By on March 24, 2012

This previously published article appears courtesy of my local regular print publication, the North Shore News.

Some dear friends of ours have a pair of twin boys that are just entering their latter teens. I have seen them grow from precocious eleven-year-old scamps to lofty, sullen, intimidating goons. Actually, just joking, they’re both about as sullen and intimidating as a basket-full of labrador retriever puppies.

However, they’re allowed to drive now. Eeep!

Naturally, and partially because I’ve corrupted the youths by showing them Top Gear episodes where Jeremy Clarkson drives around sideways in a cloud of smoke, they’re always talking about cars. Cars cars cars. Ben wants a Mini. Not sure what Matt wants. Probably a Zonda.

However, because Matt and Ben can’t afford a car, being at the stage in life where money seems to mysteriously slip from one’s bank account and end up taking shape as ski trips and giant, heart-stopping hamburgers, it’s left to their parents to be jostled until (hopefully) they end up buying a car for their shambly offspring. Kids. They’re all pickpockets.

So, bearing that in mind, I’ve compiled this helpful guide for parents in a similar position. It’s called, “How To Buy Your Kid A Car,” and it starts like this:

Step One: Don’t

Are you kidding me?

Why the heck would you buy your kid a car? Have they done anything to deserve it? Oh look, they set the table once without asking, clearly such work-ethic merits a Ferrari.

When I was kid, things were tougher. Nobody ever bought me nuffin’, and I can tell you, between the floggings and the penal salt mines and being sent to sea in a wooden sailing ship at the age of three to fight the French Navy at Gibraltar, it’s not like I didn’t deserve to have wheels.

No, I had to walk uphill both ways to school and then work twenty-nine hours down at mill and then come home and our Dad and our Mum would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah. Try tellin’ that to the young people of today: they won’t believe you!

So please, don’t buy your kid a car. Let them slog through misery like the rest of us did, and then buy their own incredibly ratty beater when they get out of university.

Step 2: Ok, Fine: Money

So you’ve finally caved in under the constant, “Ma! Ma! Ma! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mother! Mother! Mother!” have you? Did you try the classic, “Well, it’s up to your father,” / “Go ask your mother,” diversionary tactic? I see.

Well, nil desperandum, let’s talk about the most important thing first: who’s paying for it.

Now clearly, as I’ve just outlined, most teenagers have the savings mentality of the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable. They all spend money like a sailor on shore leave who’s just simultaneously found out he’s got a week to live and won the lottery. So if you say you’ll pay for half of it, then you probably won’t have to pay for any of it.

But let’s say your freakish offspring suddenly begins pinching pennies like Scrooge McLobster. Do you concede that the value-of-money lesson has been learned?

No, you send them to the salt mines.

Well, that’s what wouldn’t have happened in my day anyway. But cars can’t be bought for three magic beans and a cat’s-eye marble anymore, so parental subsidization schemes need to step in if they’re going to be driving something that’s not, say, currently on fire.

Some moms and dads will pay for half (and end up covering seventy-percent plus the taxes). Some will pay for the car if their kid covers insurance and gas. The cleverest I’ve heard was a father who told his son, “If you ever save up enough for a motorcycle, I’ll add to it so you can buy a car instead.”

Step 3: Safety

Now I know all you parents out there are saying, “Safety is only step 3?” Well, there’s a population crisis. And a shortage of fresh, healthy organs.

But leaving that aside for a moment, I think we can all agree that little Timmy is precious and unique and one-in-a-million (one of a million, should say), and you’d prefer him to remain unsquashed. Fine.

Let me tell you what is not safe. You might think “safe” is buying your kid a car with airbags and anti-lock brakes and crumple-zones and dynamic control and all manner of electronic nannyage. It’s not.

Wreathing your child in a comforting metal cocoon is a bad idea. They’ll think they’re invulnerable, and because a car with all that stuff will of necessity be quite new, it’ll also have a powerful engine and a loud distracting stereo.

Shall I tell you what my parents did?

Well, first my dad taught me to drive in our BMW 535i, which was fast and awesome. Then, he decreed that I would only be allowed to borrow our 1976 Land Rover, which was not those things. It had about twenty-four horsepower and all the horses had three legs and emphysema and rickets and were heavy smokers.

