I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place: buying a sensible car for my daughter vs. wanting her to still look "cool."
Sarah Bowman: I was pretty smug for the first year of my daughter's licensed life. She drove my seven-year-old Volvo wagon, a gray-green mom car with ski racks and sleek lines that only someone who grew up in the 1970s could love. It was by no means a sexy vehicle to be spotted pulling into the high-school parking lot in. Naturally, she protested against it vehemently, naming it "the T.K." because the roof racks whistled like a tea kettle when the car hit 30 mph. But wheels are wheels, and the T.K. took her through her first year of driving -- safely.
More than a few of my daughter's friends got brand-new cars for their birthdays, some before they even turned 16. I was proud of our old-school values, especially since I didn't have to shell out extra cash for a teen car. I could tsk-tsk shamelessly when told about kids whose new wheels wound up in the shop after some gnarly fender-benders. But now that it has served a full year of teen duty, the T.K. is ready for the warehouse. Too many miles logged, too many costly parts and too much cash at the pump to justify putting the trusty old turbocharged monster through another tour of duty. So here I am, poised to buy my daughter a new car -- and finding myself woefully stuck between my old smug position and the insecurity of not having a clue what car to buy next.
Old school values lead me to gently used car with low mileage and a solid safety record. I'm checking out Hondas and Volkswagens. But they feel too much like sensible shoes, and it's kind of a bummer that after a year of good behavior (no accidents and no tickets), I can't slip my daughter behind the wheel of something fabulous. My husband says I'm trying to keep up with the Joneses as I sift through Internet listings for late-model Audi A4s (seemingly the cars of choice for fancy Westside teens). We have a sturdy Honda Civic sedan all picked out; it comes in a pretty blue and has a great stereo system. Will that make my daughter's heart skip a beat? Or will she just grimace lovingly, name it something silly (like "Blueberry") and start campaigning for a Blackberry for her birthday?
The truth behind all of this angst is that whatever car we get will be the car that takes her out of our driveway and into the world. Symbolically, it'll always be her "first car" (she'll conveniently forget the poor T.K.) -- so, like any significant gift, I want it to be perfect. Something with a low owner cost, but enough street cred to make that swing into the school parking lot a good feeling every morning. There isn't really a car out there that fits this description; the Prius might do the trick, but who would put their child in a recalled runaway, even if 40 mpg is pretty darn sweet? Besides, my 14-year-old, a boy who will soon inherit this car, informed me that the Prius is totally uncool. So that's my message to the design gurus at GM: If you can figure out this conundrum, you'll have mothers lining up with their checkbooks. It might just solve your cash-flow problem, too.
|Sarah Bowman is the co-founder of Kids Off the Couch.com. She has a BA in Semiotics from Brown University and worked in the film business as a studio executive before becoming a writer. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two teenagers.|