Every year right around this time, I see parents make a big mistake. It starts when they sit down to think about sending their kids off to high school or college for the new year. Maybe the kid just got their driver’s license or is heading to school out of state. In that situation, parents with means often think, “Well, now’s the time to give Junior a car!”
That is a really generous idea. A car is an amazing gift, and in my opinion, everyone should have one (no surprise coming from a car repairman!) However, I think it’s a big mistake to give your kid a car without strings attached. It’s important for a child to work and save up for their vehicle. They don’t need to pay for the whole thing, but they should at least chip in on the purchase.
There are a few reasons I have this perspective. First of all, it’s what I did as a kid. My very first car was a used Chevy Chevelle, and I worked on the farm for years to save up for it. I ended up saving around $2,000 —which was a lot of money back then considering my family lived for years without running water or electricity. The car itself cost about $3,500 or $4,500, so I saved up around half.
Chipping in made me feel great. I still remember the first time I drove that car to school. Usually I rode the school bus, so driving myself felt like a privilege. My dad paid for my car insurance, but every other vehicle-related expense, including maintenance, oil changes, and gas was on me. If I wanted to go somewhere, I had to save for gas money!
If a kid works for their car, they'll take better care of it and really look after it. I know I did. I don't just think this because of my experience, though. Since I’m in the car repair business, I’ve actually seen the way kids treat cars when they get them for free from Mom and Dad.
A lot of young people come into the shop with cars their parents bought them. More often than not, these cars have never been washed, never been cleaned on the inside, and they’re all banged up on the outside. It’s not a big deal for these kids if they bump into the curb or open their door into something and scratch it up. Why? Well, they don’t appreciate how much hard work it takes to save up for a car.
Once, I worked with a father and son and saw this happen right in front of me. The dad had owned a particular car for a long time. I’d
serviced it for him for years and it looked brand new. Then, he gave it to his son, and within six months, the boy had trashed it! The car
was completely destroyed, not because the kid was trying to tear it to pieces but because he just didn’t care about it. He never washed
it, cleaned it, or put in the effort to take care of it.
As a car man, it hurts for me to see vehicles get so roughed up. In my own house, I laid down the law with my kids early: “No job, no car.” They all had to work for their vehicles and maintain them themselves. I think both having an income and taking care of a car early on helps prepare kids for the real world, where they’ll have to juggle those responsibilities.
If you’ve been thinking about giving your kid a car at the end of this summer, I hope this story has made you think twice. I’m all for car
ownership, but only as long as it comes with responsibility!
- Randy Bunn