Top tips for buying your teenager’s first car

first car - tots to teens

So your teenager is finally ready for their first car – a moment they have dreamt of since you started embarrassing them at the school gate by honking goodbye. Whether it’s brand new or second hand, there is nothing quite as sweet as the memory of a first car and the freedom that follows. While the possibility of a new car can be exciting for both parties, ensuring you purchase a vehicle in the right condition, for a good price, with an appearance  suitable for an image-conscious teenager, can be a daunting and stressful task.

Here are his quick top five tips to follow when buying a car for your teenager.

1. Have a conversation!

Before even looking at paint jobs and mileage, have a conversation with your teen. Talk about what they might be looking for, how they hope to use it and how they are going to pay. Different vehicles are suitable for different things, a smaller car may suffice for travel to and from school, whereas something more robust will be better suited to farm living. Perhaps a bigger boot is required if your teen enjoys camping, or even a louder stereo if they want to wake the neighbors. Whatever the case, functionality is important.

It is also no secret that cars are expensive. Unless your child is working full-time, on-going maintenance costs can be challenging to keep up with and fund. Discuss who is going to pay for insurance, petrol and service fees. If money is tight perhaps steer clear of the high-spec, out of warranty luxury brands!

Remember to keep in mind, they might prioritise the look of a car, rather than what’s practical!

2. Safety trumps all!

It will come without surprise that your vehicle of choice should be safe before anything else. A number of tools are available to check the safety of various models such as or ANCAP, while an AA pre-purchase inspection and fresh WOF will give you an indication of how fit the vehicle is to drive.

While you may not be a car enthusiast, it will also pay to do your own visual inspection in daylight hours, regardless of your motoring knowledge. This could include examining the exterior body for dents, scratches, rust or chips in the windscreen, all of which can suggest a lack of care. Under the bonnet, dirty and thick oil, leaks, cracks and rust can often be tell-tale signs of imminent maintenance costs. Wear and tear on interior upholstery, carpet, roofs and seatbelts can create problems in the future and reduce the resale value of the car, while dampness could reveal water leaks. 

Whether it’s new or used, choose a vehicle with as many safety features as your budget allows. Anything that looks, sounds or smells off, probably is. Check if you’re unsure because the safer the car, the safer your teenager.

Bonus tip: Ensure the car’s age is consistent with the odometer reading. The average car usage each year is between 12,000km and 20,000km, so be suspicious of vehicles where the mileage does not match the age of the car.

3. Stick to your budget

Contrary to what your teen will probably say, the latest and greatest is not always the best. Considering it is a first car, for a young new driver, investing in the most expensive vehicle on the market is not always wise. By now you’ll have a good idea of what the car is being used for, how often, and how it will be funded. These factors should point you in a direction, narrowing down your search and setting your budget. 

It is important to keep in mind the potential running, insurance and part replacement costs.

While you may be the one purchasing the car, your teen is likely to be the one to up-keep it. A newer car does not always mean better, find something which is functional, affordable and easy to maintain for a teenager, but never at the expense of safety. It’ll pay to pick a model which doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to drive.

4. Pick a reliable dealership or a private seller

When it comes to purchasing the car, you have two main options, a dealership or a private seller.

Private sales tend to be a more popular option due to the cheaper prices and room for negotiation. Whether through AutoTrader, or a sign in the car window, private sales can offer excellent vehicles at affordable prices. Make sure the seller owns the car and does not have any outstanding debts, you don’t want to find out you’re liable for somebody else’s costs. Inspect the car in person, if you’re unsure on its condition a mechanic is always a good option. You can even consider creating your own sales contract to protect yourself where possible.

Car dealerships offer a great alternative to private sales. Dealerships offer the maximum legal protection as vehicles sold must be owned, debt free and fit for use. Purchasing a car through a dealership is generally a safer option, however make sure to avoid dealers who specialise in overly cheap used cars. As always, trust your gut, if it’s substantially cheaper than anything else on the market, it may have some hidden damages.

Sifting through car sale websites or visiting a dealer can be an intimidating task, so whichever you chose, be aware of the risks!

5. Go for a test drive

Before signing on that dotted line, take the car for a spin. If the engine or drivetrain makes funny noises, you veer off to one side, or the hand break doesn’t work, you might need to look for another option or organise to have the issues remedied before purchasing.  

As parents and caregivers, we want to protect our children. Handing over the car keys is a big step in the journey of parenthood and we want to ensure our teens are in safe hands (or on safe wheels). These tips should help you to make the right decision when purchasing a first time car for your teenagers or, in fact, any member of the family.

Scroll to Top