Used Car Shopping For Teen Driver: Harder Than It Looks

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Parent challenge: purchasing the perfect first used car for your teen driver.

We’ve had a really hard time locating a  loved and gently used car  for our teen driver; something we could be happy having our teen drive.

Our daughter has had her license for months, and with the chaos of after school events and three kids, it’s high time to have help from another driver. I’m not kidding, I almost walked into a Papa Johns one day because one of the ‘delivery’ cars out front was a Saturn, and ever since we sold our then 12 year old Saturn we have kicked ourselves for not holding on to it a few years longer. Talk about the PERFECT new driver teen car?? We sold it for $1,600 knowing it had never broken down and probably never would! 130,000 miles and would keep ticking forever. I still wonder if that pizza delivery dude would have been happy to talk car shop with me or not?

Have you tried looking for a $2,000 to $3,000 used car these days? 

Used Car

Buying the perfect used car is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Good luck.
Even the slimiest used car lots have at most one or maybe two cars under $5,000; forget about under $3,000.

Carmax maybe? Nope, the prices there are more like first job type used cars, NOT a first teen car! is another option (our local newspaper doesn’t run auto ads) but most of the cars listed there are vehicles the dealers won’t sell on their lots.

And I quote: This vehicle failed to meet (Insert Dealer Name) retail used car inspection. Pre-Auction Cars have issues including, but not limited to: Mechanical, Driveability, Cosmetic, etc.

Gee. No thanks.

Used Car

Buying a gently used car for a new teen driver.

Are we really so crazy as to think this car exists for us?  

We were hoping for under 150,000 miles, maybe under 10 years old and NOTHING fancy. A small car but not so small it would get smashed on the road, ya know?

We’ve been doing the ‘soft search’… driving by used car lots, perusing a few websites and asking friends if they know anyone ready to off-load an older well-loved car.

And boom, it dropped in our laps. A cute little family moving across the country hoping to sell their Oldsmobile Aurora instead of hauling it 3,000 miles.

Possibly the perfect new (old) car for us?

It’s a 2001 Aurora, and even though GM stopped making them in 2004 it’s a solid car. (Besides they stopped making Saturns too and I’d buy a used Saturn in a heartbeat!) It has over 130K miles and a recent trip to the mechanic came back with a ‘possible’ problem with the A/C in the near future. But it currently functions. And the car runs really well.

Sexy is NOT a word you would use to describe this car. Which is EXACTLY why it’s the perfect car for a new teen driver!

My daughter ,when she first test drove it, said “Dad! This car is nicer than YOURS!”

Strange luxury? It has a leather interior, auto lights, electric locks, windows and chair adjustment, plus dual front A/C zones.

Then she said: “Hey, what is that thingy in the dash console by the radio?”

Used Car

Introducing your teen to old technology in a used car.

Oh, that technology is called a CA-SSETTE player, dear.  And don’t worry– they make an adaptor so your iPhone can still play your music through the car speakers.

After a few conversations and some decision making, we agreed to a price tag of under $3000 (especially with the risk of the A/C going out in the heat of the Charlotte area!).

While price is what inspired us, we also want to be sure our precious darling teen is safe behind the wheel. In addition to the mechanic’s inspection of the car, you should also:

  • Check the car for recalls
  • Make sure the car has at least six airbags
  • Do a title search to make sure the car has not been badly wrecked, flooded or otherwise compromised and you know what you’re getting. TIP: Carfax is a good place to start
  • Look for a car with OnStar, BlueLink or other connectivity options; many of these allow you to track the car, get a notice when it’s out beyond a set geographic zone or past a set curfew, and often offer a connection to emergency operators even when cell phone service is not available
  • Consider enrolling your teen in a defensive driving course; that’s how drivers learned to respond to wet roads, unpredictable conditions and erratic and potentially dangerous traffic situations before we had so many modern features like stability control and blind spot detectors.

Carissa Rogers was a molecular biologist in her former life, but now she is the chief researcher of bloggy... More about Carissa Rogers