Kiplinger’s List of Best Cars for Graduates is Absurd

Lead Graduation

Whatever gains you might be able to realize thanks to Kiplinger’s advice on moving your 401k into a Roth IRA is sopped up by their “10 best cars for young drivers” list, which appeared in my inbox last week. Take BoldRide’s advice and save yourself or your kid $15,000 and a lifetime of paying off car loans.

The premise of the Kiplinger’s list is to answer this question: “Got a high-schooler, college student or new graduate who needs a car?” The list then goes on to advocate 10 cars for graduates with an average price of $18,800.

If there’s any one thing that is killing innovation in this country, it is the fact that the average kid gets out of college owing an average of $26,600 in student loan debt that needs to be paid back alarmingly quickly. Tacking $18,800 on that figure isn’t just bad advice– it’s a path to perpetual financial instability.

Graduation Meme

“Well, the idea is that the parents are buying this car,” you or someone from the magazine might suggest. What message is it sending to a high school graduate that your parents have just purchased a car for you that costs close to $20,000? No wonder nobody understands the value of hard work if mommy and daddy will buy a nearly new car just so you can attend Community College to get a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies.

Graduation meme2

Things aren’t that different than they were back in the Mesozoic era, when I graduated from high school. I knew exactly one kid that got a nearly new car for a high school graduation gift, and he went immediately to work at his father’s company– a job that he continues to hold 27 years later. Everybody else I went to school with drove crappy $2,000 cars that they purchased with money they earned after school.

Our advice on buying cars for kids?

Don’t buy cars based on fuel mileage – Unless the kid is commuting 30 miles to school every day, what difference does fuel mileage make? Low MPGs means they’ll think more about making useless trips.

If you’re actually concerned about safety, teach them to drive – Kids don’t get in car accidents because their cars are unsafe. They get in car accidents because they drive like idiots. What a kid learns in Driver’s Ed is the minimum they’ll need to know to pass a driver’s test. We dumped No Child Left Behind because we’re teaching to pass a test, not to actually learn things. Send the kids to a driving school that will actually provide them with some experience about what it’s like to skid on wet pavement, or how to react when the ABS kicks in, and they’ll be safer than if you put them behind the wheel of an IIHS Top Safety Pick car and no experience.

Make them pay half – What ever happened to getting a summer job to pay for stuff? I hear a lot of nonsense about how kids these days can’t get summer jobs. You have a lawnmower, right? Chances are you probably have neighbors who will pay $20 a week to have Junior push it around on their grass. Get to work.

College cars don’t have to be cool – I’m astounded by people who actually react to feedback from their kids about the cars that are purchased for them. Listen, Special Snowflake: This Mercury Topaz will take you anywhere you need to go. If you don’t like it, I can put a “For Sale” sign on it at the end of the driveway and spend the money on a new home theater system. Your call. I’ll be looking at the Crutchfield catalog.

It’s not like there aren’t hundreds of thousands of perfectly safe, reliable and affordable cars you can buy without putting completely unnecessary strain on your – or your child’s – finances.

Here are five alternatives to think about:

2003 Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis

Crown Victoria

Average used price: $4,500

Every Craigslist in every city is littered with Panther platform vehicles like these. They’re cheap to buy, cheap to fix and they’re actually kind of cool in some circles. Yeah, some enterprising attorneys at the National Association of Police Organizations sued Ford because 12 police officers died when their Crown Vics were rear-ended at highway speed. That’s twelve cops since 1983. I think I’d be using that fact as a testimonial in my ads, rather than evidence in a lawsuit, considering all the police officers that ever got in an accident in a Crown Vic, but hey, that’s just me.

2004 Buick LeSabre Limited


Average used price: $6,100

For about six grand, the Buick LeSabre Limited is a car that will provide decent fuel economy, the safety benefit of not only frontal airbags, but standard side curtain airbags, and standard traction and stability control on the Limited trim. Put a tissue box on the rear package shelf and a Jesus fish on the bumper and you’ll guarantee that there won’t be any hanky and/or panky going on in there, either.

2003 Honda Element EX


Average used price: $6,500

So your special Johnny wants a cool Kia Soul with a price tag of over $20,000? That’s nice. Get a job. Or perhaps purchase a well-cared-for Honda Element. It has the shipping crate looks of a Soul, plus all-wheel drive thrown in for good measure. It’s a four-cylinder Honda, so it’s reliable as you’re going to get, and the difference in the Honda’s crappy fuel economy is only marginally worse than the Soul’s especially after Kia had to rescind all of its fuel economy ratings last year.

2001 Volkswagen Jetta GLS Wagon

Jetta Wagon

Average used price: $3,800

Small, fuel efficient, nifty and fun to drive (especially with a stick), the Jetta wagon offers an awful lot to a college kid who needs a car, for not a heck of a lot of cash. They’re not huge inside, but you can certainly pack it full of dorm fridges and hot plates, especially with the seats down. About the only thing to be concerned about is the 2.0-liter’s voracious appetite for motor oil, the level of which your dopey kid will never check.

2004 Ford Ranger XLT

2004 Ford Ranger

Average Used Price: $5,000

There’s a guy who just gave me a quote for putting a walkway in front of my house. That guy recently started a thriving landscaping business during the summers in high school, thanks in part to owning a Ranger. Buying a regular cab will also make it unlikely your kid will be driving around with half the school inside. And when he’s not using it, you can always be making runs to Home Depot in it.

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