By on September 17, 2012

Robert writes:

First of all, thank you for all the fantastic articles. TTAC is one of only a few daily sites I visit that always successfully generates that “second click” to read an entire article, and unlike any of the technology sites I follow, I’m always delighted in reading and learning from the comments section that follows.

That said, are you regretting your call for articles yet? I can only imagine the volume such a request must generate. Just to add to the noise and hopefully gain some insights here’s mine:

In a few months it will become time to purchase a first car for a teenager. In suburban America, not having a car isn’t really much of an option and fife circumstances are such that borrowing the family car regularly isn’t going to work. So while I appreciate the financial benefits of holding off on a car purchase, and we’ll be talking about whether or not he really needs a car once he goes to college, the practical reality is that I’m happy to take the financial hit in order to give him the leg up on being able to get a good after school and summer job.

He’s a good kid, and when probed his wish list is pretty simple…inexpensive to maintain and drive, holds a fair bit of stuff, looks good. I add in “safe”. There’s no shortage of cars that meet those qualifications, but it’s my right as a dad to also want him to have something “cool”. So he’s not getting anything European. He’s also not getting an econo-box snooze fest because, well because I said so.

In my misspent youth, late sixties Mustang’s, Nova’s, Cougars, and GTO’s were all available for $1500. They were big, ran (sorta), were easy to work on, and looked good (ish) in primer. My natural tendency is to steer him towards modern equivalents.

Fortunately the kid has good taste. He’s equally enamored with Element’s and Mustangs. The budget of about $9000 (out the door) actually covers a lot of ground, from an ’06 Mustang v6 to an Element (even if those aren’t often cross-shopped). Most of the sporty imports I’ve seen seem to have had owners intent on thrashing the life out of them as quickly as possible, but I’m pretty open to FWD as a more winter & new-driver friendly car. What say you? Mustang? Element? Escape?

Okay, yes…I want permission to get the kid a Mustang.

Thanks kindly!

Sajeev answers:

You want my permission?  This is The Truth About Cars: I’m gonna fight you just because…but with some valid counterpoints!

I don’t really care how good a kid is! Getting a car (in just about any condition) is adequate payment for not being a PITA.  Course, I was lucky that the most readily available ride for me was indeed cool (’65 Galaxie LTD Hardtop, Proto Panther Love FTW),  but I didn’t need or deserve that icing on the cake.

I only had that car for a year, as my parents wanted me in a safer car.  Ya know, because 3-pt belts and a collapsible steering column isn’t a bad idea in the mid-1990s. My point? Just because you want your kid to have something nice doesn’t mean he deserves it. Or can appreciate it.

He deserves an honest machine that won’t cost much to insure and doesn’t encourage accidents. The dirty little secret:  any car is cool, the aftermarket and Internet Message Forums make a nerdy car into a sleeper.  Or a mediocre car into an easily scalable performance machine.

  • Why spend the insurance money on a Mustang?
  • Why increase the risk of him–even if he did nothing wrong–injuring others who might want to sue your pants off?

Get a boring sedan with some potential.  A 2000-2006 Taurus (quick as a Duratec, safely slow as a Vulcan V6) with readily available hop-up parts from the 1989-1999 Taurus SHO. Or a W-body General Motors sedan with the same parts potential.  Or Honda Accord, but not that insurance nightmare(?) known as the Civic Coupe. Or the “it’s already damn near sorted” Mazda 6.  These cars are cheap to buy, cheap to own, very easy to respect.  And possibly even love.

And if your son hates you for getting him something not nearly as cool as the vehicles of your youth, well, I guess I didn’t appreciate my first cool car nearly enough. So what the heck do I know? Off to you, Best and Brightest.


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82 Comments on “Piston Slap: Permission for a Mustang, please?...”

  • avatar

    “In suburban America, not having a car isn’t really much of an option and fife circumstances are such that borrowing the family car regularly isn’t going to work.”

    Are you 100% sure? We’re out in the ‘burbs and two of my kids didn’t even get licenses until they were 18 (one was out of high schoo). Drivers currently outnumber cars here and we do make it work.

    I can see what you want to do… so do it if you want, it’s your privilege. But cars and kids can be a dangerous, as well as expensive, mix.

  • avatar

    I live out in the suburbs and I can think of one family on my block where drivers outnumber cars. The reason having less cars than drivers doesn’t work is due to scheduling — which funny enough is why public transport doesn’t work either.

  • avatar

    Being a parent whos kid is younger than yours, I often wonder the same thing. What would I want my son to drive as his first car. I had the pleasure of having my dad wipe out my bank account in return for my Cutlass Supreme with wire wheels. I busted my but and put every penny modding her into a 442 clone while in high school. That being said after my dad saw that I was responsible the bank account that he emptied out actually went towards all my college books when I went to college. I just had to prove to him I was a responsible young adult and a hard worker.

    As far as my choice for my sons first car, I would lean on the side of safety and crash ratings first and cool factor second. Being a firefighter for 15 years I see first hand the dangers of inexperienced drivers. Safety is my #1 concern. People often say they dont want their kid buying a “Fast” car, but the fact remain ALL cars are fast. Evan a hyundai is fast relatively speaking for an inexperienced driver. My advise is to choose a vehicle that will not prompt your son to want to “Race” it. Mustangs, rice rockets, etc prompt other kids to want to line up and do something risky (even if its a V6. I would stick with something with more mass.