It also had no ABS, no airbags, and no skid control; it didn’t even have power steering. It did have a crumple-zone, and his name was Brendan McAleer and he survives to tell you about his experiences today. I never drove that car without being slightly terrified, even when parked, and it made me cautious and slow and safe.

Step 4: Fuel Economy

Here’s another falsehood: your kid won’t have a lot of money, so buy them something cheap to run.

Now I ask you, when you take your dog for a walk, are you one of those people with four hundred feet of leash who let their animal run on ahead and get savagely eaten by a pitbull (cue letter-writing campaign from Pitbull Anti-defamation League)? No, you keep your tiny rat close on a short leash.

So too with Junior. What you want is a car that sucks down fuel like an oil-well fire and that is as unreliably unstable as an Improvised Explosive Device. If he can’t afford to go anywhere, he’ll be more likely to be tucked up at home in bed with the latest Harry Potter than running around getting the entire female contingent of the graduating class with child. Plus, he’ll have to learn how to fix his own car, and that’s a valuable life lesson.

So follow these guidelines rigorously and your child will smoothly enter the motoring world with nary a mishap, and if not, again, make sure that organ donor card is filled out.

©North Shore News

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59 Comments on “How To Buy Your Kid A Car. Sort Of....”

  • avatar

    Truly made me laugh out load, well done. The line: “between the floggings and the penal salt mines and being sent to sea in a wooden sailing ship at the age of three to fight the French Navy at Gibraltar” is priceless, so MST3K and random.

  • avatar

    Love it! Very entertaining.

    I never do get parents that buy their kids a new car? The first car I would “borrow” from dad was a ’77 Delta 88. My best friend and I could get three girls in the front seat with us and their bikes in the back seat. Great car for a lots of friends with a big V8. But the first car I bought was a small RX-7 that was even better for just a girl and I. Dad would sometimes help me out with gas money and repair costs, but he left me on my own otherwise. I had to ride a bike on a regular basis…

    • 0 avatar

      “I never do get parents that buy their kids a new car?”

      Why wouldn’t you?

      • 0 avatar

        Because it spoils them, and they never appreciate having to set a goal and work for it.

      • 0 avatar

        “they never appreciate having to set a goal and work for it.”

        Maintain a +3.8 GPA and I buy you a car – seems like working toward a goal to me.

      • 0 avatar
        Rental Man

        A car yes. A much nicer car then a the non motivated child. A new car? NO. Newish Yes. Let it have a few scuffs. New damage hurt more on a new car.

      • 0 avatar

        “A new car? NO. Newish Yes.”

        Considering the high price of used cars – what sense does that make?

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        Rental Man, I never knew you were Newish!

      • 0 avatar

        It is almost guaranteed that a new driver will mess up sometime. Fender bender (guilty), totaled (multiple friends that are guilty), general scrapes and bumps (guilty)…its just going to happen. So don’t buy them a new car, get them something middling, that won’t break your heart or pocketbook if it dies.

        In respect to this article, it was excellent. My dad did things fairly well, in retrospect. Although the car was more his decision than my bidding, a slow TDI Jetta stick was perfect. I couldn’t really pass much, it was safe as a brick, and it could stop waay better than it could go. Excellent fuel economy loses points here, but I needed to get to my mothers somehow. Plus, it was under $10k. It DID have the top-end stereo in it, but he knew me well enough to know all I ever played on that was public radio and some indie.

      • 0 avatar

        When does the idea of buying a car for the kid become egregious and over the top? When I was in high school, I graduated all of 6 years ago, I knew a guy whose parents got him a brand new A6 on his 16th birthday. He worked 20 hours a week making just above minimum wage and was an average, C, student.

        Another girl I know, whose parents had immigrated from India (before you accuse me of being racist I’m not trying to be), got an X5 when she got her license. Her parents then turned around and traded it for another X5 because the original didn’t have all wheel drive. I only mention the immigration because she told me her Visa didn’t authorize her to work in the states.

        I can understand this last part, but I don’t understand the need to give your child a luxury car just because. Turning kids into accessories is what bothers me. There are so many other cars you can get your kid that aren’t mid-$40ks/low-$50ks that are plenty reliable and decent.

        When I turned 18 my aunt got me a LOAN for a car, after I graduated with a 3.7, and paid one month for the note. It was her way of saying “you graduated, congratulations, now have some more responsibility.”

