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Car buying, parents? Think safety first

Your 16-year-old wants a Jeep convertible. You want him to drive a Crown Victoria.

How do you find a car that will let your teen face his friends but won't make you a nervous wreck? Lauren Fix, the Car Coach and co-host of Do It Yourself Network's "Talk 2 DIY Automotive," said there are ways to satisfy both your teen's drive to be cool and your desire to keep him or her safe.

Fix knows. Her daughter Shelby turned 16 in March.

"First thing I said was, 'You're not driving my Audi,' " she said.

First and foremost is safety, said Fix. Automobile crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States, so be willing to spend a little extra for a safer vehicle.

"What's the price of safety?" Fix asked. "As much as you can afford."

Avoid cars made before 1998 because air bags were not standard equipment prior to that. Look for a car with as many safety features as possible. The more safety features, the more protection your teen will have in case of a crash. Newer cars have more of these features, such as anti-lock brakes, dual front-and-side air bags, fog lights, traction control and all-wheel drive.

And make sure all the safety equipment is working properly, Fix said.

She recommends parents look at the crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at www.nhtsa.gov, and look for cars that have scored at least a four-star rating for both front and side impact.

For example, the 2005 Chevy Cavalier received only one star out of five for side impact, she said.

"Imagine putting your child in that car," she said.

Avoid buying a sports car that may tempt your teen to drive too fast. Also, don't buy a teenager a Hummer or a sport utility vehicle.

"Kids think SUVs are invincible," said Fix. "They think, 'See how much power I have.' But remember, this is a 5,000-pound piece of metal. SUVs are hard to handle and kids can roll them."

If, however, the only choice is an SUV, she suggests you consider the Nissan Pathfinder or Toyota 4-Runner.

Midsize cars are best and provide "a little cushion room in case of a fender-bender," said Fix.

Expect to pay at least $5,000 for a car. Anything cheaper than that will need repairs, she said.

"A year-old car is a great choice," she said. "Look for a certified pre-owned, since it has a warranty. There are tons of good cars in that category."

Also consider leasing a car for your teen and have him or her help you pay the monthly payment to teach a lesson about responsibility and handling money.

Before purchasing a vehicle, you should have an Automotive Service Excellence certified technician look at it to make sure it's safe and doesn't need repairs. Fix said the service should cost around $200.

"I'm amazed how many people e-mail me with stories about how the clutch went right after they bought their $2,000 car," she said. "That's why they were getting rid of it. You don't want to put your child in a car with mechanical problems."

Don't think a current inspection sticker on the car's windshield means the car is safe. "Inspected doesn't mean anything," Fix said. "You can buy an inspection sticker anywhere."

Also get a Carfax vehicle history report, which can uncover hidden problems, such as salvage titles, odometer problems and reports on whether the vehicle is a lemon. You can get an instant report at www.carfax.com by entering the car's unique vehicle identification number (VIN).

Avoid buying an odd brand, like an Isuzu, Fix said. It may be difficult to get parts.

To keep your teen happy, Fix suggests letting him or her choose the color and perhaps a pinstriping or decal kit for the car.

"The priority to them is looking cool," she said.

Make sure you stock the car with an emergency safety kit and subscribe to a reliable emergency road service. If your teen doesn't follow the rules, don't hesitate to take his keys.

"Driving is a privilege," Fix said. "They have to understand they don't get a car just because they are 16."

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