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Choosing Your Teen's First Vehicle

teen in car

Parents and teens can agree that getting your first car is a big deal, even if they disagree on what type of car is best.

While the options may largely depend on budget, a recent USAA-commissioned survey found that most parents have reliability, safety and affordable insurance top of mind. Most teens I talk to just want a car they are proud to call their own.

Besides avoiding the clunker that might not be reliable or the souped-up muscle car that can be expensive to insure, parents and teens can use the following tips to find a first car they agree on:

Choose newer vehicles. Newer vehicle models offer more safety features like anti-lock brakes, rearview cameras, and dual side and front airbags. Plus, they have better structural crash protection. Newer models also are less likely to suffer from component failures, which can lead to accidents. My mom, The Car Coach®, always says, "You can always replace a car; you can't replace your child."

Pick good performance, but not high performance. You don't want your young driver in an underpowered vehicle because some power is necessary for safe passing and merging.

However, the car shouldn't have so much power that your teen can't resist the urge to drive fast -- and recklessly. A recent study notes that among crashes attributed to a critical teen driver error, 21% of serious teen driver crashes were due to driving too fast for road conditions.

Seek sleek sedans. Conventional sport utility vehicles aren't recommended for first-time drivers. A higher center of gravity in SUVs can contribute to rollover accidents. Avoid small cars as well since they may not provide the best protection in collisions, which can be more common for young drivers. I believe the best vehicles for new teen drivers are recent model, midsize sedans.

Give up control on some things. If you're having trouble finding common ground, let your teen pick one feature of the vehicle, such as the color or the stereo system. That way, parents can focus on choosing a vehicle that's safe, reliable and easy to maintain.


Shelby Fix, the Teen Car Coach®, focuses on driving topics that affect young drivers. Like her mother, automotive expert Lauren Fix, Shelby's experience is in car care, repair, safety, buying, selling and driving, all with a unique eye toward the inexperienced driver. She has worked with Midas®, the Skip-Barber New Driver Program and other companies to educate teens and young drivers. She is co-writing a book with her mother about new teen drivers, currently called "100 Things Driver's Ed Didn't Teach You," and has been involved in go-karting and professional racing with her family her whole life. Shelby has contributed her knowledge about cars to radio, television and web content, including Fox News and CNN International.

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