  • avatar

    Excellent article, and so true. I know so many parents and kids whos parents buy them brand new cars, so they will be “safe” and never stranded with some type of repair. And 60-70% of them wreck it within the first year.

    Any car built in the last 10 yrs is safe enough. Want to keep them safer? Dont let them drive anywhere unnecessary, and dont let them drive with freinds. and some of the most fun I have ever had was when I got stranded as a teenager. It is a life lesson, it builds character, it makes you resourceful. Save $10k on the car and buy your kid a AAA membership instead.

  • avatar

    My kids will drive whatever beaten up hand me down 10-15 year old POS I have sitting in the back yard.

  • avatar

    Loved the homage to The Four Yorkshiremen..

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1988 Honda Prelude Si. No airbags, weighed well under 3,000 lbs, and wasn’t a very safe place to be…

    But I never wrecked it and I kept it for a number of years. I’d still have it if it didn’t throw a rod after 280k miles.

    • 0 avatar

      Lucky guy! I test drove a couple of these when I was shopping for my first car at 18, in 2002. I loved the 3rd gen ‘ludes, but couldn’t find a non-rusted one within my budget. A car with 135 hp had no right being that much fun! The pop-up lights and low cowl were a big part of the experience, and something about driving that car just seemed right to me. I wound up with a ’92 Jetta 2 door – far more practical and a great first car, but way less cool.

      By the way, I 100% funded my car – insurance, repairs, gas, everything – with money I saved from working part-time since I was 15. Even then, Dad called me a spoiled brat for wanting to buy my own wheels while living in the suburbs, instead of taking the bus everywhere.

  • avatar

    My kids are getting a (t)rusty retired Police Interceptor, granted, I’ll probably end up driving it more then them.

  • avatar

    I always though the best first car to give a teenager is an older 2-seater car or a bare bones standard-cab truck, so they can fit in as few people in it as possible (they might still try to pack in the back if they’re morons, but). I know personally, whenever I had friends in the car with me, my skills and concentration level would plummet.

    • 0 avatar

      Buy them a manual transmission. Forces them to pay attention to what they are doing and limits the ability to do other distracting things.

      +1 on Nostrathomas’s two seater idea – the less people in the car the better. The only downside to this is that it now means your child will often be in the passenger seat of some other kid’s car being the distraction.

      • 0 avatar
        Rental Man

        So Regular cab Ranger or Taco Stick shift late model. Just wenld something in the Box to avoid shenanigans.

      • 0 avatar

        @MZ3AUTOXR “Buy them a manual transmission…”


        My son watches me and my wife drive stick and wants to learn it as well. But should he learn the rules of the road in an auto first, then manual? Or should he just dive in and learn manual at the outset?

        There’s a lot of traffic rules to absorb and a manual could be a distraction.

      • 0 avatar

        WheelMcCoy – a multi-faceted issue, most rules can be learned from the passenger seat, and you can start on this pre-licence, while learning control & operation of the car should initially be kept to quiet times/areas at first (whether auto or manual).

    • 0 avatar

      +1 A regular cab Ford Ranger would be almost perfect as a first car. A 2010 or 2011 model with side airbags would be reasonably safe. Fuel economy is reasonably good, and the performance probably won’t get teenagers into trouble. Parts are common and cheap, and I’m sure insurance would be, too.

      Oh yeah, and you can get a stick shift, too!

    • 0 avatar

      Former “moron” here. :)

      It was in college, but we tried to pack as many people in a friend’s car. The smallest guy was on the shelf of the rear window. We did this only on quiet local roads and going cross-town, and never on a highway.

  • avatar

    You missed Step 5:

    Leave the brats at home!! Go buy the car they need, not the car they WANT. You will waste days hearing about the color, the style, the features as they agonize about what everyone at school will say about their new ride. Also, once they see you start to crack, they become the sale man’s best friend at the desk, doing a better job of closing you than he is.

    • 0 avatar

      and #6:

      Buy something so horribly embarrassing that they’d rather stay home than be seen in it by their friends (like a Hello Kitty minivan). That way, if they find themselves in a truly life-threatening situation that requires them to drive, they can. But they won’t unless it really is.

