I never got things handed to me growing up. I know what it means to have something. To earn something. I also want the best for my child. I want to provide a better life than what I had. What's a reasonable solution to a middle ground between being able to afford buying my son a new vehicle for college and or letting him struggle on his own a little to earn it for himself?

I'm living in the United States, my son's living off campus in Los Angeles.

  • 42
    A car is a pretty huge gift. I suppose I'd like to know why you want them to have a car. Is it practically required? Do they need a vehicle, or are you just saving them a bus ride? -- I went through Uni without a car, then bought one a year after finishing. This was fine.
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 11:20
  • 32
    Where are you? Local culture *might" matter? ... How far away is college for him? A.k.a does he need the car.
    – Malady
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 13:48
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    I want him to be in control of his life. I want him to go where he wants without being on someone/something else's schedule. No college policy on cars. He's living off campus in Los Angeles. I don't want him to start to feel undeservingly entitled. Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 19:06
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    Maintenance costs for a car can be really high, so buying your child a car isn't 100% a gift. Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 19:21
  • 3
    This varies a lot on location/culture. In the US car ownership may be much more expected than the UK, for example.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 13:01

24 Answers 24


I like the way my mother did:

I told my mother I was going to buy my first car. She listened to me, my budget, my pro's and con's and once I had picked a car I could afford and was planning to get it she figured out I was serious and told me that she had "a little something extra" for me.

This method meant that I had experienced the pricing of cars, had to evaluate what was possible with my budget, thus having a sense of worth. And after that had happened, I got a bonus allowing me to get some better features. Because I had researched it enough, I also knew the added worth my mother provided me.

  • 8
    Target a used car but not too old. A new car is going to be a burden on insurance, and an old car is going to be a burden on maintenance. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 16:39

Mine is getting ready to head off to college soon too, it's a fine line to tread between spoiling and being too detached. The way I put it to my kid is that as long s/he is either gainfully employed or doing reasonably well in education (just generally bettering his situation) I am willing to help out. I wouldn't buy my kid a car unless he put up some money for it. I happen to possess decent mechanical skills, so if I'm paying for it outright, it's going to be a fixer-upper that he is going work with me on weekends to fix up together. If he wants something flashier, I will match whatever amount he can put up for it. Either way, he's earning it, but still getting a friendly bailout from the bank of dad or getting a useful apprenticeship down at Dad's auto repair school. Kinda win-win in my opinion.


Buy him a used vehicle. Let hm earn his first "new" car.

I am like you; I worked for everything I got. I started working after school at 15, and at 17 I bought my first used Volkswagen Bug for 400$ (monthly payments of $25, plus insurance and gas. But my parents were poor. Getting help from them was out of the question.

I wanted a better life for my kids, but didn't want them to feel "rich". We gave my eldest the Odyssey we used for six years. It lasted him all through college and a number of years after that. We gave another child a Honda Civic that had been driven for four years. Five years later, he's still driving it. Etc.

My kids have had a much better life than I did. They're all working at jobs/careers they appreciate deeply and feel good about, if not exactly love, and I helped them to get there. All but one is in a 'service to the community' career (medicine, nursing, teaching.) They all are financially responsible for their own debts. So far, they haven't asked me for anything, so I think they mostly don't feel entitled.

When one comes from a background of poverty and "makes it", it's hard to navigate what to do for children. Mine had daily "farm" chores (which their friends never had) but they also had rich experiences their friends never had.

Good luck, it's a difficult line to tread.

  • 52
    Many would argue its good financial discipline to never buy a new car.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 15:10
  • 12
    @T.E.D. - Yes, many would. That's not necessarily the point. For me, it's a luxury I can afford, no matter what others say or think. Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 15:32
  • 2
    Legit. I know engineers who do that, and buy the warrantees, and look at it as like having car repair insurance. Sure, it costs way more in the long run, but you don't have to worry about suddenly needing to come up with $3,000 for a new transmission.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 15:38
  • 10
    @T.E.D. Can confirm, I am an engineer who did that. Although, in my case, it may have something to do with the fact that my first car, which I was gifted/inherited (it was bought for me as a birthday gift for a few hundred dollars from the estate of a family friend who passed away) was older than I was, and made me feel like Han Solo. "Don't worry, she'll hold together". hits pothole "Come on, baby, hold together".
    – sharur
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 16:43

This depends significantly on your child, their behavior, interest in college, work ethic, etc.