    I sold my 02 Maxima GLE to a parent for his childs first car a few years ago. I felt in my head it wasnt the right choice for a kids first car because I know when I drive it, it makes me want to push the limits of it, the next day he totaled it going around a bend going way too fast. He was lucky…

  • avatar

    Give the kid a real driver’s ed course…Bondurant, Barber, or one of the many local car clubs will have a new driver course on a track, with skidpad. The money spent on the course will outweigh the deductable, never mind actual injury.

    I took my 16 y.o. out a few times-she already gets ABS braking, and using some gravel roads, learned “tarmac vs dirt”. When it snows, we’ll be out in the local mall parking lot with ABS and TC off, doing donuts. Teaching a kid to drive on dirt is a good tool.

    I’m not teaching her to drive crazy…I’m teaching her the many modes of a car and that when, not if, it slides on a wet road, you aren’t doomed.

    Having said that, I’d be more concerned with huge HP. A young driver doesn’t need 400 hp to the rear wheels. I’ll leave you with a Quote from a Skip Barber instructor…”The Viper is a great car because it does EXACTLY what you tell it to do…and the Viper is a dangerous car because it does EXACTLY what you tell it to do”.

    Fresh tires, secure suspension, good shocks and brakes, though, essential.

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of good and divergent advice all around, owing to the complexity of the issue, I think Speedlaw’s posting could be bronzed, it makes so much sense.

      I would only add, ask your kid to make sure everyone in the car is buckled up, with the admonition, ‘ I might be able to lose you as a friend, if you were ticked off at me. What I couldn’t handle is losing you as a friend because you weren’t buckled up in an accident. Mind doing it for me?’

  • avatar

    No matter how good he has been, any teenager in a Mustang (or any excessively fast car) is a Darwin Award candidate. There are many nice-looking-but-not-suicidal cars out there. Yeah yeah, a lot of teens have sports cars and never get into accidents or get tickets, blah blah… but a lot of teens DO. And it only takes once to turn your world upside down, sadly.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Agreed. I did a few things as a 16 year old in my hand-me-down Olds Cutlass Ciera on public roads that would make any parent blanch, and I was a “good kid” as well. A Mustang, particularly a V8, would have been far too dangerous.

    • 0 avatar

      An old V6 Mustang is not a particularly fast car by modern standards. Not much faster than a four cylinder 2012 family sedan actually. I still wouldn’t get one for my kid though.

      To me, the very best kid mobile is a RWD non-turbo Volvo sedan. 240/740/940. Safe enough, seriously slow. Uncool enough that all his friends won’t want to pile in it all the time. Cheap as dirt, reliable, and easy to fix. I’d say wagons too, but they cost 2x as much and probably increase the chance of your becoming a Grandparent before you are ready. :-)

      Remember, kid’s first cars are DISPOSABLE. No sense spending real money on something nice. Get a beater for him until he is out of High School, then get a nicer car as a graduation present once he has a year or two of driving under his belt.

      • 0 avatar

        Old redblock Volvos in general are decent cars, but why are the wagons more pricey?

        With first cars it is best to not dump money into pointless mods, it ruins the resale and uses money that could’ve been used to fix that flat tire.

        For the record, I graduated high school but still drive older (but nice) beaters, its much cheaper than a new car.

      • 0 avatar

        My first car was (is, I still have it as a project) an automatic ’89 244. Got most of my limit-pushing out on that, bought a 745 Turbo that needed a turbo, then a stick-shift 850 wagon that wasn’t any quicker, despite the old 740’s condition… now I’m back to a five-speed 244, which is quicker enough than my old car that it might have gotten me in trouble back then, but shouldn’t now.

      • 0 avatar

        “Safe enough, seriously slow.”

        By the standards of 1988? Sure. By today’s standards? No.

  • avatar

    Honda Element – with stick – sounds the best out of the choices listed. I think side impact airbags were optional most of its life, so try to find those. A Mustang V8, if that is possibly being considered, is nuts for a first time driver. The old mustang V6, with a malaise like 210 HP out of 4 liters, is not that powerful. But it is still very tail happy, and will be horrible to insure.

    If you really want to get your kid a rear wheel drive car, and you live in a dry area where he is not going to get into too much trouble, an RX-8 might be worth looking into. I’ve seen them within the $9,000 budget. It’s very safe (I think side impact airbags were always standard), it does not have much power (and definitely not much torque) to get into trouble with and it might even be cheap to insure (niche cars like the RX-8 can sometimes end up with decent rates). Constantly topping off the oil can be your kids introduction to vehicle maintenance.

    • 0 avatar

      While I am an unabashed fan of the Element, there is an entirely different element (heh) of youthful danger. What’s that you say?

      All of the seats fold completely flat…instant bed.

      Need I say more?

