After my first car was totaled by a distracted driver on my way home from the SAT, my aunt was nice enough to give me her 1995 Mazda Protege as a replacement. It didn’t have modern safety features like stability control, but to most people, it looked like a great car for a teen. It was small, worth next to no money, reliable, inexpensive to insure, and so horrendously slow that it would take just over 20 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour if there were four people in the car.
I also once found an empty, open stretch of road where I was able to get it up to 95 miles per hour, and if I hadn’t slowed down when I did, the speeding ticket I received wouldn’t have probably come with some serious consequences. Even so, I ended up having to pay a hefty fine for doing 74.
By their very nature, teenagers are terrible at making driving decisions. Recently, I realized that maybe giving teens used cars is the wrong approach — maybe the best car to give a teen is actually a brand new electric car.
The best thing about a new electric car is, of course, that it’s new. There’s certainly the risk that your teen will crash it, but since they’re new, electric cars come with modern technology and safety features that you can’t always get in budget used cars. The Nissan Leaf, for example, comes standard with stability control, traction control, and modern airbags. Even the cheaper Chevrolet Spark EV offers stability control, traction control, and 10 airbags as standard.
This shouldn’t be surprising since new cars are built to meet modern safety standards. The Nissan Leaf gets four stars from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as does the Chevrolet Spark. In the event that your beloved idiot teen driver has a serious wreck, you want to make sure the car they were driving keeps them safe.
In the hands of a teen driver the disadvantages of an electric car also become advantages. Not only are they slow, they’re also limited to how fast they can actually drive. The Tesla Model S is an obvious exception that you shouldn’t give to a teenager anyways, but in general, electric cars can’t go much faster than 90 miles per hour. They’re also far less efficient at highway speeds, meaning that even if your teen has the patience to get a Nissan Leaf up to 90 miles per hour, they’re also going to have to watch their remaining range plummet.
Since higher speeds are less efficient, there’s an added incentive for your teen not to speed excessively. In an electric car with a 300 mile range, that might not be the case, but with somewhere around 80 miles of range to play with, your teen will quickly realize how important it is not to needlessly waste electricity. No one wants to make an embarrassing call home to mom and dad to tell them the car is dead.
The limited range of most electric cars comes with two other advantages as well. First, your teen won’t be able to travel more than 30 or 40 miles from home, giving you the peace of mind that he or she will never be too far away. Second, your teen will also have to spend time thinking about the future, planning their moves based on the car’s available range. Developing those skills will come in handy since teens generally have little regard for taking time to make plans.
Assuming you lease the car, electric cars are also easily affordable for someone working a part-time job. Since there’s no gas to buy, they only real cost is the lease itself. Again, assuming you don’t go with a Tesla Model S, your teen could easily make the payments and still have money left over to waste on whatever it is that teenagers spend their money on.
Electric cars are also less expensive to insure, making it even more affordable to lease one than you might have thought.
The only disadvantage is that the lease will run out about the time your teen heads to college. Then again, a lot of colleges don’t allow freshmen to keep cars on campus, and even those that do are usually set up to make having a car unnecessary. If a specific need arises for your teen to still have a car, you can always consider buying the car at the end of the lease.
If you like the idea of car ownership and aren’t a big fan of leasing, even an electric car, used Nissan Leafs are already going for less than $10,000. Purchasing one or helping your teen purchase one wouldn’t be expensive at all, and you would still see most of the benefits I’ve already mentioned.
I could definitely see an electric car being a bad choice in a rural area where traveling more than 80 miles per day is common and where a charging network is almost nonexistent, but even in a lot of suburban areas, it definitely has a potential. Run your own numbers, weigh the pluses against the minuses, and make sure you’re making the right decision, but in the end, you may find that driving an electric car really is the best option for your teen.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.