Buying Your Teen The Wrong Car Can Have Drastic Results

The Four Wheel Drift from Apex Marketing Strategy

One of the most popular articles I’ve ever written for The Four Wheel Drift is “The Incomplete Guide to Buying a Car for Your Teen”. Today I’ll try to expand on the original guide by showing what happens when parents don’t follow some common sense guidelines.

No matter how many times I say it, parents just don’t seem to get the concept that the best vehicle for a teen should not reflect what a parent currently wants in their own car OR what they would have liked when they were in high school. Furthermore, no matter how much a parent loves their child or how they’d like to believe the teen is responsible, a good, loving parent should look at their children the same way a insurance companies do: with a heartless and emotionless analysis of the risk of incurring financial and human loss.

From a pure numbers perspective, giving a teen a high-horsepower sports car or high-speed GT is a akin to giving them three guns with a single bullet and asking them to juggle the guns (safeties off, of course) — once a day for ten minutes. Eventually, something bad is going to happen.

And as much as you’d like to believe otherwise, if your teen wants a fast car, it is specifically because they want to experience going fast. Since you’re not taking them to the track for autocross, they’re finding the limits of adhesion on populated public roads.

Some Real Outcomes of Bad Parental Car Buying Decisions
One of the benefits of spending time around a mechanic’s shop with a tow company located in the next building is that I get to see many bad outcomes of foolish decisions parents make. Here are a few favorites from just the last month. (Yes, these are just from the last month!!!)

305hp+16yo=THIS (a.k.a. The Mustang Cobra Calamity)
So, your 16-year-old son comes to you and says he wants you to buy him a used Mustang Cobra…what do you say? You should say “Over my dead body”, because you’re increasing the risk of his dead body if you say yes.

Unfortunately, a local family felt differently. It was this 3400-pound 1990’s Mustang Cobra with 305 horsepower that a 16-year-old crashed into a tree. I should make it crystal clear that an irresponsible kid will find a way to crash anything…and any modern car is capable of deadly speeds, but a high-horsepower sports (or sporty) car statistically increases the probability of high-risk driving behavior.

Given the damage, it is apparent the driver induced an oversteer condition, which sent the car’s passenger side rear rotating towards a tree at high speed. While the speed limit was reportedly 35 mph, this car evidently hit at equal or greater speed. Racers know that when a car skids, it scrubs-off speed quickly, so to hit a tree at the speed limit, the car would have to be exceeding the speed limit prior to the skid.

Luckily the driver had no rear seat passengers, otherwise the deformation to the area behind the b-pillar could have easily resulted in the right-side-rear seat occupant being struck in the head and killed.

The Case of “What Do You Get A Son Who Has Already Wrecked Three Cars?”
This is one of the most sickening cases of car-related parental failure/insanity I have witnessed in a long time. Last week I was rebuilding Weber carburetors for the Ferrari 308 GT4 at my friend’s shop when a couple who regularly have their cars worked on in the shop came in and asked the owner to take a look at their son’s car in the impound yard next door. Their eighteen-year-old son had “been in an accident” the previous night.

The car in the yard looked nothing like the rare Euro-spec Mercedes E190 1.5-16 (a competitor to the BMW’s first-generation M3) the parents had bought the son after he had wrecked no less than three previous cars. Each time, the parents believed the impacts were the result of some unfortunate, unforeseen incident that wasn’t the fault of the boy. Of course, the parents didn’t want to believe that their little darling was responsible for these single-vehicle impacts, all which had signs of hitting something (like a curb) at high speeds.

So they found this rare car — one that Mercedes built to homologate the model for production touring car racing. While the 200 ballpark horsepower produced by the Cosworth-designed 16-valve engine seems tame by modern standards, the taught suspension and close-ratio gearbox make it tempting to drive the vehicle hard and fast.

Certainly, this fourth obvious combination of speed, irresponsible behavior and destruction would finally change the parent’s opinion, right? Nope… the mom explained that her son had been driving home the previous night and hit a “slippery patch” on a corner going the 35 mph speed limit. The slip, the mom explained, forced the car into a tree, which in turn launched the the Mercedes onto its top, and ended with the car sliding upside-down some additional hundreds of feet.

One look at the car and it was apparent that the driver had to have been going at the very least 60 mph to have impacted the tree at no less than 50 mph to cause the extent of the damage. The question: was it my place to explain that the son’s story didn’t hold water?