    • 0 avatar

      The advice I always gave customers who asked what kind of car to get their kid:

      Step 1. Take them to the car lot and ask them which car they absolutely would not want.

      Step 2. When they indicate the old Volvo wagon in the corner, buy it.

  • avatar

    At 16 I was lucky enough to be a signed on Machinist Apprentice, attending College and High School in a special program. I needed a car to go to my apprenticeship. Once I had put my beginners time and driving test to get my G2 license (Ontario) my dad bought me a 1995 2 door Ford Escort Automatic, it was 7 years old at the time and I paid him back eventually. It had a whopping 88hp routed through an automatic.

  • avatar

    You got to go to see in a wooden boat? we had to swim and fight with one hand.

    • 0 avatar

      “one hand”?

      Luxury, we’d work 26 hours a day for 2 pence a month and they’d lop off our hands for sport.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        Just your hands? You were lucky!

        Our parents would kill us every morning and sing Hallelujah as they danced around our graves. Then we would rise from the graves. Put our clothes back on. Go on a wooden boat and row all the way to the country of Sealand.

        Then once we were on Sealand’s shores, we would drive a 1995 2 door Ford Escort Automatic back and forth as Jeremy Clarkson would visit us on his yacht and laugh at our miserable lot in life.

        And we were grateful!

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Back in my car selling days I showed a couple a the Jeep Cherokke and went to crunch numbers. Inside sat a new PTcruiser with a sale price on it. The man looked at the car and asked if he can get that deal on a Black one. Answer from my boss was yes. Man looked at his wife and said “I will buy him this Mini-Hearse just to piss him off” And he did. Spot Delivery.

  • avatar

    If you buy your child a new car that works all the time, how will they have any interesting stories to tell later in life? My first vehicle was a 1984 Dodge Ram, whose entire previous life had been spent in an East Texas field. Every fluid it contained leaked, including the gasoline, and the transmission would burp up sufficient quantities of fluid as it cooled to make the street in front of my house both resemble a crime scene and worry the neighbors. Some engineering fail in the steering column would periodically bind it to the transmission gear selector, such that a left turn would throw the truck into reverse mid-corner. Bald tires and no rear-end weight, combined with a 360 V8 taught me to tread lightly. A 40-gallon tank and 8 MPG average kept me local and broke, and I loved every minute of it.

    • 0 avatar

      Buy them a Jeep or 4×4 truck. They’ll get plenty of good stories out of one of those when they take it off-roading and get it stuck, with the added bonus of their sheer stupidity really coming out in these stories.

      Some of my best memories with my first car were when I got it stuck/pulled out stuck vehicles. It gets to the point where getting stuck is a fun problem solving situation. Variables like rain and the lack of tow chains or cell phones really makes it interesting.

      • 0 avatar

        I had an 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited V8…nice car, ate fuel, made me very poor, preferred to be driven slowly. However, that was for 6 months, and otherwise? Buying your kid a 4×4 is highly not recommended, largely because they are too damn easy to flip. Its risks like that that make a harmless slide into the ditch mid-winter turn into a flip and roll.

        Still, I loved that Jeep.

      • 0 avatar

        I had a 98 Blazer as a first car (I paid for half of the car and then all gas/repairs/insurance with my part-time job at the local drycleaners) and had the experiences (that I loved) of getting stuck in the mud…maybe that’s why I have a Wrangler now…

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My kids got an 83 Wagoneer. When my son went to U Mass I bought him an 86 BMW 528e. He used it to commute to his job. It was 16 yrs old and had over 200k miles. In the next 4 yrs. it was totalled twice and patched up. It ran like a watch and got about 32 mpg highway miles. It was fugly but reliable. In ’05 it went to DC and back and a month later, I drove it to the Zentrum in Spartanburg SC. Other than routine maintenance, it was kept alive on a diet of junk parts. My son liked the car so much,he picked up a 95% finished project 83 533i. When he bought it, he didnt even know how to drive a manual trans.

  • avatar

    Great advice. You mimicked my family’s act to a T. Oldest Grandson last year, his Dad made him come up with half, he pays most of the gas. His Dad bought our beater: a beast…after I had checked and updated all the important stuff, tires, brakes, shocks and ran it hard for two weeks.

