Buying your kids their own car may prove to be the best solution

September 13, 2005|By SUSAN REIMER

WHEN COMEDIAN Bill Cosby played the Naval Academy, he told the midshipmen audience that their parents should be so grateful for the free education that they should not only buy their kids a car, they should fill the trunk with money.

According to a recent survey, three out of four students ages 16 to 22 - most of whom are not midshipmen - have their own cars, and half of those cars were purchased outright for them by their parents. Also according to the survey by AutoExtra.com, 82 percent of the cars were purchased used and most of them cost under $10,000.

It seems as if the car has replaced the two-wheeler as the last form of transportation a parent is required to provide.

"Today's society is automobile driven," said Lauren Fix, whose advice on buying cars, caring for them and keeping yourself safe has made her "The Car Coach" on television, in magazines and on the Web.

"Sharing rides would be great. Learning to use mass transportation is a good skill. But the fact is, our kids have to have a way to get where they are going, and we can't always do it.

"Face it. It is inconvenient to turn one of the family cars over to the kids. And there are so many used cars out there, it is easy to get a car for under $10,000."

However, she said, parents need to evaluate their child as carefully as they might check out a used car. Are they mature enough for a set of car keys? Are they good enough drivers, and are they up to the responsibility?

"You have to look at your kid the same way you would look at an elderly person. You can't just do it because it is convenient."

According to the AutoExtra.com survey, Chevy Blazers and Ford Rangers and Toyota 4Runners are among the most popular used cars as parents opt for size and safety - not necessarily fuel economy.

Fix says there should be other items on parents' safety checklist:

Side-impact air bags in addition to dashboard air bags; traction control for slippery conditions; stability control to prevent rollovers; and anti-lock brakes so the driver can brake and steer at the same time.

"Newer is safer," said Fix, who offers more tips for buying your kid's first car on her Web site.

Before you decide on a purchase, she said, consult your insurance agent. Rates may be cheaper for a new Kia than for a used Taurus. And multiple safety features can lower the cost of coverage.

"But before you buy, have a certified mechanic look it over," she said. Flood-damaged cars may soon hit the used-car market, she warned.

There are a couple of extras parents should put in the trunk of their child's car, she said: an emergency safety kit and an accident kit.

"A little fender bender will freak your child out. All they will be able to think about is the fact that you are going to kill them."

But for $19.99, Docudent.com will provide a step-by-step accident guide, pad and pen, a disposable camera, a measuring tape, a flashlight, an emergency whistle and advice on when to call the police.

"It can save you a lot of hassle with the insurance company later," she said.

And it appears parents will have to follow Bill Cosby's advice and fill up that trunk with money.

The AutoExtra.com survey revealed that 83 percent of the students are responsible for paying for gasoline.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, many of these kids are commuting to school and cars have become a necessity," said Clay Gill, vice president of AutoExtra.com

"Fuel prices are going to teach all of us money management, budgeting and the benefits of carpooling," she said.

And one final item from the AutoExtra.com survey:

Seventy-two percent of the parents did not have cars bought for them when they were students.

And 100 percent of those parents mentioned that fact to their kids.

For more information, visit www.AutoExtra.com; www.laurenfix.com and www.docudent.com.

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