that limited the live ones. Let her work up to the people and gear hauler by having her drive the SUV when you can be in the passenger seat. Besides, alternating between the big SUV and a smaller car will improve her driving skills.

    • 0 avatar
      Roundel

      From what I have seen, the L series is an unmitigated mess reliability wise. Stick with the S Series, or even an Ion if the price is right.
      An 850 would be lovely, but getting long in the tooth, V70… not if you don’t like money in your wallet.
      The Vibe is a good option too, in that it doesn’t carry with it the Toyota Halo and in turn is a somewhat resonable buy used.
      I also have to add that I think buying a somewhat decent versatile car now, that isn’t already on its third owner or over 100K means that the car could last longer and possibly serve well into the college years.

  • avatar
    musicalmcs8706

    I’m gonna also back up the GM H-body or W-body vehicles. You can get them super cheap, and they run for a long time, especially with the 3.8. I was “given” my grandma’s 05 Impala LS when she passed away and have loved it ever since then. Although it’s not the most exciting car to drive it’s been an excellent car for me during college. I convinced one of my friends to get an Impala when she was car shopping and she ended up with an 04 Impala, but with the 3.4, and she loves it.

  • avatar

    We got a 1984 5-speed RX7 for the daughter, who had learned to drive on our 5-speed Accord (mostly). She had her first accident in it – luckily really minor. The 2-seat car helped keep her from hooning around with six of her friends, although I remember a couple of times when someone laid behind the seat. Because of insurance problems though, she found a Civic hatchback with 4-speed that she really liked – it was red and had mags, tinted windows, and a cassette deck (this was a while ago). It served her well for two or three years after she was out on her own. I ended up keeping the RX7.

    I should add that her first boyfriend was a detail guy at a car lot and taught her to detail cars. Although they didn’t last, she still knows how to keep her cars looking good.

    Actually in this situation the specific vehicle matters a lot less than your – and the teenager’s – attitude toward driving and keeping up a vehicle, and the needs re transportation for school activities. Any small, economical vehicle should suffice.

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    My reccomendations:

    small sedan – Dodge Neon (early 2000’s should be well within your budget)

    big sedan – Ford Taurus (again early 2000’s)

    something sportier and versitile – Mazda protege5, great looking wagon/hatch might be getting closer to the top of your budget though

    SUV – Jeep Cherokee (I believe the last model year for the Cherokees was 2001)

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Definitely get the girl her own car. I’ve seen enough friends get grounded for months because of a moment of idiocy behind the wheel of their old man’s ride. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to receive that phone call which starts with;
    “Dad, please don’t be angry with me, but…”
    Go for the old GM or old Volvo route. Big, solid and uncomplicated. Also, if an accident were to occur then far fewer tears would be shed.

  • avatar
    amripley

    @ Roundel, re. Saturn L-Series:

    I understand entirely where you’re coming from; their reliability checklist hasn’t been enviable, to be sure. My parents owned one which was largely trouble-free (and ultimately saved/spared my life last summer), so that’s what I’m going on. The seats are hellish, though.

  • avatar
    jmo

    With that in mind, buy her the cheapest, crappiest car (not truck or SUV, for fuel economy’s sake) you can find with a straight body and an un-ripped interior.

    As someone who has worked in a trauma unit – you might want to go for safe rather than cheap. You don’t want to experience the hell that is spending the rest of your life caring for a brain injured child because you were too cheap to buy them a decent car.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      While I respect your comments about the trauma unit (I have never worked in one and am too young to have done so anyway – I’m 22), I’d like to know when cheap and decent became mutually exclusive. As far as I can tell there are many decent cars that are cheap because when they were originally sold they were sales duds or there are a ton of them.

      That being said in reference the the comment cheapest, crappiest car I wouldn’t look for crappiest, but yes I would get something that wouldn’t cause undue heartbreak if it got smacked up.

      I’m not trying to start a flame war here, but am curious about your thoughts.

      Thank you!

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I’m thinking an ’05 Ford 500 for $6500 vs. a ’98 Ford Ranger for $2,000. Given how likely a kid is to get in a serious crash, spending an extra $4k seems like money well spent.

      I’d also like to include this video for those who want to go with some big from the 90’s vs. something newer and more adanced:

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    jmo:
    I’m thinking an ‘05 Ford 500 for $6500 vs. a ‘98 Ford Ranger for $2,000. Given how likely a kid is to get in a serious crash, spending an extra $4k seems like money well spent.

    For many families, the extra $4K is hardly insignificant. And your examples are hardly fair – the Ranger can be (at times) a difficult drive even for an experienced motorist. A better comparison: an ’00 Saturn SL2 (MT) vs. a ’05 Ford 500. Save the $4k and $400/year on gas.