    1998 Trooper, 5000 plus pounds of sheet steel with a V6 smaller than a Camry. Pig on gas and slow as molasses in January. His mother approved. (so did Grandma)

  • avatar

    I got a hand-me-down 5yo Subaru (’82 4dr GL), when my folks got a new car. Which was a perfect first car. Tough and slow. My folks wondered how I got through a set of tires and brake pads in 25K miles…. I wrecked it twice, fixed it myself both times.

    I would never, ever, buy a kid a NEW car for their first car, but something decently reliable is a plus. And definitely a stick, no matter how much the little darling whines about it.

    I think a Volvo 940 sedan is the ideal first car these days. Cheap, dog-slow,and more than safe enough. The wagons have a little too much room for ‘extracurricular activities’…

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    1982 Celebrity that had been in the family since 1985. I inherited it in 1992 with shortly over 100,000 miles on it. 92hp of mighty Iron Duke and a 3 speed auto meant I ran out of steam at about 65mph. I still managed to get into trouble but FWD and not much power kept me (mostly) on the road. We’ll see what any of my kids inherit.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like the ’85 Skylark my boys drove. The Duke with that thimble-sized throttle-body injector was no doubt built with the 55 mph speed limit in mind. I used to say it took 1/2 of Nebraska to accelerate from 60 to 70. One other “safety feature” was a slightly-warped rear wheel that vibrated at about 60. I told the boys, “It’s got over 100 thousand. They all do that at over 100 thousand. Would cost more than the car’s worth to get it smoothed out.”

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Yeah I remember when dad and I had the air cleaner apart once and upon seeing that throttle body injector I pointed to the badge on the fender that proudly proclaimed “fuel injection.” I told Dad; “That ain’t fuel injection, its “fool injection.”

  • avatar

    I got a 6 year Accord as a hand me down from mom. Aqua-turquoise color.

    Dad wanted me to have a car that was reliable, safe (I.e. good tires, all equipment in good order), and if I was out with friends, preferred that I drive myself rather than ride with someone else with questioinable driving skills and/or sobriety (he wouldn’t let me get my license until he felt I had a good handle on driving, in a wide variety of traffic conditions, weather, etc).

    Having use if the car required me to mantain good grades, pay for the gas, not get tickets, etc. when I was ready to buy a car of my own in my sophomore year of college, he let me trade it towards a new Civic, and in the process taught me how to go about buying a car, negotiating, etc.

    I get the whole “learn the value of money by having to buy crap,” but honestly, not having to slave say for a car meant less distractions from my studies. Ill pass in the favor and surely do the same for my kids.

  • avatar

    A very entertaining article but a little light on practical advice for my area where kids need a driver’s license at age 16 just to get around the great distances. Without a license they are dependent on the kindness of others to get them around.

    And as far as buying new vs used for the kids? Buy used and you buy someone else’s problems. I know this from my own practical experience from when I was young and poor and forced to buy used, even from reputable dealers.

    I bought a lot of used cars in my day and I spent a lot of time tooling and wrenching on them to keep them going. If you don’t have a lot of money to buy new, you can’t afford a used one because it will cost you more in repair bills, even if you do the work yourself.

    Sure, as a parent or grand parent you can use your old car as a hand-me-down but why would you? If it breaks down YOU get the blame!

    I have learned to appreciate the wisdom of the people who buy a new car, keep it for the duration of the warranty period, and trade it in on another new car. Leasing is another way to go. If you don’t need equity, leasing may be the best way to go, especially if you can write it off.

    The only exception for us has been my wife’s 2008 Japan-built Highlander which has been trouble free from day one and continues to be so with over 78K on the clock.

    Although she now drives the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee I bought her to replace the Highlander I am reasonably sure that we won’t keep the Jeep beyond its warranty period. But I am keeping the Highlander because it is that good.

    In the past I kept many domestic cars I bought new beyond the warranty period and lived to regret it. Although I did most of the work myself fixing these cars it still took a lot of money to buy the parts that needed to be replaced. Autozone loves me.

    New is the only way to go! That goes for the cars I buy for my grand kids as well.

    And as far as what the kid has done to deserve a car? Without a car they’re nowhere. If they can’t or won’t act responsibly or choose to be otherwise undeserving, they walk or depend on the kindness of others to get them around. Trust me, that works wonders!

