Recommendations for a teen buying her first car.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am a 16-year-old high-school sophomore, and I'm in need of some serious car advice. For about a year now, I've had a job working at the local library for minimum wage. I've saved up a thousand dollars, and I plan to have about $4,000 by the end of my junior year. My parents are allowing me to purchase a car for my senior year, but I'm not sure what kind of car to get. I understand that $4,000 might not buy me the best car in town, but I'd like something to cruise around in. I was thinking that a used Honda Civic would be cool. What kind of car would you want your kid to be driving around in? There's also a chance that my parents would let me cruise around in their Volvo, but I feel there is something to be said for owning your own car. -- Tom

TOM: I agree with you. There IS something to be said for buying your own car, Tom. I think you learn a valuable lesson in economics: that cars are complete money pits.

RAY: In terms of what kind of car I'd want my kid to drive, the answer would have to be: a safe one. I can live with my kid not looking cool, but I really don't want to see him reduced to operating his motorized wheelchair with his tongue. And as mature as you sound, Tom, most 16-year-old boys are knuckleheads, particularly when they get behind the wheel of a car.

TOM: Plus, there are people out there talking on cell phones while they drive, reading the newspaper while they drive and speeding home to catch "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." So it's not a safe environment, even if you're NOT one of the knuckleheads.

RAY: So, if you get a Civic (which is a good, reliable car, by the way), make sure you get one with air bags. It's not the safest car in the world, but if you're just cruising around town with it and using it mostly as a 3,000-pound mobile radio-listening device, you should be OK.

TOM: And if you have to drive on the highway or take a trip somewhere, then I'd borrow the parents' Volvo. That's obviously a lot safer. If you were my kid, that's the car I'd want you to be driving for anything other than short trips.

RAY: And when you're actually ready to buy a car, order a copy of the pamphlet we wrote just for used-car buyers (it's got far too much detail to fit in our column). It tells you how to find a good used car and even gives you a checklist for your mechanic (you can get one by sending $4.50 [check or money order] to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475). Good luck, Tom. And wear your seat belt all the time.

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