My parents did something similar, making me pay for college when they could have covered it (it luckily wasn't too much being in-state with a scholarship). At the end of college they then gifted me the $10,000 they would have spent on college. The idea was for me to better appreciate my education, however, I think in their case it was flawed reasoning. I had an innate desire to learn that was independent of how much I spent on college. However, some of my jobs during college potentially interfered with my education due to the time commitment. Once I graduated I didn't need the money, but during college it would have allowed me to focus a little more on my education to not be working paultry paying jobs on the side (though honestly I did pretty well, so I don't know if the distraction of the jobs hurt me that much either).

My point though is that the stated goal, to make me appreciate my education more, did not apply TO ME. That is because of what my goals and motivations were. There are many children I met during college that did not appreciate their education because it was being paid for and wasted the opportunity. Each child is different, and how they respond to such assistance will be as well.

So rather then giving you a flat answer I would say first you need to ask a few questions about your son.

  1. How much does he need the vehicle, and would lack of one make him struggle with college on his side jobs? (In my case no, I had no vehicle in college and it was a mild inconvenience on a few occasions, but not worth the cost of insuring it even if I had a free car).

  2. Do you believe your son will be motivated to work hard and continue to excel in college on his own without any external motivator, like the promise of a vehicle if he does well, to push him to strive harder?

  3. Do you want your son working a part time job in college, that is to say do you feel it's more important for him to have enough time to get the best grades in college, or do you think he can (and will) manage good grades in college while holding down a part time job as well? Alternatively do you think he needs to work a part time job as well to develop more work skills and/or prevent him from going out to keggers and goofing off in college?

  4. Do you think your son already has a good work ethic and understanding of the value of money, or does he still need to learn some of that?

  5. Do you possibly want your son to not have a vehicle his first few years on college, to keep him stuck on campus where he will be learning and/or focused on college encouraged activities instead of going out to parties and clubbing?

Again this depends a lot on your son, so it's hard to answer these questions for you. In general the first decision is rather he needs a car right now. If he is on campus I would argue he probably doesn't. However, if he has a good reason to benefit from a vehicle, such as his living at home and commuting to college or his already having a job/desiring a job that he would need to travel off campus to reach, he may have more of a need for one.

If you think he doesn't need a car immediately I would seriously consider saving it as a 'reward' for doing well in college. Perhaps even adding money towards his 'car fund' every semester based off of how well he does in college. This could give him further motivation to work hard and excel in college if you feel he needs that, and if at the end of the four years you pay for most/all of his car at least he will feel he 'earned' it with his grades rather then that it was something he was entitled to simply as your son. If you go this route I suggest actually having a 'car fund' and a policy of how much you add based off of how well he does, rather then a generic 'do well enough in college and we'll buy you a car after' promise. That way he will see direct harm from a poor semester in college by seeing less money go into his fund, and if he really works hard in college he can perhaps earn a cheap car before his four years are up. Plus, as I said, from my experience a car wasn't too important in college since everything is in walking distance, so it could save on all the car-ownership fees if he doesn't need to use a car.

If you instead feel he needs a car early in college, to help him do well in college. Or perhaps you simply feel he will do well in college no matter what you do and would like him to have the extra opportunities a vehicle would offer, then you may want to consider helping him to buy a car.

I say "helping" him, because letting him feel he had some effect in buying the vehicle will help him to appreciate it. Even if you end up paying 90% of the vehicle's cost, I would make him contribute some amount of money towards purchasing the vehicle himself unless I was 100% certain he had a very solid understanding of the value of money and never wasted it. Perhaps you could offer him a flat sum towards buying a vehicle which would just cover the cheapest car he could get, and let him decide if he is willing to chip in more of his money to buy a nicer car.