    • 0 avatar

      You’ve either had really bad luck or are trying to justify living a sheltered, pampered life. Good for you if that’s what you want and can afford it, but your statement doesn’t match reality.

      Used, even old, cars are always cheaper than buying new when the warranty expires. Maintenance items and parts are generally cheap, and while I agree that a used car will often have issues to address if you’re someone who wants their car in top shape – I fit this profile – I consider that a calculated cost in buying a used car. My first car was 10 years old when I bought it, and I drove it for 5 years and 50,000 miles. It got stranded once, the cause being a wire to the alternator that desoldered itself. 10 minute fix once we figured out what it was.

      What are you talking about getting the blame when a hand-me-down has problems? Last I checked it was the parents who set the rules. Are you seriously letting your kids/grandkids guilt you when their free car gives them grief?

      • 0 avatar

        I know many parents who come up with all kinds of reasons to justify spoiling thier kids. Mostly they are the ones that are afraid to say “no” to the kids. Or they just have more money than brains. I guess grandparents can be the same way. :)

      • 0 avatar

        JuniperBug, about getting the blame, several years ago my oldest son ‘gave’ his Taurus to his son to use and to commute to the University at El Paso, TX.

        One night, on the way back from the University the car died on the way home on US54 in the middle of the desert. This was before cell phones. You’d think that a car with <78K on the clock would not die so abruptly. But it happened.

        That was the most intense incident, although I myself broke down with my used cars along the highways and byways until I could afford to buy new. Any car, any brand, from any manufacturer can break down and buying used just increases your chances of breaking down and facing a huge repair bill plus towing expenses.

        I've never had a car or truck that I bought new break down on me. Never!

        When the girls (grand daughters) started driving we did not want to take any chances with used cars, primarily because of my personal experiences with used cars during my 'young and poor' days.

        For us it is practicality to buy new since there is nothing but wide-open spaces where we live, and sparse traffic. Nearest town is 26 miles away. Nearest city, Las Cruces, NM, 75 miles. El Paso, TX, is 95 miles away, and there is nothing but open desert all around. Try breaking down in that environment and see how well you like it.

        I bought used for my kids and I spent a lot of time and money tooling and wrenching on them to keep them running. I'm too old for that now and choose to buy new for my grand kids, splitting the cost with their parents, half and half. Better to be safe than sorry.

        If buying used works for those of you who choose to do so, Vaya Con Dios!

        mnm, you are right! Many grandparents who've been there and done that are indeed trying to keep their grand kids from experiencing the hardships. Many pay for the tuition, the books, the cars, the whatever. It's something that those who can, do.

        In today's America, parents and grandparents need to give their kids any leg-up they can, to give them the edge over the competition.

        Tomorrow's leaders are not born, they are actually made. And if buying your kids a new car or paying for their tuition and books, whatever, gives them one less thing to worry about, I'm all for it.

        Nobody cut me any slack. My parents (immigrants from Europe) couldn't afford to buy me decent transportation or pay for my books.

        Imagine how much more successful I could have been if I had not been tied down with having to work to pay for my books, and having to fix my own used cars, and instead applied all that energy towards focusing on my schoolwork and career.

      • 0 avatar

        You sound pretty successful as it is highdesertcat. Just think about how much less successful you would have been if you hadn’t learned to work for things yourself. Your kids and grandkids might be the greatest kids around and appreciative of what you give them. But I have known WAY too many spoiled kids and seen how they turn out to think thats the right way to do it.

        Oh, and by your story of the broken down Taurus, it sounds like you are the only one laying blame there.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1975 Ford truck. This was in the late 90’s, mind you, so it already had 20+ years and 200k+ miles on it.

    It met all of the requirements of steps 3 & 4 perfectly, and had the additional advantage of being a 3-seater, so I was rarely enlisted to be the local taxi service. I did help a lot of my friends move, but I quickly learned to ask for gas money (it had a 25 gallon main tank and a 20 gallon reserve, got about 12 MPG, and I had a part time job – even at $1.25 / gallon, the math didn’t work out in my favor).

    I did eventually upgrade the stereo though. Sony AM/FM/Casette with MTX 6×9’s behind the bench seat. Oh yeah.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, the good ol’ days when a cassette deck and a pair of 6×9’s WAS indeed, the schnizzle.

