As of late I have been privileged to have many of my friends, who like myself have kids, ask “What is the best starter car for a teenager?” So many have asked that I thought it might be helpful to share my standard advice here.
So let’s begin with the basics. Most parents will agree they are looking for something dependable, predictable and reliable for their teen. But let’s not forget the common denominator- safety.
While most cars today have supplemental restraining systems (commonly known as the air bag), there are some other critical criteria which deem a car safe. I have four of them which give me peace of mind buying my sons cars and I’d like to share them with you!
1. The ability for the car to accelerate… Getting out of harm’s way is imperative. Now I know what you’re thinking – isn’t slower better for my lead-foot kid? Not necessarily. Not saying a Super High Output Mustang is the answer here, but the car needs be be properly tuned and responsive when needed.
2. The ability to stop… Obviously! Brake pad life, rotor depth and brake lines (which act as “veins” pumping fluid from the master cylinder) all accounted for, front brake pads will wear much more quickly than rear brakes. If the car does require brakes, make sure the pads that are put on are recommended by the manufacturer who designed it. Don’t skimp here!
3. The suspension… Shocks and struts play a huge role in the stopping ability of a car. If you brake too hard and the car nose-dives, braking is altered as the back of the car is now lifted higher up, causing skidding. Swerving ability to avoid objects can be varied by the integrity of your suspension. The best way to survive an accident not to have it in the first place!
4. Lastly, the tires… Did you know the tire inflation diagram is inside most door jams of the car? Many people commonly look at the sidewall of the tire to see what to inflate it to. Well, the auto engineers may have designed your car with 33 pounds in the front and 35 pounds in the back, so check to make sure they are properly inflated. Tires also have an expiration date, so although tread on a 10 year old car might still look great, it could have tiny fractures, hence be more prone to blowouts. Also, common thinking is that the better of the four tires go in the front. Yet, as of late, it can be argued the better tires should go in the back. All tires have tread depth indicators. These indicators will suggest the proper time to change your tires. This is important because driving on tires that cannot displace the water through the aqua channels easily leads the car to hydroplane. There is so much more on this topic, these are just “the basics.”
Lots of parents would love to see their children in manual shift cars as it would be too difficult to shift, steer and text at the same time. While I understand the sentiment, adding complexity to driving for an inexperienced teen is probably not the best strategy.
If you are in need of some professional opinions or advice, I’m certainly more than glad to offer any suggestions for the safety of your teen driver. Just leave your questions in the comments below. Happy and safe motoring everyone!
Jason Paynter is a classic car appraiser, collector and unabashed enthusiast. He lives in Louisville, KY with his beautiful wife and three sons who are (heaven help him) almost all of driving age.