In general though the question comes down to rather he needs an object lesson in saving money / earning resources or if he already understands the importance of these concepts, and rather you feel having a bribe to motivate him to focus harder on his schoolwork would actually yield better returns. This is ultimately something only you can decide.

  • 6
    +1 When in college, jobs and internships are to earn relevant experience. Financial pressure into dead-end jobs defies the purpose of education.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 16:11
  • 1
    @Agent_L I think you meant "defeats," not "defies," but good point. Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 16:47
  • 3
    +1 for pointing out some factors worth looking at.
    – Karen
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 18:25
  • 1
    I quite like your answer, especially that you emphasized the individual differences and different influence of the same educational factors on different kids. Where I disagree with you is giving the car as a motivation for hard study and excellent results. I believe that the main motivator for studying should be the learning itself - and maybe also that better grades may improve your chance to get better job. The car as a promised reward is a "motivation distraction". Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 9:51
  • @HonzaZidek again I say it depends on the person. For those that are motivated by learning then having a car as a motivator isn't needed. But if the son is not motivated by learning, or thinks all he has to do is not-fail and isn't trying for better grades, then having a motivator could be better then his not trying at all. Some will respond positively to such motivation, some, like me, wont care either way, and some may be harmed by it. It's up to the OP/father to figure out where his son stands on that scale.
    – dsollen
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 17:29

I'd say put in half the money.

If he wants a good used car or a new one he can work and save for it, learning to value his work and the car. If he doesn't put in the work, he gets a cheap used car.

This is what my parents did for my brother and I. My brother ran his into the ground after many years. Mine lasted about 5 years until an accident made it unsafe to drive.

  • +1 because that is the perfect compromise if you want your kids to have nice things (because you love them and you can afford it), but you don't want them to be lazy. Let them work, save their money, and then you double it. If they save $500 they get an old banger worth $1,000. If they save nothing they get nothing. If they work hard and save $5,000 they get a nice $10,000 car.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 10:16

The other answers mention variants of "don't spend too much", which I agree with.

One important point that's missing is: Let them know ahead of time. If they need to save up for a car, they should be able to start early enough that they can afford it by the time they intend to buy it.

Also be clear that if they pay any money towards the car, it's their car - you can't suddenly "confiscate" it after they have an accident, and they should expect to pay any repairs on their own.


We weren't rich growing so when it was time I need to go to university (on my own student loan) I needed a car. My dad who didn't have much at the time bought me an Uno Mia. I don't see something inherently wrong with "spoiling" your child with a first car. If the child is at driving age they are already either entitled or not.

Teaching a child life lessons by having them struggle when they could be bettering themselves elsewhere (like university or a job) doesn't sound worthwhile to me. Buy him something that gets him from A to B, my car my dad bought me, got me to university and after that it got me to my first job. That first car added to my independence greatly and I can't thank my dad more for that.

  • 1
    I side with this perspective slightly. I struggled so he wouldn't have to, but then again I will be gone some day, and the sooner you learn how to face adversity at a young age, the better. Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 19:18
  • One may want to consider that cheap(/old) cars are often not as safe as pricier(/newer) cars. So it may be in the interest of all to not go for the cheapest rolling pile of metal. In other words, if the young adult plans to by a car for amount X, it may be a good investment to add some amount to allow him/her to get a car a little more safe. Young drivers are more likely to be involved in an accident, so a safer car is always a good idea, as is buying a (decent) used car which complete loss would not be a financial desaster.
    – JimmyB
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 15:04
  • @JimmyB I get your point, in my case, it basically had a safety belt in terms of safety and you are right, I've dented and scratched it at least 5 times in the 7 years I owned it. If safety is a concern, I agree with you,maybe not the oldest car but the cheapest car. Where I am from, Ford Figo's are a popular choice for "new" first cars as they come with ABS and airbags.
    – LiefdeWen
    Commented Feb 26, 2018 at 16:20

My parents saved a lot of money for me to go to college. When I chose the school that got the full-tuition scholarship, they used some of the money to buy me a new car.