      Then it became a cassette deck with 4 speakers, then replace that cassette deck with a CD head unit with 4 speakers, now, a mere 2 or 4 speakers are passe and a HU with a USB port is the way to go.

  • avatar

    here is a little tip for parents: be smarter than your kid (see the end of my post)

    had a hand me down ford explorer as training wheels. it was far too slow to get into much trouble with.

    after I received a full college scholarship, I received an upgrade to an SVX (basicially they sold the truck and threw in their college savings plan…as you can guess, they didn’t have much saved!). they covered insurance, I paid everything else (gas, maintenance, repairs). The dealer was stupid enough to sell us a used car warranty for it; the warranty paid for itself after the first trip to the shop.

    At the time, my parents had a Dodge Stealth R/T (dad’s mid-life crisis car). I was not allowed to drive the Stealth, because it was too fast. They had no idea how powerful the SVX was until sometime after the purchase, only after my older sister borrowed it and bitched about it. they didn’t bother to look up the specs, nor did they take it out on the highway on the test drive. Oops!

  • avatar

    >>Wreathing your child in a comforting metal cocoon is a bad idea. They’ll think they’re invulnerable, and because a car with all that stuff will of necessity be quite new, it’ll also have a powerful engine and a loud distracting stereo.<<

    Excellent point. Of course, many adults driving C/SUV's think they're invulnerable and drive accordingly.

    Given the power of many of today's vehicles, you'd think there'd be a valet-like "teen mode" to limit performance for beginner drivers. Although, I can see possible liability issues due to numbskulls not turning it off…

    Additional point: Don't teach your own kid to drive. For most, there's too many emotional and (non-driving related) other issues. Get a disinterested 3rd party – a driving school or trusted relative.

  • avatar

    My first car was a 1968 Chrysler Newport, not even the better hardtop, but the base 4 door with the trusty 383/2barrel carb and torque-flight autobox. It was well weathered but straight, the interior was mostly in decent shape, save for the driver’s seat (worn cloth where one sat), the blue vinyl on the dash was a bit sun burnt (it had turned somewhat blackish from sun exposure), had the separate shoulder belts, non functioning AirTemp under dash AC unit, base AM radio and not much else though it DID have, at first a non functioning aftermarket rear window defogger blower mounted in one of the 6×9 speaker openings (burnt out wiring).

    I spent hours on that car, patching up the nearly non existent muffler, giving it a tune up, with wires etc, adding a used AM/8-track deck in where the original thumbwheel radio sat (by cutting out the face plate) and got the rear blower rewired with fresh, lavender wiring under the driver’s door sills where the original burnt out wiring was and added a new lighted toggle switch in place of the original push/pull unit.

    For graduation, I received a bunch of money and bought an under dash cassette deck with pull out mount that I bolted to the transmission hump that I bought at Radio Shack, reinstalled the stock AM radio and added 2 4″ cheap speakers to the back parcel shelf in the original speaker holes with plywood. The deck had auto reverse and auto music search, a big deal at the time and was also a Radio Shack unit.

    Then when I had to junk the car that summer (1983), I downsized to the US compacts, a ’74 Nova I bought from my oldest sister and her first hubby, giving them the under dash deck and speakers, fall of ’83, then bought a ’78 Nova in ’85 that got replaced in late ’87 with a ’78 Ford Fairmont, by then, I was in my early 20’s when I got the Fairmont. Four years later, bought a 1983 Honda Civic hatchback and drove the dickens out of that car for 6 years when I inherited my Dad’s ’88 Honda Accord LX-I, the first car with power everything, 3rd car with AC (even though it didn’t work as the 78 Nova had working AC and so did the Civic before it).

    The Accord got replaced with the 92 Ford Ranger that I nearly drove to the end and traded it in on the ’03 Protege5 I drive now.

    I was given the Newport, bought both Novas, was given the Fairmont for Christmas as the ’78 Nova was in sad shape, bought the Civic, inherited the Accord, bought both the truck and financed the Mazda.