    • 0 avatar

      That still goes back to him being challenged to street race though. I know when I had mine, there were always cars revving their engines at stoplights. I always ignored them, but damn it was annoying. Plus police following me around. Even if the 8 wasn’t “fast” (and fast is a relative term, cause I thought it was plenty fast) it still looked the part.

      If the kid has discipline and can “ignore the ignorant” (my brother’s old saying, not mine) then that’s a fine car… otherwise I still wouldn’t approve of anything that would bring a lot of temptation.

    • 0 avatar

      As I was relatively young when I had my RX-8, I can tell you that there is a LOT of trouble that you can get into with one. The car is so easy to drive that it inspires overconfidence (as the ten points I got on my license during that time prove).

    • 0 avatar

      I’m going to disagree. I mean, I’m the crazy one who bought an RX-7 (turbo FC) as a first car, but I was well in my 20s…

      People who can recognize what my car is try to race me. Luckily most cops seem to be clueless about it, but with the RX-8, it’s obvious what it is. It’s a great car but there’s trouble potential there and I wouldn’t exactly say it’s easy to maintain.

      I’m going to have to go with the Taurus recommendation or a Mazda 3 or 6.

  • avatar

    For his first car you want an anvil, not a sledgehammer. Get the kid a 3.0 powered Taurus. Insurance will be cheap, parts will be cheap, and if the little bugger is ungrateful at having a Taurus then they didn’t need wheels in the first place.

  • avatar

    Your kid will scoff, but a Crown Vic or Grand Marquis fits the bill. Some of the cheapest cars in the hooniverse to insure and maintain. Plus, a trunk that could swallow a dorm room. Don’t knock it til you try it!

  • avatar

    Try a used Ranger (or S-10). Two seats eliminates a lot of temptation (he wont be chauffering buddies around) and insurance can be quite good compared to Mustangs etc. A four-cylinder, 5 speed (to curb texting) Ranger can be good on gas and cheap to run.

  • avatar

    Volvo or Subaru wagon. Trust me high school and college wouldn’t have been the same without my quirky daily driver car. Space, efficiency, tuneable, easy to insure.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    My 1st car was a 67 Mustang dad and I rebuilt. It was a cool car. If the writer is serious he’s factored in insurance and the kid will probably be in a wreck. I say start this padawan early, let him learn about fast cars. I’d get him a hooptie 3 series for 4-5 grand.

  • avatar

    Definitely a lower-mileage 4th gen Taurus. The 3.0L Vulcan is indestructible and parts are dirt, dirt cheap. Plenty of suspension and brake hop ups available, and they do really well in the snow.

  • avatar

    As counterintuitive as it seems here’s my plan:


    Affordable payment (if you want the kid to pay it), new car safety, and when it gets smashed, it’s not your car, the bank takes the hit!

    Also, rear-wheel drive is out unless the kid has sufficient advanced driving instruction.

    • 0 avatar

      I think thats a fine idea if you can afford the insurance on a brand new car for a teen. I guess it would depend on where he is. But dont just lease anything, the only way to make it work out budget-wise is to snag one of those $199 or less subsidized leases. Then put the $9k in a college savings account.

  • avatar

    When my son started driving with his school permit at 15 his car was my ‘old’ ’96 Mustang GT that I had put out to pasture so to speak in favor of an F150. My insurance guy woudln’t even quote me the insurance cost of listing my son as primary driver of the ‘stang; said it was outrageous. Instead he suggested designating the F150 as his primary vehicle even though he could drive the Mustang. That’s what we did and we had no issues at all with him out hot-rodding or abusing the car. The only issue we had really was that the inside of the car was a constant mess. Personally I think if you can work out the insurance and have a kid that you can trust to act with a resonable level or responsibility the Mustang is a great way to go. That said, I question whether I would have survived my teens in a car like that. My first car was a ’67 Mercury Montclair with a 410 4v and I wrung every last drop out of that poor thing. My son must have gotten my wife’s driving gene.

  • avatar

    I’d go for the CPO Mazda. My wife and I snagged a 2011 Mazda CX-7 to replace her 2002 Isuzu Rodeo. It was used as a rental for the Mazda Dealership. You actually get a better warranty, and we have a year and half of the original warranty still in effect. They had Mazda5’s and Mazda6’s and even Mazda3s. We actually considered the Honda Element.

    My wife learned to drive a new 67 mustang. When she replaced the muffler with a Cherry Bomb, she ‘d get all sorts of offers/challenges to race. Drove that car for 16 years. It eventually died in the middle of an intersection, left her stranded, and she traded it in.

  • avatar

    I’m closer to the kids age than the dads, but I don’t see the issue with the Mustang. First, it’s a pre-3.7 dohc V-6 which means it’s hardly fast enough to get itself in trouble. Second, the cramped rear quarters of the Mustang mean he’s far less likely to play chauffeur to his friends than he would if he had a sedan. Steve, having looked at Accords, I’d tell you the Honda insurance penalty is across the board. I was 27 when car shopping and a Mustang GT would have been cheaper to insure than any Honda or Acura (ok didn’t check on the RL’s or MDX’s) for me. If the Mustang is so problematic to y’all, why not go with the Element? Nothing wrong with letting the kid have what he wants, especially if it meets the other requirements. Otherwise, be a protective parent and buy him a Volvo. You should be able to get a turbo S70 (which he should hopefully like) with AWD, more airbags than you can county, ABS, tc and stability control (which you would like) for your price.