Did I turn out okay? Hard for me to say, I guess! Maybe I'm a spoiled brat who lacks self-awareness. But I was so glad to have it, and for much of my life I've generally worn unearned things like that as a chip on my shoulder. I don't like to be given things for free, but I definitely benefited from having the car. I tried to honor the gift by giving rides, and it made occasional trips home easier. The car has lasted for over a decade and 130000 miles, so it definitely gave me one less thing to think about as I started a career, got married, and had kids.

So, I guess it depends on your financial situation and kind of person your kid is. I don't think I'd have wanted my Dad to buy me a car if I knew it was a financial stretch for him.

If you think your kid needs to learn how to work for stuff, make him go in on it. Character is more important than a car.

  • +1 for character. Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 21:52
  • This is similar to what my parents did - if I picked the college where I had full tuition scholarship, they would buy me a new car. It has also lasted me a decade, through job changes and a growing family. I plan on doing the same with my kids. :)
    – BlakeP
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 14:37

My dad is doing the no-interest approach with me wherein he is going to buy me a bike for the full rate with him paying 70% of the money and me using the other 30% and I have to pay him the money interest-free in installments. Based on my dad's thinking:

  1. This imbues a sense of responsibility wherein I actually buy with my own money anyway.
  2. Trains me for future loan payments and this feels like a baby-steps approach.
  3. Makes me handle the money (pay the other 30%) and thus gives me the value of said money and expenditures

TLDR: Offer 50% or more for buying a car and tell me he has to save for the rest and buy and do an interest-free approach with him


Yes. If you can afford it buy them a good, used car. Mostly for your own peace of mind of knowing they are going to have reliable transportation. I wouldn't buy them something fancy or expensive. Just a decent vehicle that will help them get to school and work so they can focus on education and not how they will pay for the car.

  • 1
    This is exactly how it happened for me. Focus on education is the key here.
    – Almo
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 13:52
  • 1
    I would add safe on top of reliable as far as peace of mind goes. While you can fix an older car to be driveable, you can't fix the lack of modern safety features or ensure an older frame will do its job in a crash.
    – user27286
    Commented Feb 23, 2018 at 14:16

I compromised, sort of.

I made mine earn the money, planning to pay half. When she insisted on paying it all herself, I figured she got the value of money and made her a gift of the car. She quickly discovered that the purchases was only the first of many expenses associated with the car, and was grateful for the cash cushion.

I would not have bought the car outright for her if she had not demonstrated that she had already learned the first lessons of planning her finances.


If you're in a position to do so comfortably, buy them the car. New or used is up to you, but having a car can make a significant difference to your kid's college experience and ability to balance school and personal life.

I speak from experience. My parents were of the depression era, and I grew up in Sears clothes and earning a quarter for washing a car. The only thing this "taught" me was frustration and a lot of stupid habits about being "frugal" that have held me back over the years.

When my two sons reached college age (2 years apart) and attended the same school, we purchased them a car, but with conditions. They obviously had to share the vehicle. They also had to maintain their grades. We were subsidizing their education, not the car.

Both have since graduated, and both have been out of the house pursuing successful careers for several years. Our primary objective of getting them the maximal return on the investment in their college education rather than "teaching them values" seems to have paid off handsomely. I don't see how being frustrated, cold and tired would have helped, and considering the costs of higher education these days, I am glad they focused on learning instead of trying to get around.

  • Your parents earned $0.25/car or you did? Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 22:52
  • We'd get $0.25 for washing the car. They'd offer to match and other incentives, but it was essentially impossible to earn a buck. They meant well, but it backfired. I figured on my own that if I'm going to spend a significant amount (in the US) sending my kids to college, I want them to concentrate on studies first and foremost. That was the best return on my investment.
    – bobstro
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 23:48

The way I'd look at it is that college will be his full time job. I know many people work while going through college, and are better for it. But many more are going to struggle with both. I did.

