One thing teenagers are always enthusiastic about is getting their first car. Unfortunately, however, they are usually far more interested in cool features like satellite radio and custom speakers than they are about the features that will work to keep them safe while driving their first car. That’s where you come in: you need to check your teen’s first car for safety issues whether you purchase it for them or they bought it with proceeds from their first job.
Sure, you no doubt face an argument if your teen chooses the vehicle and pays for even part of the down payment or full cost of his or her first car. But a little parent-teen tension is always preferable to an accident or crisis that can be averted, right?
With this in mind, here you will find a checklist of some of the top features and components on your teen’s first car, especially when the vehicle is used, that you should check fully. If you aren’t terribly experienced with a car beyond driving it yourself, you may want to take the car, truck, or SUV in to your most trusted mechanic or garage and ask them to perform a thorough inspection for you (although you may want to take this checklist along to be sure they cover everything).
Also, be aware that even if your state requires a full vehicle inspection to get a car registered, you probably don’t want to depend on the very basic check done as part of this kind of inspection for safety. Some of these inspections aren’t very robust and may not catch everything that could go wrong or are already faulty.
Be sure that both the brakes and the brake lights work. Test them under various road conditions for responsiveness. If there is any sound coming from the brakes or any slowness in response, have the brake system thoroughly checked and, if needed, serviced. Also check the brake fluid and remind your teen to do the same.
2. Air bags
More and more vehicles today come equipped with airbags. But you’d be surprised at the number of ways people have found to get around the high cost of replacement air bags if the original issue air bags have been deployed either because of an accident or a near miss. Do your best – probably through your mechanic – to be sure that any air bags that are supposed to be in a used car are indeed in place.
From turn signals to brake lights to headlights all the way through to hazard lights, check each and every one on a used vehicle to make sure they work. If not, they can usually be replaced for just a few dollars (or $20 or more for a headlight assembly) and a few minutes of your time.
How many times have you seen a teenager buy a great looking vehicle only to later learn that the tires on that vehicle are as bald as Montel Williams or Paul Schaeffer? Look closely at the wear on the tires, both for overall tread as well as evenness of wear. If there is any question of their suitability, get them replaced.
5. Spare tire and jack
You’ll be sadly surprised how many times a used car buyer of any age only discovers the first time they get a flat that their purchase did not include either a suitable spare, a full car jack, or both. Your teen probably won’t look; you should do this for him or her.
6. Seat belts
Seat belts are another thing that some people tend to play with to try to fool seat belt sensors in a car because the previous owner didn’t like to wear them. Although your teenager may not check to be sure that all seatbelts are in place and ready to use, you should.
Here’s an important bonus: one of the best gifts you can give a teenager with his or her first car is a good emergency kit which should include a flashlight, road flares or emergency illumination, jumper cables, a blanket, water and a small amount of food, and anything else you think might be very useful if someone gets stuck in a car. Obviously, a cell phone comes in useful for such emergencies as well.