  • avatar

    9 grand for a kid’s first car is just plain silly. Find him a beater, make him earn the cash for it and maybe teach him something along the way.

  • avatar

    I’d say this one is a judgement call for you. If you can trust your kid to not do something totally stupid, a Mustang is a fine car. Several kids in my high school had them and all of them made it out alive. Any car is dangerous if driven like an idiot. Get him something both of you are comfortable with. Make a list of cars, get prices and insurance quotes to narrow the list, and then go out and drive them.

    Fun cars aren’t evil, RWD isn’t evil, and many of us had them as our first cars and are here to type about it. I had a lowered Dakota with a big thirsty V8, RWD, dual exhaust, and headers. I did a lot of hooning in it. I also drove a slow, beige Cavalier sedan for a bit. I did a lot of hooning in it.

    It’s all about the driver. . .

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      I agree the fear of RWD is way overdone in this thread. I think kids are more likely to get in trouble with overcrowded vans and SUVs. Having too many extra teens in the vehicle is far more dangerous than which wheels are driven.

      Obviously some skid control skills should be acquired early on. Probably more important with RWD, but pretty important for any vehicle.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    What you want is a car with very safe handling characteristics, that is not exciting to drive and that is cheap to operate and insure. That certainly leaves out the Mustang, even with the agricultural “Cologne” V-6.

    I think the key point here is that if your kid needs “transportation” get him transportation, not flash. With all due respect, I don’t think any high school boy needs automotive flash.

    So, I would choose any number of not particularly powerful front-drive sedans. No sporty cars, no SUVs (generally questionable handling characteristics), not even an Element.

    The Ford Taurus suggestion is not bad; however, I seem to recall that there were significant reliability issues with the automatic transmission. Also on my list: Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord. These cars are large enough to afford decent crash protection, have benign handling characteristics, are not “fun” to drive fast, will be cheap to insure and should be reliable.

    Remember, you said your kid needed transportation; this is transportation.

    Also, remember (and I say this based on having 3 daughters go through high school over a span of 10 years) that, unlike in the good ol’ daze of the 60s and 70s, drinking is a serious and ubiquitous issue with today’s high school kids. And kids drink to get plastered as fast as they can.

    More than 15 years ago, when I lived in the suburbs, four drunk high school girls had a one-car wreck in the BMW 3-series the driver’s mommy had given her. This was on a 4-lane divided road with a 45 mph speed limit. They ran off the road and struck a tree. The driver and the front seat passenger were dead at the scene; the other two girls in the back seat were seriously — and permanently — injured. The drivers’ BAC was at a level that would render a non-drinker or “social drinker” unconscious. So she had been drinking long enough and heavily enough to develop an alcohol tolerance, which is characteristic of alcoholics.

    I would not add “performance parts” to whatever ride your kid buys: you don’t want to make it feel “faster.” If he’s into performance, then direct his energies to a killer car audio system or something. Then he will only wreck his hearing, not his life.

  • avatar

    S-197 V6 Mustang with a cologne V6 – that’d be respectable first ride. Easy to work on and fairly rugged ( none of that SLA/IRS silliness that requires constant upkeep) with lots of aftermarket support if he wants to indulge himself.

    Fortunately the ancient V6 in the 05-09 cars doesn’t have a lot of easy bolt on potential but the suspension does so you can craft a car with handling and brakes that can keep up or better the engine.

    The body is family tough as well, especially the 07+ cars which gained 70 pounds as a result of having to increase rigidity due to the introduction of the GT500. ( best hit I’ve seen is a direct A- pillar hit by a/lady going 50+ MPH and using the Mustang as a braking device – car was totaled but both the passengers walked away without injury).

    Added bonus: near vestigial rear seat makes the car nearly useless as impromptu beadroom and the fairly wide and tall console discourages oral sex.

  • avatar

    Get him a four door for the insurance costs alone, which I assume at some point he will have to pay himself. I mean, you’re not planning to carry him on your policy until he’s 26, are you? You’ve got a budget of $9,000 so I presume that you aren’t made of money.

    Four doors will be appreciated by his friends as well. Being seen climbing in and out of the backseat of a coupe is undiginified, especially when you’re cruising the strip, trying to meet girls.

    Four doors and the extra space of a sedan will also be appreciated when he moves out to go to college or wherever. Packing the flotsam and jetsam necessary to survive Freshman year at State U into a Mustang would suck.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    If your teenager is equally happy with an Element or Mustang, then by all means reduce his temptation to do stupid & dangerous things and get him the Element. Teenage brains are not yet fully developed, and nothing will bring that fact to light quicker than a fast car with no parent in the passenger seat.

  • avatar

    Why do people think performance cars are what kids should learn to drive in? I remember many of the learning experiences I had in my 87′ Nissan Maxima… if it had been faster and less forgiving of my occasional learning (aka stupid) decisions, I probably would have gotten into several accidents during my first year behind the wheel.

