Should a 16-Year-Old Have His Own Car?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1998

RAY: Last week we unveiled the results of our "Should a 16-Year-Old Have His or Her Own Car" survey. And the overall results were two to one against the idea. But there were many good arguments for and against. Here are some more of the letters people wrote on the subject:

Dear Tom and Ray:

You got me thinking about my own experiences in car ownership. I turned 16 in 1943, the year I more or less commandeered the family car (it was a '36 Pontiac). I got a full-time job in a steel mill and worked through high school, while remaining on the honor roll. There was no public transportation where we lived, Dad walked to work, so it made sense for me to drive the car. And judicious hitchhiking and ride-sharing left me just enough gas for dates on the weekend.

When I married and had six kids who began turning 16 in no time at all, I decided I needed a foolproof deal. I made them each the following offer: 1) I would buy them their first clunker (up to $600; 2) I would buy the first six months insurance, and thereafter it was their responsibility, which meant getting a job; 3) They had to maintain their school grades; 4) They had to pay for their own gas and maintenance. My two daughters turned down the deal and just asked for transportation back and forth to school when long distances were involved (after all, there were plenty of boys in the community who had wheels). My four sons jumped at the deal! Incidentally, two of them were valedictorian, one was salutatorian, and another was senior class president. Honest!

I was never bothered again about cars. Today, I guess the clunker car would cost about $2,500 and insurance would be about $1,000. But that's the price of having
a 16-year-old. Just be sure they keep up the grades.

-- Glenn

RAY: And here's an opposing view:

Dear Tom and Ray:

My father bought me a brand-new 1968 SS 396 Camaro for my 16th birthday back in 1968. Looking back, it's a miracle I survived. It wasn't necessarily the car, but what I did with it. The Camaro was fast. You could light up the tires in any gear. Its top speed was 130 (don't ask me how I know). I had two reckless-driving tickets. The only time the car was ever dented was when I hit a dog one night on a dark, two-lane state highway. But it can only be God's grace that I wasn't killed or injured and never hurt anyone else. The stories of things I did with that car would curl the hair of any parents considering buying a car for their 16-year-old son or daughter. My daughter is 14. When she turns 16, she may be allowed to drive a car. But it'll be a safe, slow car. And she will not be given free use of it.

-- Buddy

RAY: So it depends on the kid. If you have kids like Glenn's, you can trust them with a car. If you have a kid like Buddy, you enroll him in the U.S. Army.

TOM: But even if your child is the next Gandhi or Mother Teresa, he or she is still 16, and 16-year-olds are, for the most part, knuckleheads. Trust me, I've got one at home! And my son -- though I love him dearly, and he's a smart kid -- is more of a moron now than he was when he was 12!

RAY: It's the hormones.

TOM: It is. It's the hormones, the peer pressure. It tempts otherwise decent kids to do stupid things. And I'd rather they did them on their feet or on their  bicycles than in a 2-ton moving hunk of iron that can kill innocent people!

RAY: Well, we'll hear from some more readers next week on this subject. Right now I've got to go restrain my nephew and my brother before they come to blows.
We'll see you next week.

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