    The story here was I spent many an hour in my first 2 cars working on them and have plenty of memories of happily wrenching away on things like replacing rocker arms (’74 Nova with 250 inline 6), adding some refurbed fog lights, replacing the basic Sears cassette deck and the like. Did some work in the ’78 Nova, but spent time happily keeping my little Civic going, even going so far as to rotate the tires myself and made an attempt to replace the CV boots with 2 piece units (don’t, they suck), only to have them done professionally, kept the clutch adjusted (non self adjusting cable actuated) and even added fog lights to the Civic, only to burn out the fuse panel as I tried to connect them to the headlights so the headlight switch would turn them on/off, using a relay to no avail.

    All of my cars so far have spent more time in drivable condition and on the road than not as they all were mechanically reliable, it was the other things I did like adding fog lights that kept them off the road for short periods.

    I’m glad I had that experience and it’s sad that many kids today don’t get that opportunity.

    I am in agreement that a 5-10 YO car of the likes of a Mazda Protege/early 3 (non speed) or the like would be good cars for most kids today, slow enough to prevent (usually) speeding tickets, new enough to have some modicum of safety so when it is in an accident, the kid may have a fighting chance of survival but not so nannied that it cocoons them into a false sense of security.

    My niece Ann has had much older SAABS for much of her driving career so far, she’s in her mid 20’s. Her first car was a late 80’s Subaru Leone wagon, her sister drove an early 80’s Chevy LUV truck. Ann now drives a 2002 SAAB 9-3.

  • avatar

    Brendan –

    Thoughtful, funny, and contrarian (good) advice.

    I just want to add that I also walked uphill both ways to school, in the snow, and bare foot. :)

  • avatar

    Ihatetrees: My Accord had a 125 hp 2.2l. The Civic I bought for myself (because as much as I appreciated being given a car, I wanted one in my own name purchased) had a 115 hp engine. Nowadays, those cars would be 190 and 140 respectively. We were going nuts in high school over the newly reintroduced civic SI with its staggering 160 hp engine!

    I thought that Accord was pretty sprightly… Most kids now would consider a 2800 lbs car with a 125 hp engine a punishment!

    As far as who teaches the kids, I would say that varies with the parents. My dad was a career highway patrolman, and had experience in education and training (he ran a police academy for a while). He made sure I had a lot of experience in widely varying conditions, from rainy, dark backroads to I75 vacation traffic in Florida. He wouldn’t let me take my license exam until HE felt I was ready, which meant me clocking at least 10,000 miles with a learner’s permit over nearly two years.

    I got hit a few times, but until I moved to the Midwest as an adult, I never caused a crash (unfortunately, FL didn’t give dad a chance to coach me in icy conditions!)

    Mnm4ever: we all rationalize things. How many people brag about making their kids work for ____ in order to rationalize their inability to provide what they wish they could give them. Families trying to make it, trying to provide for their teenage kids, and due to their career choices, layoffs, etc, are way under the level of family income ideal for it (mine are still elementary school age, but I’d guess at least $100k would be necessary, especially when putting away money for college is considered!)

    • 0 avatar

      haha, just wait til your kids hit teen years and start driving and you will see just how far $100k goes, not to mention college.

      And kids who are taught the value of working for things always appreciate them, the same cannot be said for kids who are given everything.

  • avatar

    I’m only 28 so i can’t speak to what it’s like to have driving-age kids, but I can say I wholeheartedly agree with the treatment I got 12 years ago.

    My dad was DDing a 96 Altima stick at the time and found a deal on a mid-life crisis car when I was a freshman (the under-appreciated Porsche 968 cabrio). I was an honors/AP student and fall/spring athlete, and as a sophomore I was given the conditions for driving: I must maintain a 3.5, and be able to cover half my insurance and all my gas. It forced me to work in the summers, save and space out my money for in-season since I could only work weekends, and manage my time better to be able to keep all that on my plate.

    My kids will receive a similar treatment, but maybe just have to cover gas since gas+insurance then is less than gas alone is now.

    I am also a proponent of the cheap car. Every teenager will inevitably crash and do significant damage because they’re young and stupid. I crashed but didn’t total mine twice in high school, my brother did the same. My best friend went through 3 $3000 cars since his dad refused to buy anything expensive. My wife totaled 1 and significantly damaged another in high school. Add to that, every single person I know who got a V8 muscle car in HS totaled that as well.

    Not enough power, not enough connectivity, and not enough seats are where it is at for the perfect first car. It keeps speed slower where you can allow the stupid to happen.

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