Softly and cautiously, I expressed my amazement to the mother that the son had escaped with just a small cut on his arm and a minor concussion, “because that car had to hit the tree at well over 50 mph for this amount of lateral distortion of the rear to occur.”

Quickly, the mother defended the son’s story.

The father, with whom I’d stood as he examined and arranged to buy his son’s “dream car” just eight months prior, looked up at explained that he had already been on eBay to find a replacement. He also asked if the shop owner’s VW Corrado project was possibly for sale.

I walked away in disgust.

Back in the shop with the customers still in the yard, one of the employees walked behind the counter and removed a note with a stack of $10 bills stapled to the wall. The note contained employee estimates of time it would take for the teen to total this car – all wagers had been made the day the car was purchased.

The moral to the story: Don’t lie to yourself about your children. Almost every single teen is a bad driver due to inexperience. Of that group, a large percentage suffers from a gross lack of respect for physics.

Data proves that collisions involving teen drivers are usually caused by speed and driver error. If the impact is a result of speed, following too closely, or inattentive driving, that’s not an accident…it’s negligence.

An accident means someone hit them and there wasn’t a single thing they could do…or at very least a totally unforseen event like a wheel/tire/suspension/mechanical failure. You know it’s an accident when the insurance companies consider it one, like with deer and dog strikes being treated as comprehensive claims. By the way, if your teen claims an animal hit them, they better produce a carcass, or at least a good fur or blood trail.

A parent who buys a fast car for their teen has no right to refer to a single vehicle collision as an accident. When a parent gives a untrained child a loaded weapon and tells them to play with it, the parent’s sanity should be questioned.

Don’t be an insane parent! The Injury, Accident and Theft Loss and Driver Death Rates reports compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety prove which vehicles are more dangerous due bad engineering, cheap materials, poor performance…and most importantly the nuts behind the wheel. (If you think your child is different than the “typical” owner of a specific vehicle, you’re not only fooling yourself, you’re violating the laws of demographic and statistical analysis.)

Want your teen to be safe on the road? Follow these simple rules:

  1. Buy a front-wheel-drive midsize-to-large sedan that actual data (from the IIHS reports) proves is safe: These cars are statistically the safest on the road, providing a good blend of size, stopping ability and platform rigidity to allow room to live when the vehicle rolls or is hit. Rear-wheel-drive cars, especially those with high-torque engines and close-ratio transmissions are easy to put into a spin.
  2. Buy safety options– they save lives and are far cheaper than medical bills: The more airbags, the better. Get stability control and anti-lock brakes too!
  3. Tires, tires, tires, tires: The safest cars are still dangerous on old tires. Invest in new tires of good quality. Options, prices, reviews, and survey results are available quickly online at
  4. It isn’t about you: Buy a safe car for your teen, not a car that you thought would have been cool when you were his or her age. Just like many of you, I love old cars…I have a bunch of them, but classic cars don’t make safe daily drivers. With no airbags, crumple zones, ABS and with a habit of breaking down, they’re bad choices. (Just ask any ER or orthopedic surgeon how many horrible injuries they see from people who get hit while sitting in or standing next to their broken-down car on the highway!)
  5. Understand what message the car your teen drives sends. Others will have opinions about your purchase, especially the kids at school. No matter how much money you have, buying your teen a brand new high-priced car is NOT OKAY. Do you really want classmates to hate and mock your son or daughter for being spoiled or snooty simply because they drive an expensive car? Nobody ever is disliked for driving a Buick or minivan, but sports cars and luxury rides ruin friendships and create bad reputations, no matter how undeserved. (I went to high school with kids from some of the Northwest’s richest families, and these multi-generational big-money kids all drove their mom’s hand-me-down station wagons to teach them the value of money and the relative importance of cars to things such as education and achievement.)
  6. Whatever you end up buying, train your teen to drive it well and lead by example.
  7. Protect your investment! Get as much uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage your policy will allow. It’s cheap and protects your teen, as well as their car.
  8. Don’t be fooled: Would you rather have an angry teen riding the bus or a dead teen you can visit any time you’d like at the cemetery. If your child doesn’t exhibit the responsibility to drive, don’t buy them a car, period. And never, ever, ever, believe their version of a story that ends in their car wrapped around a tree.

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