    I work in a high school and can assure you, high school students have no businesss driving muscle cars. They regularly peel out pulling out of the parking lot and crash them in the rain. I can recall driving home past many crunched stangs seeing police and students waiting for a tow truck. I once was actually rear-ended by a student driving a mustang after we were both stopped in the school’s exit driveway waiting for the light to turn green. (There was no damage, luckily, but the car clearly jumped much more than he expected, which will happen to new drivers)

    Be smart and buy your son an Element instead of trying to vicariously live out some dream that was probably misguided in the first place. After a couple years of invaluable on-road learning, if he still wants to step up to a performance car, he’ll be a more skillful driver and a more mature man. Hopefully.

  • avatar

    Sorry in advance for such a long response.

    I faced this exact dilemma one year ago when my 16 year old son begged for a car to assist with gaining after school employment. I weighed many of the pros and cons of a variety of vehicles and I kept coming back to the fact that if, heaven forbid, he was in a bad crash, I wanted (no…needed) volumes of steel around him. Yet, I still wanted the vehicle to have some ability to brake/steer around a potential event too. I ruled out large pick-ups and SUV’s for this reason, and also because I wanted him to be able to afford to feed it. To that end I came to the only logical conclusion, an HPP equipped Panther. I found a white ’92 Grand Marquis LS (with 92K on the odo) that had lived most of its’ life in Florida, so it was essentially rust free. He has been very happy with this choice so far. I am happy too as it has both steel and mass, and also has ABS and an air bag. Below is his pro/con list.

    -Room to carry sports equip in the massive trunk and a friend or several friends in the navy blue leather lined interior
    -Bench seat (as virtually no other cars have them)
    -All digital gauges (again, rare in other cars today) this I believe was only on the LS verison
    -A great ride (with nearly unmatched isolation from the bagged rear end)
    -Good handling (which I know is a direct result of the HPP option)
    -V8 soundtrack, stock…and after I let him hear it with air filter removed in person and via a sound clip with Flowmaster 44’s installed on his true dual exhaust
    -Doesn’t look like every other friends car
    -In profile it looks like a cop car

    -It looks like a grandmothers car
    -Fuel econ could be better
    -Window regulators either dead or dying

    I am guilty of one omission when it was presented to him. I failed to inform him of its’ reportedly legendary ability to stand up to the hands of cabbie/cop abuse.
    Knowing that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and my incessant hooning of my mother’s cars, this seemed most prudent.

    Coincidentally, my son and I have an interesting (and entirely unintentional) shared auto history.
    In 1985 I got my first street legal car, a white exterior, blue interior, 20 year old, Mercury 4 door (1965 Montclair). 26 years later, my son got basically the same age, color, and make car.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised this discussion has gone on this long without the word “Miata” being uttered even once. And now it has.

    Anything front-wheel drive with a four-banger is a good choice. A Camry is an even better one. There is nothing less fun to hoon than a four-pot Camry with an auto.

  • avatar

    For a teenager ? Knowing how I drove a that age? I’m with the taurus brigade. I totally destroyed a 5 speed SHO in a 80 mph crash into a drainage ditch being a moron. I walked away without a scratch. Car was bent so badly it was dragged up onto the flatbed moving sideways. My other personal option would be a clean used interceptor due to being durable enough for a teen.

  • avatar

    Dont buy him an older V6 Mustang, those are not cool to anyone, even people who do not know cars knows a Mustang is supposed to have a V8. Yea, yea I know the new V6 is great, its fast, etc. He isnt getting a new one, for $9k he is getting an old one. So if you buy him a Mustang, buy him a GT. And don’t spend $9k on it, you can buy perfectly nice late-90s GTs for $4-6k and then have money left over to fix it up or keep it running. Personally I would find one for under $4k and then only put liability insurance on it, because full coverage for a GT with a teenage driver in the family is going to give you a heart attack, even if he isnt the “primary drive”… insurance companies figured that trick out years ago.

    One more thing… dont buy a teenager a Mustang GT. Thats just dumb. Teens do not know how to drive, they do not know how to handle emergencies, they always have a tendency to show off or try to be cool, they almost always wreck their first car. Giving a teenager a RWD tail happy unforgiving Mustang GT is just begging for them to wreck it even faster. I think back to all the stupid crazy stuff we did in HS in Mustangs and Camaros and it is a wonder we didnt die. Scratch that, like 10 kids I went to HS with DID die in car accidents, always in high powered RWD cars they shouldnt have been given by their parents. I know, I know, your kid is different, he is smarter, more responsible, etc. Those parents said the same thing. Do you want to take that chance?? I didnt think so.

    If you want to get your kid a cool car, get him something fairly new in nice shape with a really nice stereo and all the gadgets, thats what kids want anyway. You want him to have some kind of performance car? Get him a car that handles well but isnt too fast, there are no shortage of FWD hatches or sedans that can be upgraded with nice suspensions and wheels. For $9k you can get a really nice Honda Civic even, perfect. Or get an SUV, you get even more for your money and he can haul stuff with it. Or if your kids are like the ones around here, what is cool now is jacked up 4wd pickups. $9k will buy you a nice truck with money left over for the full redneck treatment.

