It’s hard to believe your child is already graduating, much less getting ready to head off to college or join the workforce — first grade seems like just yesterday, after all.
You’ve worked hard to put your kids in a position to succeed, and they’ve worked hard to reach their goals. To reward that success, many parents decide to purchase a car (or help buy one, anyway) for their young students as they look toward whatever the future holds. It’s often a practical consideration as well, depending on college plans, work responsibilities and living arrangements.
So, when you’re looking at cars for your grad, here are a few questions to ask to help ensure you make a smart choice. (And, frankly, they’re good things to ask anytime you’re shopping for a vehicle.)
1. How safe is it?
Whether you’re buying a new or used car, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have useful online tools to help you find safety data on various models. IIHS has awarded Top Safety Picks since the 2006 model year, while the NHTSA site has crash-safety tests going back to 1990. Finally, the National Insurance Crime Bureau has a free service that will tell you if the car you’re considering has been reported stolen or as a salvage vehicle.
2. How reliable is it?
You don’t want your young student to end up stranded on the side of the road somewhere, or, worse yet, facing costly repair bills. Doing a little research on reliability ratings from sources such as Consumer Reports will give you insight into what other owners of the same model have experienced. There’s no guarantee that your experience will be the same, but you’ll get a good idea of what to expect. If you’re truly concerned, consider vehicles that come with a warranty, whether new or certified pre-owned.
3. How will it be driven?
Is your grad headed to college or a job a few hundred miles away? You might consider a car that gets good gas mileage (at least if you want him/her to come home to visit every once in a while), as well as one that has low maintenance costs. What about weather? If driving conditions are frequently a little hairy, all-wheel-drive might be important.
4. How much will it cost to insure?
Different cars can vary widely when it comes to insurance costs, so, when you’ve narrowed down your choices, be sure to call your independent agent to get a few insurance quotes. You might also consider putting the car on your policy as an additional vehicle, if that’s an option. If your child is still in school, ask about good student discounts. Also educate your grad about how his/her own driving behavior impacts insurance costs — not just for this car, but well into the future. Driving history follows you from car to car, after all.
5. Are there special considerations for used cars?
If you are buying a used car, there are certainly some additional things you need to consider, according to AAA. First of all, you definitely need an inspection by a repair shop you know and trust. (This should cost about one to two hours of labor.) You should ask the owner for past records if they’re available, and, if the car has between 60,000-90,000 miles, find out if the timing belt has been replaced. Finally, use Carfax or a similar service to get as much history on the vehicle as possible. Remember, if the seller is hesitant or won’t allow an inspection, proceed with caution.
A car can make life easier for both your grad and you — as long as it’s the right car. (And we don’t need to tell you this, but, no matter what your child says, a sports car is probably not the right car.) With a little bit of research and common sense, you can be confident when it’s time for your grad to hit the road.
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