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What to look for in a teen's first car

Many parents contribute money toward the purchase of their teenagers' first car. But even those who don't help kids finance the purchase of their first vehicle may still want to offer some advice as their teens start to look for the car they will no doubt remember for the rest of their lives.

Different drivers need different things out of their vehicles, so a car that might be perfect for adults will not necessarily be the best fit for teen drivers without much experience traversing the nation's roadways. The following are a few factors to consider when helping teens find their first car.


Teenagers have little to no experience behind the wheel, so it's best that they not drive cars that are especially small or large right away. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, young drivers between the ages of 16 and 17 are significantly overrepresented in fatal crashes. The NHTSA suggests such drivers' immaturity and inexperience plays a significant role in that overrepresentation. So parents likely do not want their children in the smallest car possible, as such vehicles may not protect teens as adequately as slightly larger vehicles in the case of an accident. In addition, very large cars, such as pickup trucks or SUVs, can be difficult to control and are best suited to older drivers who already have years of driving experience under their belts. A mid-size sedan is big enough to protect teens and their passengers in the case of an accident, and such vehicles are small enough to handle easily.

Passenger capacity

Another factor to consider when shopping for cars for teenagers is passenger capacity. The more seats there are in a car, the more friends teens can pack into their vehicles. Numerous teenagers in a car at once can prove distracting to the driver, and that distraction can pave the way for an auto accident. Steer clear of minivans, SUVs or other vehicles that feature a third row of seats, as teens may be unable to stay focused on the road with so many passengers in tow.

Under the hood

Few teens would not light up at the sight of a muscle car awaiting them in the driveway. But cars that accelerate quickly and those with substantial horsepower and high-performance engines may tempt teens to speed or spark the development of poor driving habits. Look for a vehicle with modest acceleration instead of an imported sports car that teens may be too immature and inexperienced to handle.

Wear and tear

Teens' first cars are often preowned vehicles, and such cars may have significant wear and tear on some important safety features. Wear and tear may not be a reason to avoid purchasing a preowned vehicle, but parents may want to replace the brake pads and tires on recently purchased preowned vehicles. Brake pads in strong condition may prove the difference between avoiding an accident or getting into one. In addition, poorly inflated or worn down tires pose a safety risk to teens and their passengers. If such features seem to be worn down, replace them before letting teens hit the open road on their own.

Teens will remember their first cars for the rest of their lives. Parents can ensure those memories are positive by finding a car that teens can handle comfortably and operate safely.