Training Wheels

Earlier this week, we took the plunge and purchased a car for our soon-to-be-16-year-old daughter.  Before deciding to buy the car, we had to wrestle with several questions:

  1. Should we get a car now?
  2. What were the priorities for a car?
  3. Who would pay for the car?  Who would pay to maintain it?
  4. What sort of price range would we consider?  And what type of vehicle would we consider?
  5. Would this be a “joint” car (used by both Ally and Eric, when he turns 16 next year) or would it be Ally’s car?

Obviously, we decided now was a good time to buy a car.  There are many reasons for this.  One, it will be a big relief on Maggie’s scheduled when Ally can drive herself (and maybe Eric) to school and other events on a regular basis.  We wanted Al to have lots of practice time over the Summer before we’d agree to her driving by herself (or with Eric).  We also knew she did not feel as confident driving the van or my truck, so we wanted to get something she felt more connected to (ie, a smaller car with more precise steering).  And, we wanted to reward Ally for all her hard work.  She is a wonderful, responsible, hard-working young lady.  We decided getting a car this Summer was appropriate.  We really expected to look for a month or more before we found anything we could agree to buy, but in the end, we found a great car at a terrific value just two days into our search, so we went ahead and purchased it.

Ally’s “new” car

In terns of paying for the car, there are three approaches: 1. Have the child pay for the car so they learn about financial responsibility. 2. Parent pays for the car and regular expenses to maintain a bit more control of the situation (esp safety factors) and allow the child to focus more on school than having to earn money.  And 3. Parents pay for the car and child covers expenses.  After some discussion, we fell mostly in #2.  We did not want to detract from school, and we also wanted to ensure that any vehicle purchased was safe and reliable.  We will cover basic expenses (such as insurance), but Ally will remain responsible for any additional costs.  We also have control of the vehicle should she prove to struggle with, say, the speed limit or other such things (I am confident this will not be the case but use it just as an example).  To be clear; this was simply our answer; I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer for this issue.  The dynamics, resources,  and needs of each family are different.

In terms of price range, we settled in pretty quickly on what seemed like an acceptable range to both Maggie and myself.  We would not buy anything we had to finance; we’d pay out of pocket.  We did not want a junker.  It was important to us that the car be reliable.  It was vital to us that the car be safe.  We looked at a lot of older Volvos and some Hondas.  In the end, we settled in on a car we have some prior experience with – the Acura TL.  I owned two prior TLs, and they were great cars.  Ally had loved my TL and hoped it would be hers one day.  Alas, I sold it and bought my current truck last year in order to be free of any car payments.  The TL we got her is a good bit older (1999) than mine were, and it is a different body style, but it is a good quality, reliable, safe vehicle.  We happened to come across one in great shape being sold by the original owner at an extremely reasonable price.  The owner and I developed a quick rapport, and he turned out to be a really nice guy.

We originally went into the discussion process thinking we would get a vehicle that would be a combined-use vehicle between Ally and Eric, but there were some issues.  For one, Eric’s height (a little over 6’4″ now) makes getting into many cars a bit interesting.  He had to fold his legs up around many steering wheels, for instance.  With some cars, he just does not fit.  As we went through the decision process though (this process started well before the actual search process), it seemed more appropriate to get them separate vehicles.  We decided to get one for Ally now and then look one for Eric next year.

In the end, we’re all satisfied with the process.  Ally has a car she really loves.  She has a car we feel good about in terms of safety and reliability; there is a good chance this car will make it all the way through high school and college with her.  And the price we paid was substantially below book value.

Look out Cary; Ally will be on the loose soon!

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