A brief manual on buying a car for kids on a budget.

Kids want everything! The fastest, best looking, newest and the “better than their friends” thing. They also want it now. (Actually a lot of adults are pretty much the same way. . .)

Young adults that are looking for their first automobile want something impressive. A head turning rider with a loud system with bluetooth and of course a place to plug in their phone. Parents want something safe, great on gas, low cost and for them to leave their phone unplugged!

When considering the vehicle purchase, consider a few things. This purchase is more important than you may think. All above factors aside, you are also setting the tone for future purchases, attitudes about purchases, expectations regarding future purchases, and even sibling purchases. (That is a lot of pressure!) Too much car and you now set the bar too high, and forever, they may think that everything in life is that easy. Set it too low, and you may wind up in the shop every week with huge repair bills and a disgruntled teenager. If you set a game plan up and attempt to stick with it, chances are you will do just fine.

  1. Set the budget amount for the vehicle. If you are paying cash with no outside financing, consider the cost of the vehicle, but equally important, consider what you will spend over the next couple of years on it also. Many buyers fail to recognize that that cheap $3200 car can become a $7000 car a year later because there were many things that were due to be fixed, but hadn’t. If you are going for next to new, stay in that 2-3 year old range. Most of the depreciation has taken place then and when your fickle teen goes to trade up a few years later, there will be a less of a loss. (Remember, unless its a vintage Corvette, cars are not investments!!) Also, keep in mind, the more you spend on your teens first purchase, the bigger trap you have set for future ones and younger ones!!
  2. Shop wisely! Look at reputable lots with good reviews. Don’t be quick to judge the small lots by their size. Small sometimes means less expenses, less overhead, less fluff and more car for you! It can also mean a seedy hole where everything is patched up, with cars that are falling apart. If you get to a lot that just doesn’t feel right, leave!
  3. Don’t be in a rush! So many kids love to let us know what they think is best for them, and we loving parents allow them to nudge us into bad decision making out of that love for them. They may pick the wrong car out of desire to be cool. (Unsafe, costly, gas guzzling high insurance etc.) They may also find the seemingly right one, only to rush in without doing some comparison shopping.
  4. Check it out! Test drive it at all speeds and for at least 15 minutes. Many transmission and engine issues only appear when the vehicle has heated up. Also, you may not have a weird uncle who is a mechanic, but for less than the cost of an oil change, you can have an independent shop do an inspection. If a shop refuses a 3rd party inspection, RUN AWAY. Also, consider the price you are paying in tandem with the inspection. Trained mechanics look for potential or obvious flaws. They don’t know what the car is being sold for, they just know what it should look like the right way! Don’t be nervous by a $500 list of repairs on a car that is priced well below book value. The overall cost may be still well below the other options. (A car that is commanding a premium price had better be perfect and a list of needed repairs should be cause for alarm.)
  5. Do your homework! Make sure the final sell price falls somewhere in the realm of a good market value. Abandon conventional book guides such as Kelly and NADA in lieu of more rounded market conditions and use online sources such as Carfax, True Car and Car Gurus which do a great job of identifying what a true deal is in the market. Carfax can also give you a fairly accurate idea of the vehicles history including showing service history and accident history.
  6. Finance vs Cash – Cash is always king, and also very true in the car business. Finance is a great option when your vehicle extends past your cash budget, but if you must go into 1st time lending and subprime lending, the interest will add up and create a much higher residual cost. If getting a newer car that is in great condition, with no real near future unseen issues, get low rate credit union financing that is as low as 1.9% right now.

Most of all, strive on finding solid, safe, transportation for your new driver. Nothing can replace healthy children, and unsafe, sporty and fast vehicles put more distractions in the way of kids who have enough distractions already.


Brian Bernard

Owner / Bernard Motorcar Company – Fort Mill SC




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