    Then go buy yourself a Mustang GT, and fix it up with your son, let him drive it occasionally for a reward. You will enjoy it more that way.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    $9,000? Buy him an old Prius, so he will live long enough to appreciate high-powered sports cars once he can pay for his own.

  • avatar

    Living vicariously through your son, eh? +1 for Sajeev for setting you rational!

    In this age of STDs, unplanned pregnancies, and paternity suits, you best get your son the ultimate in birth control.

    Brown Station Wagon or Minivan.

    You’re Welcome.

    (mine’s not for sale)

    • 0 avatar

      You underestimate what can be pulled in a ’72 Vista Cruiser.

      Even today. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      A wagon or a minivan? Dude, you can like get soooo many people in one of those. In high school a buddy of mine had his dad’s old work van. Driver and front passenger seats, bean bags and shag carpeting to the windows for the rest of us. It could fit a dozen people (or 6 couples) and few cases of beer.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. I had a baby blue ’93 Mercury Villager in high school. Room for 6 of your rowdiest friends is an order of magnitude more dangerous (and fun) than a Mustang GT when you are 17.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a buddy that absolutely loved his 1st Gen Honda Odyssey as a rolling hotel. Great on gas and never needed to wait for his/or her folks to leave or find a friends house equally left parent less. All he need was someplace with some level of privacy and it was game on with the minivan.

  • avatar

    I think either of these are fine.

    The Mustang, with the “horse-crap six”, will take just as much work to go fast in as any midsize six-cylinder sedan, and it’ll discourage passengers.

    The Element is CR-V based and generally scores well on safety concerns. It’s no easier to roll than a CR-V – won’t happen if it’s on the black or grey. One bonus point for it is that the big balloon tires make the Element indomitable in the snow – it just rolls along steadily and slowly.

    My first car was an ’88 CRX that was so rusty that I broke it in half going over a set of railroad tracks. Get him something structurally sound.

    The other good suggestion I’ve seen on this thread is a Miata. Fewer passengers equals less egging-on, not particularly fast on the straights, able to make all the maneuvers the driver can perform. Making up for a mistake by dodging something at the last second beats making up for a mistake by ramming something and driving away.

  • avatar

    For a first time driver, I really would shy away from a RWD vehicle. Whilst more satisfying to drive (and hoon), they are far less forgiving. My buggered spine is testament to that.
    If he truly, must have a RWD car, opt for something tank-like, like an old CV Interceptor. Otherwise I’d opt for something sensible-ish, FWD with a bit of grunt and cheap to smash – like a Taurus or Impala.

  • avatar

    My stepson got his license back in ’02. Did drivers ed, plus an external driving course. Did all of his training in an ’02 Explorer, so he was familiar with the handling properties of an SUV. Bought him a cherry ’98 Geo Tracker from a retired GM exec with 60K on the clock.

    How much trouble could you get into with 96HP?, his mother and I said.

    Plenty, as it turns out. Five weeks after getting his license, he decided to take a kid home from school, and that led him onto a dirt road. Being 16 and invincible, he got the Tracker up to 63MPH (police estimate) before losing control. Rolled once and ass-over-nose twice; fortunately, nobody was seriously injured (there were 3 people in the car), but the car was a write off. His sister did get to ride in an air ambulance to the hospital and spend four days there with a moderate concussion.

    Two suggestions:

    1) 4 door sedans are the cheapest to insure. At the time, my insurance agent suggested Saturns.
    2) As a condition of driving, have an agreement with your child that they save enough money to cover the deductible should something happen. And, if it does, the kid has to save that money back up again before driving privileges are restored. The child has to have some skin in the game.

  • avatar

    Get a Mustang GT and have it detuned for safety’s sakes. It’ll still have the looks and sounds of a GT, but without the performance to put anyone in harm’s way. It’ll run you about $1,000 to have an extremely economical and open (non limited-slip for the one-wheel-peel) ring & pinion installed.

    It’s the best compomise and he can always get it ‘fixed’ after he’s 21.

    • 0 avatar

      Comparatively speaking any of the fox cars are down right dangerous, a buddy of mine spent a few months in the hospital after that craptacular rear suspension got him in trouble and wrapped his car around a tree.

      That’s why I say S-197, much better suspension all the way around, exponentially sturdier chassis and the 200 or so horsepower is plenty good for a new driver in a RWD car also the car is capped at 112 MPH.

      A few choice body and suspension mods will have the car looking smart and handling great ( Ford’s FR3 suspension and some 255/45R18 summer tires on my old 07 GT produced one of the sweetest handling Mustangs I’ve ever owned) and I don’t think you can get more that 250hp out of the V6 with a full complement of bolt one excluding cams and forced induction coupled with a car that weighs 3300 lbs in regular V6 trim, start adding V8 level items live the GT’s bigger front rotors or score a Bullitt rear axle from the boneyard ( with its 3.73 final drive) and the weight starts going up dulling any of that extra power.

      An 09 Mustang comes standard with traction control and stability control as standard along with anti-lock brakes, something to consider year wise anyways. Prior to that I think it was just ABS as standard equipment.

      • 0 avatar

        The newest and fastest 5.0 Mustang I could afford at 16 was a ’79 with 140 HP and 2.42 open diff gears that could barely chirp one tire.

