Kid n’ Cars: Picking a good used car

Kid n’ Cars: Picking a good used car

Did my last post convince you to consider buying your kids a car?  Awesome!

With all the crazy things people do the their cars, it’s tough to find a good one.  So, here are a few things to think about when going car shopping.

Something reasonable

Don’t get your 6ft punk-rock son a pink compact sedan.

I’m a fan of matching the car to your child’s personality… letting them pick something that suits their personal style, yet meets some reasonable stipulations.

Consider gas mileage.  You’re not paying for their gas, right?  So, they better be able to afford it.

Number of seats.  The fewer the better, but two-door two-seaters are considered sports cars… no matter what they actually are.

Horsepower to curb weight (insurances use this to calculate rates.  Higher the ratio, the more you pay.  Buy something heavy with little horsepower.  What’s that?  Any Volvo.)

Black and red cars get pulled over most often.  Why do I know that?



That looks reasonably close, right?

I know all the crazy kids these days want to be Faster and Most Furiousest, but being responsible parents, we should shy away from those non-stock cars. 

No matter how small a modification to the car is, any change from stock can lead to unforeseen issues in the future, from big things like excessive tire wear and broken suspension parts, to little things like shortened bulb life. No matter what, a car that’s been modified will wind up costing your child more in future repairs… even if looks cool.

Here’s a tip:  Take a picture of a stock vehicle with you and see how different it is from the car you’re looking at.


Soon to need

I think we’re good here.

There are many replaceable and wearable parts on a car, so keep your eye out for them.  See if the owner has records for the three B’s

  • brakes
  • battery
  • belts

Spark plugs and wires are relatively cheap, but it’s nice to know if you won’t replace them soon.  Many newer cars have changed firing mechanisms, so don’t worry too much if these receipts are missing.

Tires can be checked on your own.  In most States, a car fails inspection when the tread depth is below 2/32″ inch on two consecutive rows of tread.  What’s that mean?  Well, that’s a unit of measure America uses to measure distance. Hey, we’ll switch to the metric system when everyone else does. It also means you’ll have to replace tires if you can see all of Lincoln’s head when sticking a penny in the tread.

The old owner

Is “Stone” a lacrosse team?

The old owner can tell you a lot about the condition of the car.  Is the old owner a teenager that looks like they took pride in their baby?  How about an elderly woman who only drove the car to church and back (’cause it’ll likely need a muffler replaced soon)?

Take a look at any stickers or magnets or “personalized” items.  If they don’t fit your teens’ personality, you may want to add in a good detailing job or the cost to replace those parts to the cost of the car.




The spare tire. While you’re checking tread depth, don’t forget to look in the trunk to make sure the car has a spare tire.

Radio. While we definitely don’t want our babies blaring that Rock n’ Roll music too loud, we also don’t want them to fork out money to replace the radio (even though I suggest taking the radio out for the first year of driving). Turn it on and make sure it tunes your kid’s favorite station. If it’s a CD player, bring a CD and make sure it works. Likewise, plugging in the iPod to an aux port isn’t a bad idea.

Doors etc. Open all the doors. You’ve opened the trunk looking for the spare… so keep it up and pop open the hood and gas cap, too. This makes sure all the buttons work and there’s no damage preventing parts from opening. Everything open? Great! Get in and open all the windows. If it has power windows, check from the driver’s door andfrom the doors themselves. Check the sunroof while you’re at it… and power mirrors if the car has them.

Test drive. Turn the radio off for the test drive and listen for bumps, rubs, and squeaks. Pay attention to if they happen on bumps and/or turns. Note these to your mechanic, so he can check it out! Test the heater and A/C if the car has it. I also like to drive a bit without the seat-belt to make sure it’s got a really annoying beep as a reminder.


Yeah, that’s one of those… uh… things. All cars have that.

Dents and dings are to be expected, but anything taped on is cause for concern.

Give a good look at the paint:

  • Does it look like the owner kept the vehicle clean and waxed?
  • Are there any mis-matched color areas?
  • Does the paint seem to shine as you’d expect for a car of its age?
  • Are there rust areas?  Are they covered with paint, but still bubbling?

A history report of the vehicle can be a good investment.  Likewise, there’s no replacement for your mechanic giving the vehicle a once over. Bring along the list of items you noticed from the test drive.  If the seller refuses to let you take it to your mechanic, refuse to let them take your money.


Bye Sweetie! Have fun.

Well, I think we found my little girl a good one!  Happy hunting.


Note* The term “stock” refers to the way the vehicle originally came off the assembly line.





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