A teen’s first real car shopping experience


My MoneyTalk teammates, Mary and Ariel, and I, are not exactly experts on cars. Mary is 20, Ariel is 18 and I am 16. None of us has owned a car so we wanted to get a first-hand experience with car buying. 

We started off by doing some research on carsoup.com. CarSoup is a Web site for people to buy, sell and research vehicles. It provides car listings from local dealerships and private sellers. It is easy to use and you can narrow down the range of cars by the price, year and model to find cars that fit within your criteria.

We found some good deals, and the site gave us a good idea of what we were looking for. Some suitable cars we found included a 2001 Mazda Protégé at $3,500 and a 2003 Nissan Sentra at $4,450.

We were curious about how a car dealership would treat prospective young buyers, and if they would take us seriously. We went car shopping to find out. We figured we’d look for something that costs $2,500 or less, about as much as any of us could afford.

We chose CarHop in Inver Grove Heights, because its TV commercials say, or rather sing, that it helps finance used cars for people with little or no credit, which is often the case for teens.

To be honest, I was pretty clueless about cars, and Ariel and Mary weren’t car-smart either. I was nervous about how we would be treated. I had also read several articles online about how car dealerships are out to deceive buyers.

My fears were somewhat relieved when Eric, the salesman, greeted us warmly as we stepped inside the dealership. He listened while we explained our situation to him, telling him that Mary was a college student looking into getting her own car and that we, her friends, had come along to help her.

Other MoneyTalk team members
Mary Kenkel and Ariel Nash
Photo by Lisa Fan

I couldn’t help but notice the colorful wall of customer reports behind Eric’s desk. I skimmed through some of them, written by people who had great experiences with CarHop, and noticed several that said, “I love Eric!” or “Eric deserves a raise!” Of course, Eric would never put critical comments on the wall.

He walked us outside and explained that the prices ranged from $5,000 and up. CarHop sells to people with bad or no credit and provides an 18-month/18,000 mile warranty, so the prices are higher for those reasons.

He quickly showed us a couple of the cheaper cars available, and then followed us, as we looked around a little ourselves before going inside. None of the cars had prices displayed on the windows, which was frustrating for prospective car buyers.

Our next stop was Polar Chevrolet in White Bear Lake. I was impressed with how quickly the salesman came to our assistance. He greeted us as soon as we stepped out of the car. Jeff listened while we told him that Ariel was interested in buying a cheap car.


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Jeff said that all cars are checked by certified mechanics before they are put up for sale. Jeff showed us around to car after car, taking the time to describe the price, gas mileage and features of every car, and described which qualities the car lacked, especially about mileage.

He stayed within the price range that Ariel had mentioned, which was around $5,000, not pressuring us to go for the more expensive cars. Two of the cheapest cars he showed us were the Chevy Cavalier, at $5,400, and ’01 Buick Regal, at $4,900. He also noticed Ariel’s reactions to the cars. There was one car, a red PT Cruiser, that he spent a long time detailing for her, because Ariel seemed to take special interest in it. That was one thing that made the service at the Chevy dealership so great.

Unlike CarHop, the Chevy dealership does not specialize in helping people with bad or no credit, and sells “as is” cars without a warranty. And, the prices of the cars were listed on the windows, which was convenient. There was a wider and better selection of cars at the Chevy dealership.

After doing this research, I would recommend first looking at Consumer Reports to take a look at car ratings and get an idea of what kind of car you want. The next step would be to go to carsoup.com and see what is available on there, and match the cars up with the ratings. Then, it’s time to hit the dealerships, and hopefully by then, you will have found the perfect car for yourself!