Young Driver

Whether your kid is one of the lucky ones who are getting a car as a graduation gift, or one of the savvy ones who saved for their own set of wheels, there are a few things a parent should think through when helping young drivers find a car. We picked five areas of consideration to perk up your powers of reasoning.


1. Location
You may live in Florida, but if your kid is going to school in Michigan it’s time to start thinking about traction. But there’s no need to get a truck. Jake Fisher, Senior Engineer for Consumer Reports told AutoTrader, “While four-wheel drive might seem like a good idea, it won’t help you stop a car on slippery surfaces. You are actually better off with investing in a set of snow tires and finding a car with stability control. Those features can increase the chances of avoiding an accident significantly.” 

If you’re going in the opposite direction, from a cold climate to a hot one, color can be a consideration. For example, Kim Gabbard’s son, Will, who hails from snowy Maryland, took his black Jeep to the University of Arizona. Gabbard remarked, “If I had known my kid was going to school in the Arizona desert, I would never have bought him a black car. I would have purchased a lighter color car that would stay intact…his will fade in a year.”

In urban locales parking may be a factor, says Steve Goodstein, a junior at Wheelock College in Boston. “If you’re in a city, you may not need a car (at least the first semester) because it’s easier to use public transportation. Before bringing your car to school, find out how much the parking fees are and how many available permanent and part-time parking spaces there are.” Goodstein says that finding spaces at Wheelock, a small college, is a bummer.

If your kid is going cross-country you’ll also want to factor in the cost of transporting the car. A smarter solution might be to purchase the car locally when they get there.


2. Size Matters
If your kid is a rugby player, a skier or a sculptor, a hatchback or SUV might be a good choice. But if they don’t need lots of storage space, could they get by with just a coupe?

“When we were looking for cars we cancelled out two models because they weren’t big enough to carry hockey bags for Will and his friends,” remarked Gabbard. However, Fisher warns that, unless your kid needs space for sports equipment, “A large car or SUV can also be an invitation to fill up with other college students – not always a wise idea.” 


3. MPG
Is your student going to drive the car home every other weekend – or just use it to get from campus to the mall on occasion? In other words, how many miles is your kid likely to put on it regularly? If it’s a lot, you’ll obviously want to consider a car with good fuel-efficiency, because otherwise you might get stuck paying for a lot of gas in addition to tuition. But if they’re only using it to run a few errands, then getting a fuel-miser or a hybrid doesn’t necessarily have to be a concern.

Fisher noted,” When it comes to your child, consider safety before all else. Car crashes are the number one killer of young people in this country. While a tiny car might be a good fuel sipper, they are not always the safest in a crash. Consider a mid-sized family car with good crash-test results and stability control.”


4. Options
How many “bells and whistles” do you need? For instance, are options like keyless entry and a navigation system important for a college age kid? “I vote for yes,” says Mike Kreitman. Why? “I don’t want my daughter getting lost if she can help it. I want her to be able to open her car from a distance and turn on the lights if she’s alone in a parking lot.

“Pay extra for safety options,” advises Fisher. “But instead of spending an extra $2,000 for a built-in navigation system, consider a highly rated aftermarket system for about $200. Beware of built-in systems in used cars as map upgrades can be expensive and difficult to get.”


5. You are Still the Parent
No matter how much you like that brand or vehicle, remember one thing: it’s going to be their wheels, not yours. And just like you wouldn’t wear your daughter’s prom dress, listen to what your kid wants and then nudge them in the right direction. Kathy Soll, mother of Jesse who attends the University of Miami, remarked that initially, her son had some dream cars in mind. “They were not practical from the standpoint of how easy they were to maintain…we also considered whether they were theft magnets,” she said. “My greatest concern was that the car was safe, it didn’t have a history of problems and would not be difficult to service or get parts for.”

Jesse ultimately ended up buying a used 2005 Cadillac CTS. He liked the styling and the spaciousness (he’s 6’3”) and the fact that it had a roomy back seat to carry around his crew of frat brothers. And yes, his parents were pleased with the decision.

And lastly, don’t cheap out on a car for your child. “You don’t want your kid’s car to break down on the highway or in the middle of the night,” notes Goodstein. He feels that up-to-date safety equipment is a must. The stereo – well, not so much. He quips, “If your kid wants a better one… let them pay for it.”

author photo

Holly Reich writes about cars, travel, lifestyle and more. Her work has been featured in publications that include: Elite Traveler, The New York Daily News, The Washington Post and The Boston Herald. She contributes monthly to Motor Matters syndicate and her blog, "Riffs on Rides," appears on

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