If it would actually improve his quality of life, as in getting around is a lot more time consuming, I would help my kid on the condition that his school work is his full time job. Getting A's, volunteering, internships, networking, extra curricular's, social life, and just enjoying life are all going to suffer if he's working and going to college.

Maybe it would be spoiling him a little. But I think it would help any have a more successful college career, so if it's possible, the used car route is probably best.


Buy the kid a car. Something safe and practical. Police impound auctions are a great place to get a bottom-dollar first car because you know they are going to wreck it or run it out of oil or other things kids do. Besides, all kids have a right to feel “cool” in school, and having a car is a rite of passage. If you are only being practical, then they have more part-time job opportunities with a car, and can visit you on weekends or school breaks.


What you need to be thinking about for this question is where you think your son's focus should be during his college years. Should it be on his classes and grades or should it be on his job(s) that he needs in order to get the money for basic needs? Personally, I prefer the idea of being able to remove anything that would provide a distraction from classes and having to work more hours can be a big one during the college years.

Another thing to remember is the importance of a car depends a lot on where the school he is going is located. When I was in college it was at a fairly isolated rural area, so having a car was important as going to a movie or store was at least a 30 mile drive. However if the school is located in a bigger city that may not be an issue.

Also, you can buy him a vehicle and put him on the hook for it. For example during the school year you can tie his grades to it (note don't be to strict on grades because even the best student can have a down class with a bad teacher). During the summer when he is out of school (assuming not taking summer classes) he can use some of his summer earnings to pay you a little back for the car. This way there is more incentive for better grades during the school year and the idea of paying back a loan during the summer.

As for the vehicle itself would definitely suggest something that is in overall good shape so they don't have to worry about mechanical issues. Those can get very expensive quickly.

In the long run, if your son has to spend more time working and not focusing on school to save up for a car they could end up with a lemon that will cost a lot of money during college to keep running, which could distract them even more from school, which should be their primary focus.


I bought a used car my last year of college. We really didn't need cars, we walked or could cab it or hop a bus. Kids now have the same option. My mom did assist with payments while I job hunted right after school and a few months into my working and moving into an apartment. I took care of my insurance. If you're teaching about money, dependable vs slick and shiny is the way to go because maintenance can become an issue as well. My mother surprised me by taking on the payments which were like $150 or so a month at the time on a Toyota. I never needed any huge work on it just standard maintenance and tires. You could always surprise him after letting him know he can do it on his own. My mom is also a big believer in not co-signing. She might give a loan before she'd do that. I'd say go with how responsible the kid's been with everything else. Do they take of their items only if they've bought them and have personal investment...do they trash things in general cause things aren't that important until they need to use them, are they good at mnaging finances...all questions to think about. No matter what approach you take you'll both learn something about adulting.


Make a vehicle their reward for earning good grades in college

Then they will have a sense of accomplishment both in school and earning a nice reward. It should meet your goals of wanting your child to know what it means to have & earn something and encourage their success in school.

I would carefully consider the need for having a vehicle in college at all:

  • Travel time on public transit can be used for studying
  • A car could be a big distraction away from schoolwork
  • Parking on many campuses may be very limited and/or very expensive.
  • Driving to & from school is more time wasted in traffic & less time for schoolwork.

Public transit might be the cheaper, more study time, solution for college. But it does depend on their particular school.

A brand new vehicle is almost always a money losing "investment." I'd agree that the best financial lesson is to never buy a brand new car (as other comments have pointed out).


An important point that I didn't see in the other answer is if you buy the car, they you are evaluating the trade-offs. So the key question here would be

"Why, in your view, does he need a car?"

What I have in mind when I say that is informed by my college car.

