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auto maintenance February 09, 2018

What car not to buy for your kids

By Douglas Flint

In today’s middle-class family it is almost a given that from the very first moment that it is legal, the kids will drive – and if they don’t have their own car they will at least have access to a family car. This is mainly because parents do not want to spend their lives chauffeuring around the kids any more than is necessary.

Judging by what I see in the local high school parking lot, the loonies are running the asylum and a lot of bad choices are being made. The high school student parking lot is full of cars that I cannot afford. Granted, this is not a safety concern, but there is a moral imperative in not buying BMWs for high school kids!

On the safety and sense side of things the basic rule is, if your kid wants it, it is probably a bad choice. One such example was towed into a shop the other day. A Honda Civic with lowered springs and a large muffler that made noises that only a teenage boy could love. A larger engine from a later model year had been stuck in, and it had been driven so hard the clutch pressure plate had been bent and twisted. This is the kind of car that is going to go airborne on a curve and wrap around a tree with four teenagers in it who were fiddling with the overpowered stereo instead of watching the road.

Another example that came into the shop was a 17-year-old full-size Bronco with tires so huge you needed a ladder to get in and out of it. I wanted nothing to do with the vehicle, but the name on the ticket beckoned (the voice was the voice of Jacob…). I called and indeed a very sensible woman whose cars I had worked on some years back answered the phone. Dumbfounded, I asked for an explanation of this monstrosity. It was what her daughter had chosen as her go-to-school vehicle. The thing was completely unstable because of the size of the tires (which also diminish the braking power), and the fact that they were rough off-road tires. Being the mercenary that I am, I did the best I could for them, but I did take the spinner (idiot knob) off the steering wheel and refused to give it back to the indignant young lady.

And no pickup trucks! Besides their inherent safety problems, teenagers will not be able to resist the temptation to let a bunch of their friends ride in the back.

If it were up to me I would remove the radio from whatever car they’re driving, as fiddling with the radio causes far more crashes than cell-phones, but I know kids too well. They would carry whatever the modern-day equivalent of a boom-box is, and hide it in the back seat, and that would be even more distracting. So let them have the factory radio only. Easier to operate while driving and not sounding good enough to really care what’s on.

Those are some extreme examples of the worst choices for a kid’s car. Now I’ll give you my picks.

The greatest safety feature in a vehicle is size. Weight of metal overpowers almost all other safety factors in a crash, but there are other things to be considered. For instance, the biggest heaviest vehicles today are almost always large SUVs, but they are often overpowered, unstable under certain circumstances, and likely to give a feeling of invulnerability even in adverse conditions. A bad combination for a 17-year-old driver. A better choice would be a used Ford Crown Victoria or – same frame – Mercury Grand Marquis. Heavy with a real frame all around, extremely stable and with a weighty engine and a lot of room between the front bumper and the driver, so that you can run into almost anything and get away unscathed. The sides and back are very strong and its low center of gravity makes it unlikely to roll. Its only flaw would be that it is mildly overpowered for a young person, but that does not outweigh its merits.

If heavy metal is not their thing, your kid can go to the old fallbacks, Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Four-cylinder models, four to six years old. I think a manual transmission is a good idea in those cars. Simpler and cheaper to fix, it is likely to keep their attention on the driving. Plus, too many people no longer know how to drive a standard transmission. Do you want your budding adult to be a helpless dolt? I would not go any smaller than those models. Civics and Corollas are good cars, but they just crumple too easily.

In these times it’s fashionable to worry about mad-cow disease, terrorist attacks, and excessive exposure to sunlight, but statistically speaking, the chances are many hundred thousand times greater that an American will be injured driving in a car, particularly a young, inexperienced driver. You can only worry about so many things, so why not worry about things that you can do something about?

And if you are currently looking to purchase a used car for your pride and joy, why not be extra cautious and have a pre-purchase check-out by the Master Techs at Wiygul Automotive Clinic! We’ll do a thorough comprehensive check-out to make sure your choice is a safe one.

Just window shopping? Feel free to call Doug, Ron, or George, and we will do our best to steer you on the right course and keep you off the rocks.

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