Car Shopping Tips for Teenage Drivers

May 21st, 2021 by

A group of teenage friends are shown unloading an SUV during a road trip.

The moment has finally arrived. You’re officially a licensed driver, and as you admire your exciting photo on your shiny new driver’s license, you’re looking forward to getting a set of wheels of your own to cruise around town and pick up your friends. Whether you’re tuning in today as a new driver yourself or an apprehensive parent (we know, it seems like only yesterday they were babies, right?), it helps to get a plan together so that finding the right car is a success. Before you head out to an Indiana, PA, used car dealership, though, we thought we’d help you get an idea of some important things to consider for your (or your teens) first car. Then, when you’ve done the research, visit us at Colonial Toyota to find the perfect first car.

Find the Right Fit

We know that the larger-than-life pickup and sport car will look amazing pulling into the school parking lot, but these aren’t always the best options for a first car. That said, there are so many options available, and there is one that you’ll be excited to show up to school (or the prom) in.

It’s important to find the vehicle that not only meets your needs, but that you’re comfortable driving. For some, it may be an SUV, and for others, a four-door sedan will do just fine, but when you weigh your options, do not just pick something that looks cool. You’re going to be traveling in this vehicle frequently, and if you’re not comfortable driving it, you increase your risk of endangering yourself and others traveling around you. Whether it’s similar to the car you learned how to drive in or something else, it’s advised to test drive various options to make sure you’re making the right choice. Even if it bothers your parents, you can test drive as many vehicles as you need to. It’s going to be your car.

That said, your car should have the features you want, even if it’s not a brand new sports car. You’ll need a vehicle that meets your criteria, which can vary from person to person. Whether you need a larger vehicle to haul materials for your after-school job or an energy-efficient option for a longer commute, the vehicle you choose should check certain boxes. Your car should do what you need it to do because if it doesn’t, your experience behind the wheel just becomes more complicated.

We suggest you make a list before you head to the dealership of things you want, things you can’t live without, and the things you absolutely need in a vehicle.

A teenage girl is shown holding up a set of car keys at an Indiana PA used Car dealership.

Do Your Research

Once you find which kind of car will best suit your life, it’s time to find the right make and model for you. This is where adequate research comes in handy, especially when it deals with vehicle reliability, performance, and any issues that may arise with the vehicle’s parts or operation. Run a quick Google search before/after doing a test drive and discuss things with the salesmen. Never be afraid to ask questions or look things up; it’s your car, your money, and your time.

All vehicles will have quirks that vary from a button in a weird place to a particular part that is known to break at a certain age/mileage. Are these all major turn-offs from a vehicle? Not at all. But, it does help to be prepared. Ask questions like:

  1. “Does the model have known problems with its engine?”
  2. “Does this model have any unique or hidden features?”
  3. “Are there specific parts that are known to break in this model?”
  4. “How often should I be replacing parts or doing maintenance?”
  5. If parts are known to break down after a certain amount of time: “Have these parts already been replaced?”

You’ll also want to research the various features offered in the vehicles you’re interested in to be sure the choice you make has what’s on your wishlist. If you’re concerned about safety, be sure a particular model performs well in crash tests and also offers a nice selection of safety features. If you want to stream your music, your vehicle will need to have, at the very least, Bluetooth. Some models might have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so that you can make hands-free calls, have turn-by-turn navigation, and more. Overall reliability, handling, and performance should also be addressed so that you know you’re choosing a dependable and easy-to-drive vehicle.

Establish Your Budget

Being that this is your first car, it may be difficult to prepare for what’s in store during your time as a responsible vehicle owner, but there are some things to keep in mind so that you’re not surprised along the way. First off, should you buy a new car or a used car? Many parents gravitate toward used vehicles for their teen drivers, and when it comes to used options, we recommend “newer” used models as these will offer more modern features and upgraded safety options. It’s important to find a vehicle that is affordable but not so thrifty that it’s constantly breaking down and needing repairs. There is a middle ground here, which is why doing your research is so important.

You’ll also need to prepare for other costs that go along with having a car, like gas, car insurance, registration, inspections, taxes, and anything else that comes with vehicle ownership. Remember, just because you can afford the monthly payment that you agreed on doesn’t mean that you can afford the “extras” that tend to pop up, like repairs and maintenance.

Things are bound to go wrong, and you will need to learn to adapt to these things. This is why we suggest having an emergency budget so that when an unfortunate incident occurs, you have the money to fix it. This is your first car, which means it may not be your dream car, but if you save money now, you’ll be able to afford your dream car later when you’re more confident behind the wheel.

Find the Best Payment Option

Whether you’re looking to buy, finance or lease, finding what works best for you is up to you and your parents. Maybe you’ve saved up enough money to pay for a car outright. Just remember how hard you worked to save that money, and be sure you’re making an informed and well-thought-out decision when it comes time to make your purchase. If you finance a vehicle, it’s important to realize that you do not own the title until that vehicle is paid off. Just because you “bought” a car doesn’t mean that it’s yours, as you’ll need to ensure that all payments have been made before you legally own it.

Another thing you may need to expect is that it may not be so easy to walk into a dealership and qualify for financing. As a young driver, you may not have established credit yet, which is what is used to determine the type of financing, interest rate, and payment plan for your purchase. This means that you may need a cosigner for the loan, which in many cases is a parent or family member. The most crucial thing to realize here is no matter who you pick to be your cosigner, it must be someone you can trust as this person has just as much of a right to this vehicle as you, and any missed payments will impact their credit as well.

A teen girl is shown using a tire iron to change a tire.

Know How to Care for Your Vehicle

Once the hard part is out of the way, the real work begins. Maintaining your vehicle is just as important as any other part of the process because if you fail to take care of your car, it may result in damage, costly repairs, and endangering yourself on the road.

Here are a couple of the basics:

  1. How to fill up windshield washer fluid. It goes quicker than you’d expect but is rather cheap to replace ($2 to $5).
  2. When you need to get an oil change and what kind of oil your car needs (conventional or synthetic).
  3. How to change a headlight or taillight.
  4. How to jumpstart your car. Your car may never need a jump, but a friend might.
  5. How to change a tire (even if you have AAA or another roadside assistance agency).

Adhering to your vehicle’s regularly scheduled maintenance is important, and skipping it is not an option that most can afford. Regular oil changes, tire rotations, and overall check-ups are recommended to ensure your vehicle is operating at its best, and you’re staying as safe as possible on the road. Remember, take care of your vehicle, and it will take care of you.

The Perfect Cars for Teen Drivers

If you’re unsure about anything at any point of the process, always ask questions. When you’re working with a professional team, like Colonial Toyota, we’re always willing and happy to answer any questions you may have regarding your first new car. We’re Indiana, PA’s premier used car dealership, and we’re here for you when it comes to finding the best car that will keep you confident and secure. When it’s time to finally get that new ride, we just can’t wait to see you drive off of our lot with a reliable option that will be there for all the exciting moments in your life.