My folks bought me a car during my third year in college. I had "gone away" for college, but to the town where my mother's parents lived. I didn't need a car because I lived on campus and had relatives nearby who would help with exceptional situations. But then granddad died, and grandmother had never learned to drive. So they judged that having my own transportation was worthwhile both for cases where I had a pressing need and to be able to support my grandmother.

They told me they were going to do that, told me what the budget was, and asked my opinion on the type and features that would be good. Then they decided. I got a small but comfortable, eight-year old sedan with 70k miles, a good safety record, and a standard transmission (that was the 1990s in the US, so a stick-shift was a "cheap" feature—but I already knew how to work one). It was inexpensive to run and a good car for taking Grandma on the kinds of errands that call for going further than the local shops. Those were the things my parents cared about: safety, economy, and utility for passengers.1

The expenses related to the car were my problem (but at least I already knew engines so I was able to do all the routine maintenance and minor repairs myself). That car lasted me through grad-school and the first couple of years of married life. I was sad to see it go.

1 Not that I'd asked for a sports car. A solid sedan had been one of my two suggestions. They other was a small pick-up with a covered bed which would have been better for carting my stuff back home for the summer. But that would have been harder for Grandma.


As a completely alternative and outside-the-box option...

Check out this "middle ground" option:

Boosted Board

I’m a (quite a bit older) student at ASU -- a bunch of the kids here have these Boosted Boards. Now, I have a car (which I bought myself of course), but I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy as a freshman shoots past me while I walk to class, after hoofing it for a mile or two.

In fact, I really want one because they:

  1. Are fully electric
  2. Can have a 20-mile range (and multiple batteries, so you can swap them, extending range with each battery)
  3. Move up to 25 miles per hour
  4. Don’t need a parking spot
  5. Are easy to carry
  6. Can be taken straight into and out of class

I think many parents buy their college children these because of their convenience, low cost (relative to a car), and cool factor.

I also think many students buy these for themselves because they can be purchased on a payment plan.

Either way, it’s a great compromise between generosity and teaching responsibility, should you choose to purchase one for your son.

A powered skateboard provides quite a lot of convenience getting around, but also incentive for getting a(n even more convenient) car.

As correctly pointed out by @joew, Boosted Boards aren’t ideal for all weather. So, in order to make this answer more feasible as a quality alternative answer... Check out this cool powered skateboard for tougher conditions (even a little off-roading!):

OneWheel off-road skateboard

It has a slightly shorter range, and it’s more expensive... BUT it more than makes up for it because it has higher torque and traction, and does far better than the Boosted Board in less-than-ideal conditions, like a couple inches of snow. ;)

Regarding teaching finances and money management, if you want your college student to buy it themselves, both skateboard companies offer loans and payment plans.

  • This doesn't help when you need to travel more then 20 miles or bring stuff home that is larger and/or uncomfortable to carry for longer distances. Not to mention all the schools that are in areas where weather gets bad making int impractical to travel for long outdoors.
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 20:02
  • @joew It’s still a better option than no car at all! :) My answer is also in line with OP’s question, which is essentially seeking a reasonable compromise. A compromise, by nature, isn’t a perfect solution. Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 20:58
  • Say that when there is an inch or two of snow on the ground or it is really icy out side. The sidewalks where you will be riding that thing can become impassible for them pretty quickly in winter weather
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 21:00
  • @JoeW that is true! But the OP lives in California (based on other posts), and not in the north I think. Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 21:04
  • @JoeW I offer this other cool skateboard for tougher conditions: onewheel.com Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 21:06

My parents used multiple different options, depending on how "necessary" the item in question they deemed to be, how expensive it was, how large the price range of reasonable options was and of course how their and my financial status was. Those taught me about working out my finances and the worth of luxuries while never leaving me "in need" or in any doubt, they would be there to help whenever I really needed any money. Here are some of the options I remember:

