First cars and new drivers; making the right choice in cars


Staff Graphic by Seth Steiner

The process of driving is exciting, but also stressful, for many high schoolers. This exciting yet stressful mood also applies to buying a car, which is a hard process for many, with plenty of questions without honest answers.

Seth Steiner, Staff Writer

High school is a time of immense growth in students’ lives, and one reason contributing to this is their newfound privilege to drive. There are a lot of factors that come along with driving, from basics like getting your permit and your hours to eventually working your way up to a full license. Obtaining a full license usually entails getting a first car for most high school students, which makes everything all the more exciting. However, this can also be a stressful process. Figuring out which cars will be not only nice to drive but also safe and efficient is difficult for many people. 

While going through driver’s education, students are told many times that driving isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. Responsibility and maturity are expected when on the road, particularly from new drivers. Tyler Rotellini, a sophomore at Wakefield who recently got his license, acknowledges this fact and offered some advice to new drivers.

“Just pay attention and be smart,” Rotellini said.

Rotellini knows the importance of the responsibility of driving, which is vital in trying to keep our roadways as safe as possible. Accidents do happen, but having a safe vehicle is always a good way to have some peace of mind, no matter what. 

In terms of safety, many people think that small cars are simply less safe than larger cars, and this is just not true, especially when it comes to cars like the Honda Fit. The 2009-2013 Honda Fit is an excellent choice for a first car. It can comfortably fit four people and can accommodate any additional luggage in its 20.6 cubic foot trunk. The Fit gets 31 miles per gallon combined and received a 5-star frontal crash safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  This combination of space, reliability, efficiency and safety helps make the 2009-2013 Honda Fit a smart and practical choice for a first car. 

Cars like the Honda Fit are often selected for new drivers for their relatively small size and class-leading safety. Smaller cars are typically easier to drive, have tighter turning circles and are much easier to maneuver in tight spaces. While drivers are learning the more technical parts of driving, having something that comes in a smaller size while not cutting corners in regard to safety is definitely a positive for young drivers. Luke Dawson, a junior who got his license recently, acknowledges this.

I drive a Hyundai Kona and I love how small and easy it is to drive.

— Dawson

“I drive a Hyundai Kona and I love how small and easy it is to drive,” Dawson said. “It also has lots of safety features that make it very easy to drive, especially for new drivers.”

The vehicle Dawson mentioned, the Hyundai Kona, also falls under the same subcompact class as the Fit, meaning it has many of the same benefits, just in a more modern package. Small vehicles are increasingly popular among young people because of how easy they are to drive and with increased safety measures, owning a small vehicle in the land of the pickup truck has become less of a worrisome thought.

The next suggestion on this list might seem a bit wild, but upon searching most American roadways, it should be pretty clear why a Ford F-150 might be up there on a teenager’s list of first car choices. The Ford F-150 has consistently been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for quite a long time now, and the twelfth generation was no exception. Produced from 2009 to 2014, twelfth-generation F-150s were well-built, reliable and generally comfortable. Available in a wide variety of trims like the base XL, mid-level Lariat, racing-inspired Raptor, and the luxurious Limited, it’s easy to find an F-150 that fits any given lifestyle. Like the trim levels, the F-150 was also available with a number of engines, ranging from a 3.5-liter twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 all the way up to the 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 found in the Raptor, with plenty of other choices in between. With all of the variety among twelfth-generation F-150s, the prices can vary greatly. For the nicest examples of high trims like Limited and the Raptor in later model years, like 2013 or 2014, paying upwards of $35,000 is likely. However, in lower trims and with higher mileage, finding pretty good F150s for under $20,000 is definitely feasible.

Now, a vehicle like an F-150 might be more pricey than most people are willing to spend on a first car. The car market has seen a dramatic shift in 2022, with prices soaring to absurd levels. In fact, the price of used cars in NC has risen to an average of $34,145.  These dramatic price increases have significantly affected how parents car shop for their kids. One parent in particular, Deborah Sanchez, a Spanish teacher at Wakefield, discusses the impact that car prices have.

“The budget for my daughter’s car was $4,000, for my sons, their budget should be $10,000,” Sanchez said.

Unfortunately, for many parents like Sanchez, finding good, quality cars on a  budget has gotten increasingly difficult.

Such budget constraints make finding nice cars nearly impossible. Getting a good combination of good looks, a comfortable ride, a nice driving experience and safety at a low cost is almost unheard of nowadays. However, cars that meet these criteria do still exist. One such example is the 2006-2011 Mercedes-Benz M-Class. In these years, the M-Class featured a few engine options, like a 3.5 liter gas V6, a 3.0 turbo diesel V6, different 5.0 and 5.5 liter naturally aspirated V8s, and the fire-breathing AMG 6.2 liter naturally aspirated V8. Although, for most intents and purposes, the models found for the cheapest will be the 3.5 V6 versions, also known as the ML350. These vehicles provide excellent occupant safety and comfort without sacrificing good driving dynamics. Finding an M-Class to fit anyone’s ideals isn’t hard either, as there are a wide variety of interior and exterior colors to choose from and many options to be had, like a navigation system, heated seats and some rarer options like parking sensors, ventilated and therapeutic seats and even Xenon headlamps which turn in the direction that the wheels are turned. The M-Class can fit four adults comfortably and has a 29.4 cubic inch trunk, which means buyers will have no problem going on weekend trips or picking up big orders at the store. In all, the M-Class proves to be an excellent value and as long as it’s been maintained properly, can last quite a long time.

It’s hard to find a sale in a perfect storm when they’re getting rid of a good car. Just be careful and do your research.

— Calabria

Part of buying any vehicle, especially older luxury vehicles like the aforementioned Mercedes-Benz M-Class, is familiarity with the brand. Doing research into not only the current car market but also the car will prove vital when it comes to buying a car. Parents need to do their due diligence when buying cars for their kids, not only to find something nice, but also something safe. English teacher Anthony Calabria expresses such concerns.

“I’m not going to just buy my kids a car. I want to teach them hard work, and the value of a dollar,” Calabria said. “My son wants a car, but it’s hard now because of the [state of the] used car market. But what we want is something with safety. Safety is paramount.”

Calabria also knows that with such a volatile car market comes some very sketchy deals. Being very cautious about what you buy in today’s market is vital, and researching and inspecting cars is a must.

“Don’t just buy a car to have a car. You have to be wary of deals,” Calabria said. “It’s hard to find a sale in a perfect storm when they’re getting rid of a good car. Just be careful and do your research.”

The final car on this list is an obvious choice and for good reason. When looking for a safe, practical, reliable and affordable car to go from point A to point B, look no further than a Honda Accord, specifically a 2008-2012 model. These vehicles came in a few trims and with either a 3.5 liter V6 or a 2.4 liter inline 4 cylinder, both of which are reliable and reasonably efficient. The Accord has enough passenger and luggage space to fit four people in moderate comfort and carry just enough stuff. Nothing about the Accord is absurd. It simply goes about its business and does its job, just as a car should. Sure, there were some premium features like yet another out-of-date navigation system and heated seats, but Hondas follow a simple formula; keep things simple and stay reliable.

Today’s concerns with the car market are definitely worrisome, but analysts expect things to get better as time goes on, so as more and more kids grow into needing cars of their own and parents have to start shopping, things will get easier. Getting a car that works for a certain set of needs is easy, but getting it on a budget is not. The quality of used cars has gone down while the price has done the opposite.

“My concern as a parent is to get a decent car for a decent price,” Sanchez said.