It seems like yesterday that when your kid was “cruising,” it meant clumsily toddling around in a diaper. But, no sooner than you ditched the car seat, your “little one” is asking for his own keys to the car. Pause…. take a breath…. and let us help you turn this from a cringe-worthy moment to a teachable one.


First things first — put it in park. Consider how a new vehicle fits into your family’s budget. Will your teen be the only one using this car? Understanding how and when your family will use the vehicle will help you prioritize how much you want to spend.

Don’t forget to factor in all the relevant costs:

  • The vehicle itself
  • Fuel
  • Insurance
  • Parking
  • Maintenance
  • Registration, fees, inspection and taxes

Involve your teen in the conversation — helping them understand the significance of a large purchase is a major part of this milestone experience. This is also a good time to evaluate how your teen can contribute financially to the purchase and upkeep of their vehicle. Even if your teen can’t purchase a vehicle by themselves, you may be able to compromise on who pays insurance and gas costs.


Once you’re ready to start researching and shopping, you may experience the struggle between your kid’s flashy car desires versus the need for practical transportation. Does your teen really need a brand new luxury vehicle? They may want it, but that may not be in the budget.

It might be difficult, but resist the temptation to look at sporty, luxury, or large vehicles. After all, your teen probably only needs practical transportation, and these vehicles can be costly to maintain and insure. Plus, large vehicles are notorious for not getting the best fuel mileage. Instead, consider compact vehicles, small sedans from mainstream brands to maximize fuel mileage, safety features and keep sticker prices in check.

With the rising costs of used vehicles in recent years, it may be more practical to consider an auto loan for a new vehicle, or even a lease. Once you have a figure that you’re comfortable spending, check out the local marketplace and see what possibilities are available.

Some cars, while fine for experienced drivers, may have too much power for a young driver. While cost is always a factor, safety is the main priority. A small engine size may be more suitable for your teen, especially when the car has advanced safety features and better, more responsive handling that complements teens’ reflexes. Safety features have changed dramatically in recent decades, so it may be more difficult to find a comparable used vehicle to the new model year ones on the market.


It’s time to merge finances, and make sure you and your teen are in the same lane. Now’s the perfect time to discuss with your teen in advance whether you’re footing the bill or sharing the costs of driving. Owning a car is a major milestone. By involving your teen from the beginning and giving them financial responsibility, they’ll feel more invested in their vehicle. It’s also important to discuss the cost of gas, insurance, maintenance, and repairs. Together you can come up with savings strategies and a way for your teen to contribute. Whether it be through a part-time job or by extra chores around the house, it’s important to make sure the expectations are known before you hand over the keys.


After you’ve done the homework of discerning needs, the fun part begins. It’s time to go shopping! Make a checklist of “must haves” and “nice to haves.” Refer to this list when looking online or visiting dealerships. Narrow down your search to a few vehicles that fall within your budget. Look into Auto Buying Programs like Navy Federal’s that will do the research for you.

You’ll want to take your teen along for a test drive so they’re comfortable with the price and how the vehicle handles.

Then, it’s time to get pre-approved for a loan if you’re financing a vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying new or used, getting pre-approved will allow you and your teen to shop with confidence. Plus, then you know you’re driving away with great rates and a good deal.

After this, your teen will be ready to hit the road with their new wheels!

Federally insured by NCUA.