  1. For moves and potentially necessary new items of furniture they usually helped a lot actively in the process and gave me some extra money (as much as they deemed appropriate) to spend. Anything over that I would have to pay for myself. Usually, it was enough to get myself a basic item of everything I really needed, so I paid for the "extra".
  2. For some specific large items, I wanted really badly that were items I needed but could have gotten cheaper versions of instead, they sometimes decided to give them to me as a present (birthday or Christmas, grandparents also added some money to the pool). It was an unusually big present, but based on point 1, it was not that unusual if you "take away" the extra money I would have gotten to buy the basic version.
  3. For some cases where they were not sure how to judge what I would need or they deemed as luxury but not unnecessary (buying a very good computer when I do work with it a lot, a better camera when they tend to profit from the nice pictures I take for decoration,...) they did offer me a "interest free loan".
  4. When I entered the workforce and suddenly had to work with the realization that some insurances and other financial safety features use up an awful lot of my monthly income they offered to pay for one insurance that I would have opted to not have until I had more money but they deemed important to have.
  5. I don't have a car, but they had offered me while I was studying if I wanted to have one to pay for the monthly insurance (as long as I bought the car and paid for any other upkeep and of course gas).

So in short:

  • Give them an extra allowance (can be bound to a specific item though, like a stipend for buying books would)

  • Gift it to them at the next available occasion

  • Offer other ways of financial help (loan)

  • If you deem it important for their safety but it still is a luxury from their point in life/income, pay for it until it this safety is less of a luxury for them

  • Help with the "running costs", but not the large chunks

EDIT: As an addon: When I was able to help out, they have also asked me for small, short-time loans. To save their "parental self-esteem" those had a small interest. I didn't really earn through it, but I did not lose what I could have earned when conservatively investing that money for the same time instead. For them, the conditions were still better and more convenient than asking the bank. For me, it was just some money I could not instantly spend and a lesson in loans and financial contracts.


Two stories:

First, when I was going into college (1973) my parents bought a crappy copper-colored used car for $750, with the understanding that I could commute to college with it, but that it was my Mom's during the summer. I continued to drive the car to grad school, where it eventually gained one blue door and one green door. It fit right in to the scuzzy student ghetto neighborhood I lived in, but when I got my first full-time job (at Bell Labs - yeah!) I immediately bought myself a new car, after coasting the old P.O.S. into the dealer's lot as it had expired on its way. All along the way I was responsible for maintenance, insurance, gas, etc.

Second, when our kids were of driving age, we allowed them to use the oldest of our two cars, a 15-year-old Camry. Our son delivered pizza with it, and our daughter drove it to the hospital where she volunteered. Our son kept it while in undergrad, (our daughter, following a couple years behind, went to a smaller school & didn't want to take it). When our son graduated from undergrad, we gave him a $15K allowance to find a car of his own, which he did. Now, 12 years later, after he acquired a PhD, a spouse with a PhD of her own, jobs, and a house, they've traded that car in on a newer used car. Our daughter continued to drive the Camry, crossing the country from L.A. to Florida to Chicago numerous times, and eventually we gave her a similar allowance to find a car when she graduated from undergrad. She bought a very practical car, which she still has as well. She has recently received her PhD and moved to San Francisco, where her practical small car fits right in. While they used the car, they were also responsible for gas, insurance, and maintenance.

Lessons: Kids will do fine with (safe) old pieces of crap cars. Think of it as character-building exercises. Kids might even do fine without a car at all, in the right public transportation situation (neither kid used their car much in grad school, in Pittsburgh and Chicago). Depending on where they wind up, they may or may not see a car as a required status symbol or as a burden (San Francisco and Seattle are very public transportation friendly cities).


It depends what outcome you want. Buying him a car will make you feel good (by your own admission, because you want him to have more than you did). However, making him largely pay for it himself will teach him about responsibility, and possibly also about saving and budgeting.

In addition, he should start with a second-hand car, which will be cheaper in any case, and he won't have to spend as long saving up for it.

Buying him a new car and gifting it to him will provide a short-term measure of happiness for both of you. However, in the long term, neither of you will benefit.