        This was 1984, but if it was now and I could’ve theoretically scored an ’07 GT, I would’ve hurt myself or others.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    This article should have been alternately titled “What is the safest, cheapest car you can buy your teenager when they’re going to dumbass things or just do something bad because they don’t have enough driving experience car.” I was lucky, my dad likes to wrench, I had a 67 Mustang convertible, a 66 Tempest with a hopped up 350, and an MG Midget in High School. Friday night and weekend cars usually, had to drive a truck and pick up stuff from the Co-op, hardware store, etc during the week. Every parent worries about their children and walks a thin line between them being safe and secure and letting them grow, to include making mistakes. Dad’s rule was simple: You get a ticket, you get in wreck, you drive the truck forever.

  • avatar

    I like the Taurus with the Duratec, or the W body suggestion. A Pontiac Grand Prix would fit the bill nicely and shouldn’t be too expensive after Pontiac’s demise.

    • 0 avatar

      Very difficult to find a clean one right now (30K-60K), both at Manheim and AutoTrader. Dealers have 8K+ on 05-07 base models with 100K at the auction online and buy her pay her lots want 12K for beat 04s.

      • 0 avatar

        Considering you can get an ’04-’06 Saab 9-3 Aero for half that, that’d probably be the car to go with instead.

        Maybe not as cheap to keep up but they’re a solid, nice ride.

  • avatar

    Insurance on a Mustang for a 16 year old would be absolutely insane.

    Cheap to insure should be high on your list of requirements. RWD seems silly for a new driver unless you live in a place where weather isn’t an issue ever. Big sedans and wagons from the 90s are solid. My first car was a 1995 Buick Regal coupe (in 2003) and it did everything I needed it to do. Most importantly, I never had to worry about fixing dents. Just adds character to the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Straight liability insurance is the only way to go with sports cars and kids under 25. I mean it’s a risk either way, but at least it’s affordable. Of course I’m not talk new or financed sports cars.

      If you think RWD is going to be a problem on icy roads, have the limited-slip removed.

  • avatar

    “And if your son hates you for getting him something not nearly as cool as the vehicles of your youth, well, I guess I didn’t appreciate my first cool car nearly enough. So what the heck do I know?”

    I made a similar argument to my father in 1999, the hypocrisy of he enjoying his 1968 Camaro in early 1971 after getting out of Vietnam, and he sticking me into an awful ’87 Dodge Shadow… in my defense this particular example was *literally* falling apart and probably had zero maint done in its life prior to my ownership, a true fire-and-forget beater.

    He turned his head as I drove this ‘new’ jalopy and said something to the effect of “Son, I should have by all rights been killed four times in my life, twice in Vietnam, and twice in that Camaro”.

    There is something to be said there… I’ve only got one instance of cheating death under my belt, I have Ford to partially thank for avoiding the crypt keeper.

  • avatar

    You certainly don’t have my permission to give him a Mustang.

    I’d get him a used Buick (purchased from an elderly neighbor), a Haynes, a tool kit and a AAA card. If he figures out how to maintain that car and to avoid crashing it, then the pony car can come later.

  • avatar

    My first car was a ’83 Mustang auto with the inline 6, a complete slug of a vehicle. Still spun out it around in the rain: RWD + teenager = bad things. Thankfully my ‘Stang was stolen and I got a Civic: safe and economical, and honestly I think it was quicker then the Mustang ;)

  • avatar

    Just coming a little out of left field, what about a Dodge Magnum or Charger with the V6? Seems like a reasonable compromise between a normal family sedan and that V6 Mustang. And, as much as RWD isn’t ideal for a teenager, as least the over-cautious ESP in them mitigates some of the risk.

  • avatar

    I drove a 98 Mustang for a daily driver until it died about 2 years ago. In some ways the V6 is fine for kids – it’s really not that much horsepower. In some ways any Mustang of those vintages is terrible.

    In particular, the propensity for it to go sideways or swap ends or spin, if you goose the throttle in tight turns, or hit the wrong road surface, or a couple of other things.

    I knew how to handle skids and spins because my father, who raced cars in college and somewhat after, refused to let me drive without a clear idea of what happened in them. I really never had an unprovoked spin in any previous car (I did skid and spin more than once, but always when I was knowingly pushing limits). The Mustang? Five or six really glorious incidents over the 12 years. If I hadn’t taken it out to a spin-safe parking lot or road and spun it a few times every time it started to rain in fall, handling the resulting spins would have been a lot more scenery-involving.

    I spun it around 180 degrees at 7 mph in a left turn from a stoplight once, in fresh rain on a slick overpass. Just overrevved a bit. And by bit, I mean bit, I was following another car with an old female commuter, which made the turn at the same speed, and not trying to hot-dog it in any way at the time. Surprised the hell out of me, though I knew what it was doing immediately once it lost grip.

    Most of the other incidents involved more aggressive driving, but some degree of that is guaranteed, because he’s a kid and because it takes years to calibrate “how aggressively am I driving right now?” and get the judgement to not do that at inappropriate times or places.

  • avatar
    George B

    The RWD Mustang is a bad idea. Too easy to get the back end to pass the front end.

