Teen Drivers: A Guide for Stressed Out Parents

Photo: Elijah O’Donnell

So, you’re a parent and your teen is entering the nerve-racking world of driving. Don’t sweat it. By being prepared and acknowledging that insurance will be high (sorry), deciding between buying new or used, prioritizing safety & comfort, and considering a Driving Contract with your adolescent child are all things you should know before handing over the keys.

by Andrea Russel

Helping your son or daughter get a driver’s license is a big endeavor. Between studying for the written test, taking drivers ed/driving lessons, and practicing for hours in the car, it’s definitely a cause for celebration when your teen finally earns the privilege of driving independently.

It’s a liberating feeling that all drivers understand. The only thing that enhances the freedom of being able to drive without supervision is also owning a vehicle. 

There are many reasons why you might be thinking of getting your teen driver his/her own car. Maybe you simply want to reward your son or daughter for putting in the work to get a license, or it could be a practical benefit if he/she was able to drive to school or run errands. 

Whatever your logic is, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when searching for a vehicle for your new driver, such as:  

Teen Driver Insurance: rates will be high and that’s just life

Whether you’re planning on adding your teen to your insurance plan or getting him/her an individual policy, be prepared to run into high rates. 

Teenagers don’t have the experience that seasoned drivers have, and they’re also known for being impulsive. Because of these two factors, the risk of getting into a collision, getting ticketed for violations, and filing an insurance claim is higher among adolescents, which is why insurance companies charge higher premiums. 

According to this Huffington Post article on securing a teen cheaper auto insurance, “drivers aged 16 or 17 are nine times more likely to cause an accident than a 45-year-old driver. That’s why car insurance companies charge them three to four times more than they would typically charge people from safer categories.”

Families who add their children to their insurance policies can see premiums more than double, while individual teen policies tend to cost even more. It’s important to compare rates so that you can factor this into your budget when searching for a car. 

The good news is that there are certain ways to save on teen car insurance. For example, companies will sometimes offer discounts for students who complete certain drivers ed courses, earn good grades, or agree to have their driving monitored by telematics software to prove they’re demonstrating safe habits. Talk to different insurance companies to see what savings you may be able to snag. 

For more on this, read our guide Car Insurance for New Drivers: Understand Premiums, Policies & Misconceptions

Buying a Vehicle: decide between new and used 

When choosing a vehicle for your son or daughter, there are pros and cons to buying both new and used, and you’ll need to weigh the positives and negatives of each to decide what is right for you. 

buying a new car
Buying your teen a new car means no maintenance costs for a while. But buying used can save a huge amount of money upfront. Photo: Amee Reehal

Here are some of the main points to keep in mind:

Benefits of Buying Used:

  • Going with a used vehicle can help you save on your teen’s insurance. While many factors are considered when determining how much a vehicle costs to insure, older models tend to have lower premiums due to the fact that they’re less valuable than newer cars. Typically, this means they’re less expensive to repair or replace.
  • Used vehicles cost less. If you’re working with a limited budget, this is an obvious advantage. 
  • There are many previously owned cars that are still in great shape. You don’t have to sacrifice safety to get an affordable vehicle with modern features. 

Disadvantages to Buying a Used Vehicle 

  • You’ll need to be extremely thorough when shopping. Because used vehicles have a past you don’t know about, there are many steps you should take before committing to buying one, which can significantly extend the length of your vehicle search. Ensuring the vehicle has a clean title, having a third-party mechanic inspect the vehicle, and reviewing the service history are all important measures that will help you avoid buying a lemon. 
  • There may not be a warranty. Unless a car is still under warranty from the manufacturer, or a dealership has its own warranty system in place, mechanical failings generally aren’t covered. 

