HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT CAR FOR YOUR TEENAGER

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - BUSINESS SUNDAY - By Steve Rosen

If you’re in the mar­ket to buy that first ve­hi­cle for the teen driver in your fam­ily, this may be an op­por­tune time to be kick­ing the tires.

Auto deal­ers typ­i­cally roll out deals af­ter La­bor Day to move new and used cars off their lots be­fore the end of the year. Mar­ket con­di­tions for used cars look par­tic­u­larly fa­vor­able, ex­perts say, partly be­cause of a glut of 3-year-old ve­hi­cles com­ing off lease pro­grams.

“Power ap­pears to be in the hands of the buyer,” ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Wal­letHub anal­y­sis of the new and used car mar­ket.

And while in­ter­est rates for new and used cars have inched up this year — and are ex­pected to con­tinue to rise — they still re­main rel­a­tively low by his­tor­i­cal stan­dards.

For ex­am­ple, the in­ter­est rate on a four-year new-car loan is av­er­ag­ing 4.74 per­cent, while a 60-month loan is 4.80 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to Bankrate.com. For used cars, a three-year loan is av­er­ag­ing 5.34 per­cent, Bankrate said.

If you are con­sid­er­ing bor­row­ing, the best terms are typ­i­cally avail­able from credit unions, re­gional banks and car man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Of course, your best bet may be to skip the dealer lot and buy from the guy down the street who’s look­ing for a quick sale.

When shop­ping for your teen’s first car, the main thing par­ents should take into ac­count is lack of driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, said Wal­letHub auto an­a­lyst Jill Gon­za­lez.

“Mis­takes are bound to be made,” Gon­za­lez said, “so safety should be the pri­mary thing to look for.” And in that re­gard, she added, big­ger ve­hi­cles “with a low cen­ter of mass tend to be safer.”

Con­sumer Re­ports rec­om­mends safety fea­tures such as elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol and am­ple airbag pro­tec­tion for young driv­ers. If pos­si­ble, the mag­a­zine sug­gested stretch­ing in price for a model that has for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing and au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing.

Do your home­work on the mod­els you’re con­sid­er­ing. How did a cer­tain make and model per­form in crash tests? Use the ve­hi­cle iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber to check for any his­tory of crashes and re­calls.

And even if you’re buy­ing from a friend or neigh­bor, ask to see re­ceipts for oil changes and other stan­dard main­te­nance.

To get the most for your money, also look at gas con­sump­tion, Gon­za­lez said. If your teen is go­ing to be re­spon­si­ble for keeping the tank full, is a gas-guz­zler re­ally ideal?

Gon­za­lez of­fered one fi­nal shop­ping tip: Find a car that likely won’t need too many re­pairs and one you ex­pect will last a long time, at least through the high school and col­lege years.

Which comes back to the ques­tion of what are the best used cars for kids?

Let’s start with what isn’t rec­om­mended for young driv­ers, namely large pick­ups and SUVs be­cause they can be more dif­fi­cult to han­dle. On the other end, smaller sports cars in­crease the risk of speed­ing and ac­ci­dents. Like­wise, ex­perts rec­om­mend steer­ing clear of com­pacts and sub­com­pacts.

That leaves mid-size cars with­out too much horse­power as the top choice for teens, as long as the ve­hi­cle is not too old. That’s perhaps not what your teen had in mind, but mid-size ve­hi­cles are big enough to pro­tect oc­cu­pants in a crash and small enough to be easy to han­dle.

In­surance also is a con­sid­er­a­tion, be­cause rates for teen driv­ers of­ten are high. In 2013, for in­stance, teens caused $10 bil­lion in to­tal costs of mo­tor ve­hi­cle in­juries, ac­cord­ing to the CDC. Smaller and mid-size cars with safety fea­tures have bet­ter in­surance rates.

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