Five Tips for Buying Your Teen's First Car

Picking out a car for your teenager can be difficult. Your child wants a cool ride, while you're on the hunt for a cool price tag.

Searching on your own for a car may seem like an easier route, but getting your teen involved in the process can be time well spent. "It's a good opportunity to teach teens responsibility and help them make smart choices," says Philip Reed, senior consumer advice editor at

Here, Bankrate outlines five tips to help you and your teen go through the car search together, and ultimately find a reliable and safe car.

Look for Safety

Getting a safe car is essential. Per mile driven, teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely to crash than older drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And while it may seem like bigger is better when it comes to safety, sheer size isn't the most important factor, Reed says. In addition to size, you'll want to consider crash test results for the vehicle and the safety features it offers.

Crash test information can be found at organizations such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. From there, look at quality and reliability ratings from a measuring service such as J.D. Power and Associates, says Wes Raynal, editor of AutoWeek magazine. In most cases, you'll find that late-model used cars with safety equipment such as air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control top the lists.

Educate Your Teen

Even though you'll want a safe car, it's important to remember that the car is only as safe -- or as dangerous -- as the driver makes it, Raynal says. Consider sending your child to a quality driving school in your area where he or she will learn about vehicle control, stopping distance and how the car works. "The more driving school you can get for your teen, the better," Raynal says.

In addition to driver's education, there are many ways you as a parent can pass on driving tips to your teen. To demonstrate the risks involved with distracted driving, show your child news stories of accidents caused by cellphone texting, says LeeAnn Shattuck, co-owner of Women's Automotive Solutions, a car-buying service in Charlotte, N.C. Also be aware of your own driving behaviors. If you speed, tailgate, text or yell at others on the road, there's a greater chance your child will do the same thing.

Check Used Cars for Quality

Prices for used cars have escalated in recent years, and a vehicle that cost $2,500 two years ago might sell for $5,000 today. While prices have climbed, quality has declined, Shattuck says. Putting a teen in a car that has not been well-maintained can lead to disastrous results.

If you opt for a used car, check it over thoroughly before buying. Consider asking an ASE-certified mechanic (that is, a mechanic who has received certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) to do a pre-purchase inspection on the vehicle. And for low-budget cars, such as those in the $5,000 range or less, plan to spend $1,500 to $2,000 on maintenance right away to make sure the brakes, tires and other features are safe for your teen.

Share the Costs

While your teen may not be able to pay the full price for a new, safe car, he or she probably can afford car insurance or at least part of the monthly payment, says John Duffy, clinical psychologist and author of "The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens."

To get your teen involved in the finance end, discuss responsibilities well before purchasing the vehicle. Whether you ask your child to contribute toward paying for gas, an insurance payment or maintenance, make your expectations clear, Duffy says. Then, brainstorm ways your child can keep his or her end of the deal.

Opt for Teen Features

Some cars offer safety features specifically geared toward teen drivers. For instance, Hyundai Blue Link will notify the vehicle's owner if the car has been driven beyond certain boundaries or after certain hours.

For everyday driving, consider a GPS system. Used as a navigation system, it can help ensure your teen doesn't get lost, Reed says.

If your child needs the car for school, sporting events and visiting potential colleges, the miles can add up fast. Look for a fuel-efficient car to reduce the cost of a fill-up. When college time rolls around, your child will thank you for the great gas mileage and the quality car you helped him or her pick out.