, Salem, MA

April 5, 2014

Auto Scanner: Tips for buying a teen’s first car

Auto Scanner
Larry Rubenstein

---- — Q: I was wondering if you could recommend a safe, reliable car for my son who will be getting his license in July. He is 4 feet 11 inches tall, so visibility is a bit of an issue. Having him drive my minivan is not really an option. I was thinking of a small pickup, i.e. Tacoma, Ranger, etc. But, I was wondering what you would suggest for his first car. We are going to be in the market for a used car and not too expensive. We appreciate any recommendations or suggestions you have to offer.

A: This question is often asked. A few rules of buying a used car: Have an independent mechanic check out the used car before you buy it. If the seller refuses to let you have it checked out, walk away. It’s hard to find anything decent for under $3,500. You need to not only look at the current condition, but you should look at what the car will need over the next year. You need to look for oil leaks, timing belt maintenance issues, brakes, tires, steering — the list goes on and on. Typically, the new driver will have to replace the car in 12 to 18 months either due to an accident or neglect of maintenance. I would stay clear of cars older than 13 years old. I would look at the state inspection sticker to get a feeling when the car was last registered and used on a daily basis. Used-car reports can be a great way to look at a used car, but not everything is in that report. Only what went through the insurance company will be on that report. A few dents or dings should not dissuade you from buying a car; you can be sure your new driver is going to contribute to them. I don’t recommend a pickup truck for his first vehicle. Pickup trucks can be difficult to park, and they handle completely differently from a car in adverse weather conditions. The back end of a pickup truck is kind of light, and that’s what scares me.

Q: I have a 2007 Jeep Commander that has a problem with the rear hatch door. When the doors are locked, the hatch door can be opened, and it activates the alarm. Interested in hearing if you have seen this. Any information you can provide would be helpful.

A: I have had this problem in my shop with a few Jeeps. We have found electrical problems with the actuators. The interior of the rear hatch has to be stripped down. With a wiring diagram in hand, you want to have a helper activate the door lock and unlock buttons while you are holding a test light to the wiring. The good part of this whole situation is the parts for your rear hatch are readily available and reasonably priced.

Car Care Tip: Spring is right around the corner. You want to check your air-conditioning system now before the repair shop bays get backed up.


Larry Rubenstein is a master technician who owns a North Shore service station. His column appears every Saturday. Write to Larry at The Salem News, c/o Auto Scanner, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915, or send an email to