How Much Should You Help Your Kids With Their First Car?

When it comes to helping your kids get their first car, opinions run the gamut regarding how much help to be. On the one hand, you’ve got the sink-or-swim parents who can’t or won’t provide any aid whatsoever, because suffering builds character or whatever. On the other hand, you’ve got the parents who have a gleaming orange Hummer, with a gleaming orange bow, in the driveway on the morning of their daughter’s 16th birthday. Neither of these strategies is inherently wrong. Your choice of how much or little to help little so-and-so with their first car is up to you. Here are a few ways you might consider helping (or not).

  • Car Insurance. It’s pretty common for parents to pay for their kids’ car insurance. And it’s not just because that’s the nice thing to do. Car insurance payments must be made monthly. If there is an insurance lapse, this is a big deal that could get your kid into legal trouble. If they don’t have reliable income of their own, because they’re in school and all, it may be up to you to see to it that they’re not a danger to themselves or to others by driving while not insured. Of course, you may have a son or daughter who is able to handle this responsibility on their own. It’s up to you. Just make sure it gets done, by hook or by crook.
  • Car Maintenance. For real, parents, your kids should know how to maintain their cars in a basic fashion. You’d be shocked to see how many kids get to college without even the foggiest notion of what it means to top off their fluids. Mechanics see college freshman driving around for days with little to no oil, or engines that overheat because the kid doesn’t really know what coolant is. Of course, kids should take the time to research the two-ton death machine they drive. But many don’t. Make it a prerequisite for ownership that your child must display basic car maintenance proficiency, if they hope to get behind the wheel.
  • A Car. This is the big one. Do you pay for the car or not? Do you split costs? Do you buy the car yourself and lend it out on the regular to your little rugrat? There is no easy answer to these questions, and no two families will approach this situation in exactly the same way. If you buy a car for your child, you won’t necessarily produce a spoiled brat. And if you make the kid work a summer job for 80 hours a week to afford his first beater, you won’t necessarily raise a paragon of personal integrity. Do what works for your family. Use this as an opportunity to instill good financial sense in the child, having him or her take part in the selection of the proper vehicle and finding a good price, no matter who goes on to pay for it.

There are other ways to help your kid with his or her car, but these are the most important questions about how money plays into the process.