    That said, that video makes a good point about today’s cars.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Would you want to see the crash test video of a ’05 Ford 500 vs. a ’00 Saturn SL2? I’d imagine it’s pretty gruesome for the Saturn driver.

      It’s $4k vs. spending your retirement years changing your 40yo brain injured daughters diapers – or as a last resort having your own child declared a ward of the state and institutionalized.

      I’ve worked with someone, with a then 17yo daughter, who was broadsided and, without any of the modern side impact protections, she was severely brain injured. Unfortunately, while having the looks and body of a beautiful 25yo girl, she has the mentality of a 5 yo. Needless to say, her parents are raising the grandchild that resulted when their mentally challenged daughter was taken advantage of.

      That is the reality of what we’re dealing with.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      Without a doubt, the Ford 500 is a better choice than the MT Saturn for your (over-emotional examples) of severe accidents (which are probably < 1% of the total).

      Of course, for many new teen drivers, the 500's size and poorer handling may increase the chance of an accident over the slower, smaller and more nimble Saturn. And, like others have said, the MT Saturn discourages less than responsible teen friends from driving. Of course, a lot of this depends on the teen and the type of driving… For long roadies, I’d give (a responsible) teen the family sedan and drive the junker myself.

      In the end, I’m sure the risks are about equal. For those concerned about a 2000 model year car and its risks from a severe head-on, t-bone or meteorite-via-the-sunroof collision, the best economic advice: wear a safety helmet.

    • 0 avatar
      HalfMast

      I’m with ihatetrees on this one… give her something easy to drive and handle, and give her a better chance to avoid the accident in the first place! Make sure it’s got the full compliment of safety features available in early 2000’s (ABS, dual front airbags and the such), and lend the family car for road trips, prom night, etc. (but only when she’s ready for it).

      Frankly, I wouldn’t even worry that much about reliability! If the brakes are in good shape, the steering’s not going give out and all that basic stuff, don’t worry too much about the rest. It’ll likely get low mileage and never far from home. Buy her a car that will get her through high school and plan to “help” her get her first real car in her 2nd or 3rd year at college. Don’t over think it and don’t over pay.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    Any number of decently straight Buicks from the early to mid-2000s can be had for amazingly fair prices, $5k or less. They’re unexciting and tend to be reliable and cheap to run – perfect teenager cars.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      My sentiments exactly. Select one that either has a 3.8, or buy a 3.1 car that has had the intake gasket replaced. $5K or less easy and you get a safe, reliable car. One that will keep you kid from being involved in the stupidity that comes with flashy cars and kids. Or, a fourth generation Taurus/Sable.

      I tried to convince a friend at work the same thing. He needed new wheels and really didn’t want to go into debt. I suggested the same above, but other Consumer Report clutching coworkers said don’t be a fool, buy a Honda, they are “much better”. Yeah, they are better but they cost a lot more. $10K more to be exact. Foolishly, he went with the Honda. And the five years of payments that will affect his social life and his relationship as he does not make much money. I can’t image that his girlfriend is going to be too happy when he becomes a “tightwad” for five years…she makes more than twice his salary but expects him to contribute at least 50% to the relationship. Foolish, really.

      JMO: I’ve seen that video before…really highlights that intelligent design and technological advances trump mindless mass.

  • avatar
    gsnfan

    How about a Crown Victoria? Cheaper than a Taurus or Impala, safe due to being BOF, and reliable enough to be the vehicle of choice for cops.

  • avatar
    daga

    Buy her a disassembled 1970’s 911 and if she has the motivation to drive enough that she assembles it, you’ve made a car lover out of her. If not, well…

  • avatar
    ronin

    Get her a cheap, small pickup.

    No back seats means she can only take one friend anywhere, minimizing distractions.

    Truckbed means you can use it for practical reasons when you need the capacity.

  • avatar
    colin42

    I use http://www.craiglook.com to search multiple craiglist sites. You can enter a zip code and search up to 250 miles from your location. you can often spot the fraudsters as well as they tend to post on multiple sites with the same pictures but different words

    As for the car – you said your daughter is in a marching band – If she has a large drum to move around I’d go with a hatch or a station wagon with ABS & airbags, Consider a Saturn Astra (some are just into the $8000 range) or a Pontiac vibe

  • avatar
    qest

    Cost including maintenance, repairs, and depreciation of a damaged car over 3 years = $7164 + tax, tags & insurance = 2010 Toyota Corolla lease at $199/mo for 36mo (you could do better if you haggle at all)

    When it gets damaged, no worries, it’s a lease, just have it minimally repaired.

    Peace of mind of having your daughter in a safe car = priceless.

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