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Tips for Choosing Your Kid’s First Car

How to figure out which car is the safest, sturdiest and overall best first car for your new driver.


It’s an exciting day when your child finally gets a driver’s license, but shortly after you’re faced with a big decision. How do you pick a good first car? What makes for an ideal – and safe – starter vehicle?

If you haven’t bought a car recently it may be overwhelming to look at all the options. We break down the basics to make finding the best first car for your young driver a snap.

Focus on safety

Safety is a top priority. The challenge is figuring out which cars are the safest for teens. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teenagers are three times as likely as adults to get into a deadly crash while driving.

A good place to start your research is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, where you can view crash test ratings, learn about advanced safety features and more.

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AAA also provides teen driver resources at

There are lots of new autonomous safety features found on today’s cars, but they often add quite a bit to the price. Focus on crash test scores first and then see what your budget allows.

Size matters

There are cars with room for anywhere from two people all the way up to a small army of teenagers. Think like Goldilocks and avoid those two extremes. Instead, go for the just-right option in the middle – you want plenty of protection in case of a fender bender.

Say no to performance

There isn’t a teenager out there who hasn’t dreamed of having a shiny red sports car in their driveway on the day they turn 16. High-horsepower sports cars are fun but aren’t a good idea for those who are still learning to drive. Let your kids keep dreaming about that fancy sports car and buy them something they can easily handle instead.


Think long term

Although you may be buying your child’s first car in high school, there’s a good chance it won’t be replaced until after college. It’s important to get a car that will last through all those years.

Consider a car with extra room for hauling stuff back and forth to college and apartments. Hatchbacks are great at doing double duty, with plenty of seating for passengers and a versatile cargo area.

Go with good fuel economy

Even if they have a job, young drivers don’t typically have tons of extra cash. If it’s too expensive to fuel up their new car, there’s a good chance they’ll be coming to you for a little help to fill the tank. Make it easier for them and buy a car with good fuel economy.

This also figures into the long-term value of a first car. Your child will likely go from broke high schooler to broke college student, so every penny matters. Buying a first car with good fuel economy ensures they’ll be able to keep if fueled up and ready to go throughout their college years.

Don’t forget technology

Technology is everywhere, including your car. This is generally a good thing, but it’s also a major cause of distracted driving. As a parent, how do you make sure your child is using in-car technology safely?

Features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto seamlessly integrate smartphones with in-dash systems and reduce the temptation to pick up the phone, but have also proved to be distracting.

Automakers are helping by adding teen driver systems that keep the radio’s noise level down, encourage seatbelt fastening and more. The systems also provide parenting-assistance options, so you can coach them toward better driving habits. Learn more about teen driver technologies.

Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll easily find a first car for your new driver that he or she will never forget. Do you remember you first car?

Find tips for parent-teen driving agreements and other teen driver resources at

Next step: car insurance. Click here for a complete guide to teen auto insurance. Then visit to see all the options available for your teen driver.


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