    I’d recommend a safe 4 door domestic sedan that doesn’t look like grandpa’s car. Maybe a base model 4 cylinder Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac G6, Saturn Aura, or Ford Fusion. You could help him customize the car using parts from your local self-service salvage yard. Seeing totaled cars up close and personal might help drive home the risks of doing stupid things behind the wheel. Difference in price between new and salvage might teach him about depreciation.

  • avatar
    01 ZX3

    Don’t we enthusiasts always complain about the masses not liking and/or understanding cars? The best thing to do to create a car enthusiast is to get them in a relatively “cool” car.

  • avatar

    FYI: To get a rough (relative) estimate of insurance costs, go to IIHS’s “Insurance Losses” database at

    Some of the statistics are surprising. (i.e. A certain two-seater well-loved on TTAC is among the cheapest cars to insure, though I’m not sure it’s necessarily what this teenager wants.)

    The Mustang and Element both have their merits, but the Mustang might cost a lot more to insure.

  • avatar

    Such buzz kills! Yeah it’s not a perfect world and full of dangers, but you can’t keep them bubble-wrapped forever.

    Eventually you have to let kids live a little bit. I had a blast driving and working on sports cars with my dad and when I was a kid. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Today I’m building a muscle car with my 17 year old nephew and it’s a blast.

    Kids get injured and killed everyday surfing, jet skiing, riding quads and dirt bikes to name a few. Kids will find trouble anywhere and everywhere. Even in 4-door ’95 Buicks.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for saying this so I don’t have to! We live in such a risk-averse society that it’s depressing. I think I almost died about 8 times in my teens and none of those times were in my car (Wrangler TJ). There were a few close calls in a buddy’s car, the rest of my teens were spent engaged in other risky behavior.

      Definitely take the kid gloves off. I’m not saying to get him a 2011 Mustang V6 or a 2006 GT, but a Wrangler, 05-09 V6 Mustang, Element, Miata, ’06-ish V6 Charger, or even a older Mazda 6 would all be fine.

      Just involve him in the finances somehow. I like the idea earlier about him having to pay a deductible on damages before he could get it back.

  • avatar

    I was 15 when I got my license and I’m 20 now, I used my own money to buy my cars when I was in high school my parents bitched at me for my later choices in car mostly because I tend to act an ass on an consistent basis. Though I never spun or wrecked my car I definitely put myself in situations I shouldn’t have, even in my Volvo 850 wagon, better yet my Cadillac or the Ram I had. The point is, I don’t understand what the problem is with the kid just getting the Mustang and paying out the ass in insurance, if he dies in it, it’s his fault; if he spins it hopefully it scares the shit out of him and he never does it again. Experience or not, shit happens, trying to force him into something less than sporting to keep him from wrecking it is dumb. It’s almost as rediculous as taping your teenage daughters breasts to keep guys from wanting to sleep with her, when she still gets pregnant you wasted a lot of energy over thinking something simple. If you can afford it, do it.

  • avatar

    Geeez. For car guys you lot are boring!!!!

    Get the Mustang, you will all enjoy it.

  • avatar

    Well, for the first car, I personally would probably get him some kind of semi disposable car that wouldn’t be a tragedy if he wrecked it. I had a nice first car, a ’71 Cutlass, a year old with 12,000 miles on it. Less than a month later, it was gone. I got ticketed, but I still, 40 years+ later, don’t believe I was at fault, at least not just by myself. I would get one that can be scrapped or sold off easily if/when needed. If you don’t want to go the beater route, the V6 Charger/300/Magnum might be good, they aren’t quick and can take a major hit without much injury to whoever is inside it. The stability system makes only the most insane moves a real issue. I wouldn’t buy a kid of mine any small car, even a new one. A friend’s daughter worked for grampa and saved up and bought (paid in cash, with her folks picking up the sales tax)a 2012 Honda Fit. A couple weeks later, it was totalled. She was talking on the phone, of course, and she turned in front of a Dodge Ram. I was amazed she got out of it alive, let alone with just a slight burn on her leg from the Ram spraying coolant as it went halfway through the Fit. The wreck did a good job of scaring her. A few days later, she was driving another new Fit, and that one is still around. She seems to be a little more careful about talking while driving, but next year will be college, and she’s planning on going to Ohio State, so there will be endless trips between Toledo and Columbus, when it seems like a lot of kids get into wrecks. With the vast majority of screw ups happening in the first year or so, I would buy the biggest battlecruiser a couple grand would buy and let the kid gain experience at the cost of bad gas mileage. A friend just got his kid a rusted up Tahoe, in decent mechanical shape, but not a long term vehicle.

  • avatar
    Rick S

    I have some, ehem, great memories with the Buick Century that my mom handed down to me. That car saw 105 in a 35, 115 on the interstate, and could fly 3 feet in the air on the right hill. Moral of the story? Some kids are naturally more inclined to do stupid stuff, no matter what they are driving. Personally, I would buy him something like a 2004ish Ford Focus. Safe, economical, somewhat durable, and it’s a lot easier to feel like you are driving adventurously in that than an ‘invincible’ barge or sports car.

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