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By: Michael Schaapherder

First off, I don't have any kids. Secondly, I never got given a car either. But nevertheless, this phenomenon has fascinated me for quite some time. I have overheard and witnessed many situations where parents will surprise their "grown-up" kids with a new set of wheels, from 1960s beetles to sparkling new Golf GTIs... but what is the defining factor as to deciding which car to purchase?

Now we have to take a few things into account here, first of all, there might be some financial aspect to take into consideration. Maybe a moral one too, such as your dad saying "when I was young, we worked for everything we wanted, so you're gonna do the same Sonny Boy", or maybe investing in a means of transport for your teenager will be a wise family decision that will be beneficial to everyone. Whatever the reason, you may want to consider a few aspects before you do so.

Living in South Africa, we are drastically limited to safe public transport, as well as taking into account the fact that most places are vast distances apart, so, therefore, a car is an attractive option.

If you have a son, you'll probably have a different opinion as to what car to invest in than if you have a daughter. At 18 years of age, they feel free, their whole life has led up to this point, and now is their time to impress the cherries and to explore. Most of the time when it comes to the "first car talk" they have something completely different in mind. This brings me back to this one acquaintance of mine, on his 18th birthday, his father generously rolled in a brand new Fiesta ST 200. Wow, what a feeling that must have been! When I was 18 I was convinced I could easily do with a GTI or ST, but, with age, I came to realise what an irrational decision that was from the parent's side. Yes, that might just be my opinion, but I have first-hand experience and know exactly what happens behind mommy and daddy's back when it comes to performance cars, and it usually ends in disaster. Regardless how mature and responsible you think your child is, they cannot handle that amount of power without any driving experience. Regardless of social status from either you or your offspring, this is not the way to go!

Red ribbon at the dealership

If your intention is to buy a brand new car, there isn't anything wrong with this, just be willing to deal with those dents and scratches from time to time. Buying a brand new car obviously sports updated safety, warranties, fuel economy and swift features, but in my opinion, try do as much research as possible before deciding on what to invest in. The first thing is deciding on what you need out of the car, then budget, how long you intend keeping the car for and then make and model... not just because your daughter says "it looks cute".

Nope! A second-hand car will do just fine

My step-sister got given a 1960s Volkswagen Beetle, she was into that vintage fashion lifestyle, so her mother found that to be a suitable fit (and for some odd reason, a lot of people here in South Africa recommend a Beetle for a first car).

But why? I can't understand it, they are unreliable, unstable, loud, uncomfortable coffins on wheels. You might be able to drive it well, very well in fact, but what about the other inconsiderate idiots on the roads? No ABS or traction control to help you out, YOU are the crumple zone, and the 1.5cm thick steering wheel is your airbag. Keep the beetle idea for a project car, not as a daily driver. Especially for your child's first car.

But, by no means does all this translate into every used car. My first car was 10 years older than me, the noble 1981 Toyota Corolla KE70 1.6 auto, and for a young lad, this was actually perfect. Did I have this car in mind for my first car when I was growing up? No. Was I the coolest kid on the block? Of course not. But it did what it had to do for me (most of the time). It did break down every two minutes but hey, I loved it, it taught me a lot.

Buying a car for a son is probably a lot easier than for a daughter in my opinion. Boys will be boys, they will be doing handbrake turns, filling up the boot with sound and slam on a set of glinting 18"s.

A daughter, however, is a different breed. She might even be a full-on petrolhead. But, as a parent, you don't necessarily picture your daughter stranded on the M1 South with steam rising from below the bonnet of her '96 Volvo V70 do you? No, if the budget allows, you see her in a sparkling white Hyundai i10, with a tracker, AA support and Daddy's cell number on speed dial. And as much of a cliche that might be, it is the smart move.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what you decide on as far as a first car goes, but, if there is one thing I can remind you of is the fact that it's not necessarily how you or your young ones drive, as inexperienced as they are, there are people out there on the roads that come across as if their IQ is as low as a Citi Golf in Durban. When it happens, it's too late.

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