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FIRST CAR: Teens, parents at odds over 'suitable' vehicle

FARGO Kim Tveter of Fargo knew what kind of car he wanted to buy his sons when they were 16: "A car that you knew wasn't going to be a car that would continue on after them." "We didn't want anything real expensive, but something dependable for b...

First vehicle
New driver Lauren Hovden, 16, of Fargo is driving a Chevy Blazer as her first car. (Dave Wallis / The Forum)

FARGO

Kim Tveter of Fargo knew what kind of car he wanted to buy his sons when they were 16: "A car that you knew wasn't going to be a car that would continue on after them."

"We didn't want anything real expensive, but something dependable for back and forth to school or work or activities," he says. "You kind of buy a clunker for the age group, knowing there might be a mishap here or there."

He bought both sons a 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The cars were a good fit for the Fargo South High School parking lot - "the door ding capital of the world," Tveter says.

Now his sons are 18 and 21, and Tveter is in the market for another pair of decent automobiles.

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"It's very frustrating, actually. It tires you out," Tveter says of the car-buying process. "You want to find something cheap enough, but you want something dependable, and there's a fine line between cheap and dependable."

As teens go back to school, many may want a set of wheels to get them there. And parents are usually the ones to secure the keys.

"Some kids are working, they'll come in and pay cash for a couple thousand dollars," says Todd Vetsch, general manager of Lunde Auto Center in Fargo. "Normally the parents are helping out."

Vetsch points out that teens under 18 can't have their name on the title, or secure financing, which generally ensures parental involvement.

This can set up a tug-of-war dynamic between parent and child.

"The kids want a sportier-looking car, and in a lot of cases, because of the money, it ends up being a car that's not so sporty," Vetsch says.

Wes Darling, a salesman at Ward Muscatell Subaru in Moorhead, says teens often either outdo or get something similar to their friends.

While the parents worry about safety and fuel efficiency, the teens look at sunroofs and sound systems, "more things that a person getting their first car doesn't need to have, but what they want."

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Darling says he's seen parents buy a car for their child, bring it home and return a couple of days later because the teen doesn't like it. It's a scenario that astounds Darling.

"I never had that opportunity," he says. "You're still the parent. You're still the final word, if you're paying the bill."

Tveter says his sons haven't been picky about what kind of car they get.

"They appreciate that we bought the cars that we did for them and that we're doing this for them," he says."As long as they're going to school to try to better themselves, I can try to afford to help them out."

But this time around, he said he's had a hard time finding a decent car for less than $5,000 or $6,000, he believes because of the government's Cash for Clunkers program.

"A lot of them are getting crushed," he says. "Old cars that might have been good for teens are getting traded in for new vehicles."

Used cars are generally the rule for teens, dealers say. Vetsch says parents like to pay cash for their teens' cars, so they can buy liability insurance only. If they finance it, they want a low payment. Economy and safety are their biggest concerns, he says.

Safety is why Doug Hovden of Fargo says he chose low-mileage sport utility vehicles for both of his daughters. He believed they'd do better on snowy roads, and they let the girls sit up higher.

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"I wanted to put as much car around them as possible," he says. "There's nothing a parent dreads more than getting a phone call at 1 in the morning, 2 in the morning."

For Hovden, the process of buying 16-year-old daughter Lauren's car last year started with a conversation.

There were expectations for scholastic performance, driving hours, number of passengers and cell phone use. "For God's sake, she's not going to be texting while driving," Hovden says.Driving is a privilege, not a right, he stresses.

And the Chevy Blazers weren't either daughter's first choice. They were thinking Audis, sports cars, he says.

"That's what they would've liked in the ideal world, but they understand," he says. "They were just happy to get a car, to be honest. Beggars can't be choosers."

Teen auto tips

A late-model used midsize sedan is likely the best bet for a teen's car, according to AAA, the national roadside assistance service.

The association offers a parent's guide for choosing a vehicle, which includes these tips:

_ A midsize sedan is better than a van or SUV because a sedan is less susceptible to rolling over in a crash.

_ Look for modern safety features such as an antilock brake system, daytime running lights, electronic stability control, front and side-impact airbags and adjustable/lockable head restraints.

_ Think about the added gas mileage and maintenance costs associated with older vehicles. A newer vehicle may be less expensive to own.

_ Avoid excessive mileage. A car with more miles than standard for its age may mean heavy or abusive driving.

_ Check the history, including maintenance and crash repairs, such as through a CARFAX history report.

_ Consider certified used cars, which usually were leased or had only one previous owner.

_ Look for a warranty.

_

Have the vehicle inspected at a repair facility to ensure it's roadworthy and mechanically sound.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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