  • I just want to say, separate from this whole thread and just in general, that I've been getting/hearing a lot of this "by your own admission" phraseology, and I just feel it's important to note that an admission isn't set in stone. Admission is ultimately acceptance, and my acceptance for any one particular thing over the course of time changes. Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 22:49
  • May change, rather. Commented Feb 24, 2018 at 23:04
  • @twoblacklinesinthemiddle That is great. Being too set in stone isn't healthy. There are a lot if people who are obsessive about not letting their kids see what real work and hardship look like, just because they experienced those themselves... Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 9:44

I also live off campus in Los Angeles (graduate student at UCLA).

I am in my fourth year here and, although it is not as easy as in Europe (where I am originally from), I do not own a car. It is fully feasible. All the Westwood/Santa Monica/Culver City area is well communicated with UCLA, and the fares are really cheep for students. Moreover, do you know how expensive it is to get a parking permit on campus? The cheapest is $200/quarter if he carpools with someone, otherwise it's almost $250. The bus is significantly cheaper. Finding parking near campus is very, very difficult. USC is Downtown, where finding parking is maybe even more difficult, and traffic very congested too, and public transportation options are much better.

Housing in LA, especially near UCLA (and I'd guess near USC too) is prohibitively expensive but, on the other hand, it is important to live near campus to be able to focus on our studies. Plus, the traffic gets really congested. I live less than 7 miles from campus and it is significantly cheaper (rent, etc.), but a 20-minute car ride (when there is no traffic) easily turns into a 45-minute one on peak times. I can "afford" (academically) to live so far from campus because I am on the writing stage, so I don't need to go to campus every day, but for someone who needs to go to class every day it is very important to live much closer than that.

For night outs, or being able to drink a couple of beers and getting home anyway, I take a Lyft.

What I am trying to say is that, as a student in Los Angeles, having a car is not only unnecessary, it also seems more expensive and less convenient. I can understand the need for people who live far from where they work (like, they have kids and need a big house or something like this), and I also understand there is a strong culture of car ownership here, but I would strongly discourage it.

Given the circumstances, I would say that, if you want to help him, my best advice is that you ensure that he can afford living close enough to campus, in a well-communicated area. "Ensure" here means maybe sending him some money so he can afford to live closer and not as far as he would without your help. If you just want him to own a car, regardless of the circumstances, then I don't have any advice other than pay for all of it, or a part, or none, as you feel. But, again, there is no need, so maybe my advice is that you help him pay everything that is somewhat necessary and let him earn by his own everything that is not.


Does he NEED a car, or just want one? And what's the parking situation around campus? When I was in college the school I was at had a rule: no one who lived within 300 miles of campus could get an on-campus parking permit unless they had a job which required them to drive to/from work. So, for me, no car. Our oldest daughter goes to a school where on-campus parking for students is severely limited - no car. Our next oldest daughter goes to a small school and must go to the animal science/pre-vet center 8 miles out of town daily. SHE has a car. Cars are either useful items, or expensive distractions. There's enough distractions in college - a car which is not needed will probably be more of a problem than it's worth. When our third daughter goes to college in a few years we'll evaluate the situation then, but my basic rule is "No car unless it's necessary or highly useful".

As to the "new" vs. "used" debate - no question in my mind - used. Search your local dealers for a car which is still under manufacturers original warranty, or is a "certified" used vehicle. Honda has a program like that, and I imagine other manufacturers are similar. Their "certified" vehicles are gone over, minor issues are corrected, oil changed, fluids filled, lubed, tires checked, etc. We bought the car my daughter drives - at the time (2014) it was just under 3 years old and had only 11000 miles on it. This was for our oldest daughter to drive herself + sisters to high school/middle school. Got handed down to middle daughter, who now has it at college. We're now looking for a used Honda CR-V for my wife to drive so we can pass her 2010 Subaru on to our youngest daughter for high school and (maybe) college in a few years. And I get to keep driving the 7-year-old mini-van.

Your mileage (pun intended) may vary... :-)

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