10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts Driving

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Beginner's Guide to Buying Your First Car

By Maryalane LaPonsie

We hit a milestone in my house this year. My oldest child turned 16 and, in theory, can get behind the wheel of a car and start driving solo.

I'm not sure I'm ready for that and, fortunately, she's not either, so she still has her learner's permit. However, I've been searching high and low for ways to keep my auto insurance rates reasonable once she joins the ranks of independent drivers. Here are 10 tips I've picked up along the way:

1. Invest in a Good Driver's Training Program

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teen drivers are risky drivers. It could be reckless behavior or it could be inexperience, but the fatal crash rate per mile for 16-19-year-olds is three times that of drivers age 20 and older. That means insurance companies are automatically going to see your teen as a claims risk and raise your rates. If your child starts racking up tickets or gets in a fender bender or two, watch your rates head to the stratosphere.

You may be able to keep your premiums lower by helping your teen avoid risky behavior behind the wheel, and that means getting them into the best driver's education program possible. I selected my daughter's school here in Michigan, in part, because it was able to demonstrate statistically that its graduates ended up in accidents at a rate far below the statewide average for all teen drivers.

2. Embrace Your State's Graduated driver Licensing Program

All 50 states have enacted graduated driver licensing programs that gradually ease teens into independent driving. Typically, the programs require 30-50 hours of supervised drive time before a restricted license is issued, until a teen's 18th birthday. The IIHS says graduated licensing programs are associated with fewer teen fatalities and fewer insurance claims. But the programs can work only if you enforce them at home. Don't fudge numbers on the drive-time log, and don't turn a blind eye when your teen blatantly violates the restrictions on their license.

Sure, it can be a pain to spend 50 white-knuckled hours in the car with your teen while they are learning, but hopefully your reward will be lower insurance premiums and a child who makes it to adulthood.

3. Avoid Letting Your Teen Have Their Car ...

It can be tempting to buy your teen a vehicle. Then they won't be constantly borrowing yours and potentially making a mess of it. I advise you resist the temptation for these reasons:
  • Having them drive your car would make them a secondary driver rather than a primary one, a designation that could keep your premiums lower.
  • Having them share the family vehicle may limit their drive time, which could be a good thing for young drivers who are prone to getting in accidents.
  • Buying another car means you'll be paying insurance on another car. Need I say more?
4. ... Or Make Sure Theirs Is Cheap(er) to Insure

But maybe you're in a situation in which you really need your teen to have a separate vehicle. I can imagine this would be especially true if your household only has one vehicle currently. In that case, be smart about the type of car you get your teen. Some vehicles are safer and, in turn, cheaper to insure. The IIHS has recommendations as to what it considers the best cars for teens.

5. Add Your Teen to Your Policy

Assuming you will be paying the premiums, it is almost always the better deal to add your teen to your policy rather than purchase a separate one. The insurance company takes into account the driving record of each person listed on a policy. Your good driving should partially offset your teen's potentially risky driving. Plus, your account may come with discounts not available on a teen's policy.

6. Look for Teen Driver Discounts

When you add your teen, ask the insurance company about discounts for new drivers. Students with good grades may be eligible for discounts; those who take an approved safety course may also be eligible. If your teen goes away for school and doesn't take the car, you may be able to get a discount for that, too.

7. Let the Insurance Company Spy on Your Teen

Usage-based insurance is one of the latest fads in the world of automobile insurance. Auto insurance companies send you a device that you plug into a port under your dashboard. It records how fast you drive, how fast you accelerate and how fast you brake, among other things. Then, if the auto insurance gods say you've been a good driver, you're rewarded with a discount on your premium.

These discounts are available to all drivers, but parents might find they are useful for monitoring their teens. Some companies issue reports grading driving skills, and some teens might be inclined to lay off their lead foot if they know someone, somewhere is watching. If you like the idea of monitoring your teen but aren't thrilled with the idea of letting an insurer inside your dashboard, you could also try spying yourself.

8. Consider a Higher Deductible or Lower Coverage

One surefire way to reduce your premiums is to raise your deductible. Just make sure you have enough in the bank to cover it if needed. Similarly, you could see how much it saves to drop collision or comprehensive coverage. However, do the math before making any rash decisions. Unless you can afford a new car, dropping comprehensive coverage could mean you'll be without a set of wheels if your vehicle gets totaled.

9. Shop Around for Better Rates

I was shocked to find out the insurance company, to which I had been so faithful for 17 years, was charging me double what other insurers were quoting. Perhaps it's different for other companies, but my experience was that loyalty doesn't necessarily pay off in terms of cheaper premiums.

Before you blindly add your teen to your existing policy, shop around for better rates. Underwriting policies vary by company, and some may have better pricing for young drivers. In addition, teen discount programs can differ between insurers.

10. Consolidate Your Coverage With One Insurer

Finally, when you find the right car insurance company, consider moving all your policies to that provider. Virtually all insurance companies offer multipolicy discounts, and the more you insure, the greater your discount may be.

Do you have a teen driver in the house? Tell us how you keep your insurance costs down by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page. Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash.
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