Tips for buying a used car for your teen

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Your teen is about to earn a driver’s license, and now he wants a car of his own. He has saved his money and is ready to start looking at vehicles.

Here’s what he wants: Anything that looks cool.

Here’s what you want: Safe, affordable and something that doesn’t wake all the neighbors when your son pulls into the driveway late at night.

Shopping for your child’s first car can be a lot of work if you don’t know what you’re doing. Many parents choose to look for used cars, because they tend to be more affordable to purchase and often less expensive to insure. Here are some tips on what to look for when shopping for your child’s first used car.

* Know your budget. Setting a price limit allows you to narrow your search of vehicle options immediately. Make sure you determine if your child wants to pay for the car in full or finance his purchase, and if so, how much can he afford? Keep in mind that as a teenager, your son probably doesn’t have a good credit standing established yet, which could determine if he qualifies for an auto loan or not.

* Research will help narrow the list even further. Once you establish a price limit, have your child gather information on the vehicle models she’s interested in purchasing. Make sure she includes in that list information about estimated insurance costs, miles per gallon gas consumption, customer reports and reviews of the vehicle. To find a model that will match her style, in her price range, with all the safety features you want, you’ll have to spend some time researching together.

* With research and pricing already determined, it’s time to start looking for used cars for sale. At, you can view pictures of used cars, compare different types of cars and find the best car dealer for you. Once your child finds a specific car she likes and can afford, make sure you purchase the history report for that car to look for any red flags.

* Review the car before signing on the dotted line. Do a walk around of the car with your son, and even encourage him to take the car to a trusted family mechanic. Look for wear signs including scratches and dents, worn tires, air conditioning or heating systems not working and even damaged wipers. Also do a test drive to feel how the car operates. Does the steering wheel stay straight while the car is moving, and is there any hesitation between the time you press the accelerator and the resulting forward movement in the car? Do the brakes squeak? Does the car make a loud noise so you can hear it blocks away? A trusted mechanic might also be able to help you diagnose any other problems like these.

Finding a car for your teen can be a nerve wracking experience, especially if she is more interested in fast and sporty than affordable and safe. But by having her research availability, pricing and safety features with you before she even starts looking at the cars, you both should be able to come to an agreeable compromise that she’ll love driving to school.