6 Tips for Buying the Best First Car for Your Teenager

Tip No. 1: Put safety first.

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The day has come: Your teenager has shown maturity behind the wheel, and you’ve decided that it’s time for a car of their own. But there’s a lot to consider before picking the best first car for your teen. This advice will put you on the path to an informed purchase.

1. Start with safety.

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, so it’s important not to skimp on safety. Features that are particularly helpful for teens include crash protection and avoidance features, such as automatic emergency braking and side-crash prevention systems. Also consider how the size of the car impacts safety. Midsize sedans, for example, offer better crash protection than small cars, and they’re easier to maneuver and tend to have shorter braking distances than most SUVs.

2. Weigh the pros and cons of new and used vehicles.

More than 80% of parents who bought a car for their teens said they bought a used one, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). If you’re thinking of buying used, keep in mind that the money you save on an older car could wind up being spent on repairs and maintenance. Another consideration: The crash-avoidance technologies you want may only be available in newer vehicles.

For specific recommendations, review this information from the IIHS and Consumer Reports, which have released lists of top new and top used vehicles for teens.

3. Understand all associated costs.

Regardless of who is paying for it, the best first car for your teenager can be a serious budget shift. Whether you decide to purchase the vehicle or have your teen contribute a portion, be sure to consider the true cost of ownership, which includes fuel, insurance, and repairs and maintenance. Pro tip: This is also a good time to consider who will pay for each expense.

4. Include online tools in your research.

Before you head to a dealership, do your vehicle research online, seeking out professional reviews for performance, safety and reliability. With the AAA Auto Buying Program, you can search top brands online and get member pricing up front on new and used cars from the comfort of home. Look for the Buy From Home badge to see which dealers offer vehicle delivery and remote paperwork processing.

5. Get a feel for the wheels.

Once you’ve completed your research and narrowed your list of vehicles, it’s time for a test drive to make sure your teen likes the car and is comfortable with the vehicle and its controls. Keep in mind that as an inexperienced driver, your teen may miss concerns that immediately jump out to you. So, take a turn behind the wheel during the test drive to make sure there aren’t any red flags your teen may not notice.

6. Determine your financing game plan.

As you decide how to pay for your teen’s car, keep in mind that an auto loan will need to be in your name if you choose to finance. While your teen can’t get their name on the loan, it’s still possible to lay the groundwork for good credit. By contributing to monthly payments, your teen can learn valuable lessons about budgeting and financial responsibility. AAA can finance your purchase and offers great rates for AAA Members.

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