If you are buying pre-owed, keep this handy list of tips from our How to Buy a Used Car guide close by (click the image to view the full guide):

5 tips buying a used car tractionlife

Benefits of Buying New

  • You won’t have to worry about mechanical issues. New cars won’t have the wear and tear and mileage that older ones do, and they’re also generally covered by warranty. This can give you peace of mind that the vehicle will be reliable, and in the rare case that something did malfunction, you won’t have to pay for an expensive repair. 
  • New cars have advanced safety features. Modern technology has helped create vehicles that better protect drivers, which can greatly contribute to your main goal of helping your teen stay safe on the road.  
  • Newer models are generally more fuel-efficient. This can help you and your teen save on gas costs down the line. 

Disadvantages of Buying New

  • You’ll pay higher costs. New cars can be quite expensive. Most people can’t afford to buy a brand new vehicle upfront and out-of-pocket, and while loans are an option, interest rates can be high. 
  • The value depreciates quickly. Newer vehicles not only cost more, but their value depreciates as soon as you drive them home. Within just a few years, a car will be worth significantly less than what you paid for it. 
how to buy a new car guide for vehicle shoppers

Buying new? Make sure to read this How to Buy a New Car Like a Champ guide first.

Prioritize Safety

While your teen may be more concerned with the appearance of the car he/she drives, it’s important to prioritize the safety of the vehicle above all else. 

If you’re wondering how to pick an option that’s the most practical in keeping your son or daughter safe, the following tips should help:

  • Research the model’s collision-test rating. Both NHTSA and IIHS issue safety ratings on specific makes and models. 
  • Mid-size vehicles tend to be better for inexperienced drivers. Large vehicles like trucks or big SUVs can be difficult for new drivers to maneuver, while small, compact options don’t provide as much protection during collisions. 
  • Limit speed. V6 engines produce more power than four-cylinders, and this enhanced power can make it easy to rapidly accelerate. Teenagers are inexperienced drivers, and they’re also known to occasionally engage in risky behavior. Because of this, limiting power by opting for a four-cylinder engine may be a safer bet. As a bonus, they’re also more fuel-efficient. 
  • Look for advanced safety features. If your budget allows, try to find your teen a vehicle that has a few modern security advances in place, such as an anti-lock braking system, electronic stability control, blind spot detection, and/or a rear-vision camera. 

Ensure Your Teen Would Be Comfortable in the Car

Since your son or daughter will be driving the vehicle, include him/her in the car search.  Ideally, he/she would be able to test drive the vehicle before buying to ensure it’s a comfortable fit.

While some sellers and dealerships allow teenagers under 18 to do this as long as a parent or guardian supervises, others won’t. Whatever the case, taking the time to learn what features would help your teen feel the most confident and comfortable on the road will help you select the best option. 

Create a Driving Contract: Before Handing Over the Keys 

Drafting a contract for your kid might seem trivial to some. But is may help hold your novice driver accountable, and it will also allow you to further cement what habits a cautious driver should practice. Photo: Rawpixel

Before handing your adolescent the keys and setting him/her loose on the road, take time to set boundaries by creating a driving contract

A driving contract is an agreement between you and your child that establishes a set of rules and expectations he/she will abide by in order to keep the privilege of being allowed to drive. This will help hold your novice driver accountable, and it will also allow you to further cement what habits a cautious driver should practice. 

Important items to address are:

  • All parties in the car will wear their seatbelts at all times. 
  • Graduated licensing laws will be followed (if applicable). 
  • Curfews will be respected. 
  • No distractions (using the phone, eating, changing radio stations, grooming, etc.) will take place. 
  • No driving if tired or intoxicated. 
  • All traffic laws will be followed. 

Takeaway

Picking out your teen’s first vehicle is an exciting moment, though it can also be overwhelming. Dealing with high insurance rates, searching for a vehicle that is both affordable and safe, and making sure your son or daughter is responsible enough to have his/her own car can certainly be taxing. 

Hopefully this information helps highlight how you can make this process go as smoothly as possible so that you can focus on the joy and enthusiasm your teen will feel when he/she gets to take the car for a first-ever solo drive.

Finally, remember, one day these teens will grow up and likely be driving your ass around – so all your stress now will be well worth it later, right?