The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

December 6, 2011

Best first cars for your kids

Associated Press

---- — David Schmidt Automotive Editor Journal Register Newspapers,writer


There comes a time in almost every middle-class family’s life when mom and dad must decide if they’re going to get the kid a car.

If the child is fired up about it, a discussion often comes just before the 16th birthday, or six months or so after the license is earned, when the delight of having another wheeled errand runner in the household peaks. It peaks then because that’s usually how long young drivers are willing to do nice things for their parents just to be able to drive a car.

Whatever the decision, there are some considerations on which kind of car to get them. Here are a few thoughts:

The car should not reflect how they view themselves. So forget about the BMW, Corvette or Camaro, and especially the Evo. The joy of buying a car that tells the world all about yourself is something that they themselves should do, with their own money, sometime later when they actually have some. It’s too important a life step for mom and dad to steal from them.

Pretty good explanation for why you can’t buy them the Vette, huh?

Of course, kiddie’s car should’t reflect anything about mom and dad either. It should be transportation, pure and simple.

Getting an ego flare from buying your child an expensive car is just too expensive in counseling fees when they hit 30 and nobody’s there anymore to buy them what they feel they deserve.

I see a lot of sense in buying used, but serviceable, small Asian cars, maybe four or five years old, in good shape with no rust. These will drive well and safely and be mostly dependable and affordable.

You’re going to make them pay for their own gasoline, aren’t you? It’s a learning device, you know, as well as transportation.

Another advantage to buying a one-owner compact or sub-compact is that if they are three or four years old, the car wasn't abused. More than likely, they were mostly driven the speed limit. Cars of this ilk should be good for at least 150,000 miles without needing much but maintenance and replacement of consumable parts, such as tires, mufflers, batteries and windshield wipers.

Some of the best ideas here are a Honda Fit or Civic. You see tons of them on the road, and the same holds true with Nissans and Toyota small cars. Chevy and Ford small cars also fall in this category, and many of them are on the road. They offer good space and inexpensive operating costs.

Many kids end up driving hand-me-downs, and while that makes sense, the car in question should still meet the previously stated requirements. Giving a kid a handed-down BMW will only teach them – or you – that it costs as much to do maintenance or repairs on an old expensive car as it does a new one.

My favorite car for a kid is a Subaru. They are safe, dependable and all-wheel drive. They do cost more than comparable other Asian cars, but the extra capability they have is worth it.

My second suggestion is the more important one, especially for that first car while Johnny’s still in high school: the car should be slightly embarrassing to them.

This teaches them that joy comes with a price. It also helps them with the concept that their possessions don’t necessarily reflect their personalities. Added plus: their buddies may prefer not to pile into the embarrass-mobile on a Friday night; instead, they’ll choose someone else’s car.

Since your job is to prepare them for being an adult, this way lets a car be a part of reality rather than a dream world. Dreams can come later, when they can foot the bill.

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