Buy your kid a car - Embedded.com

Buy your kid a car

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” — Mark Twain

When I was a young parent I knew pretty much everything about raising children. As time passed life and circumstances challenged many of those core beliefs. One of the most remarkable things about guiding kids from birth to adulthood is just how much the parent learns.

One of those key principles was that none of our kids would have a car in high school. Sure, they could use ours, but I felt owning a car would be a distraction that could lead to no good. After all, I wasn’t allowed to own a car till college, and what was good enough for me…

Yet some of my friends in high school had parents who were more tolerant. We worked on their cars. A lot. Rebuilt engines, swapped transmissions, did the brakes, etc. I learned an enormous amount about machinery by getting my hands greasy.

When he turned 16 my son asked if he could buy an old VW microbus. Hey, I had one in my twenties and even lived in it for a year while saving for a boat. My initial negative response was met with a carefully-reasoned argument about how much he would learn, and that, after all, these were so old they’d probably never run. Then he said he had saved $1200 doing summer jobs so could afford this.

I relented. He bought two junkers with a little financial help from us, both 1977 vintage, both with seized engines, one with a bad transmission, and both with lots of other problems.

In 1980, living in an apartment, I realized there were three VW engines in the living room and porch, all of which I was rebuilding for friends and family. After finishing those I swore I’d never do another. Now we had my son’s engines in the basement. The two of us spent a winter companionably rebuilding one, using parts from the other as well as new parts where needed (cylinders and pistons). We turned the two dead vehicles into one working one over the course of a year.

His friends all predicted failure; the bus would never be done. They saw those boxes of parts and couldn’t imagine how a working engine could emerge from the chaos. I kept telling him it was just an engine; we were a lot smarter than it. Each part has a purpose, a place, each bolt gets a certain torque, and the pieces, one at a time, would come together to form a working whole.

Parents of teenagers know how hard it can be to maintain a civil relationship with those morons young people. This project bound us closer and kept us talking in a positive way.

Today Graham is a physicist. Last year he replaced the engine and transmission in his jeep. He has a mastery of the intellectual domain as well as the mechanical world. The bus project was a big part of what gave him the knowledge and confidence to understand this technical world and to fix things.

I’d like to say, per the title of this piece, that all teenagers need this sort of experience, but the truth is that kids differ. My daughter never had the slightest interest in anything technical or mechanical. Despite the same opportunities, today she doesn’t know which end of a screwdriver to hold.

Over the last couple of months I’ve gotten a lot of “kids these days” emails from readers, lamenting a variety of problems with youth who are victims of technology rather than competent masters of it. Some complain about young engineers with little mechanical aptitude, or an attitude that if Google can’t return an answer quickly, there is no answer. I’m not keen on “kids these days” grumbling, as every generation has had the same complaint. Kids these days are, well, kids, and are still learning. In the workplace it’s our job to mentor them. In the family we need to provide them with learning opportunities.

For me ham radio, TV repair, and the like were gateways into electronics. But working on cars gave me mechanical competence. The maker movement, Arduino, and the like are wonderful ways to teach young folks about modern electronics. I do think a rounded individual should also understand how stuff works in general. How a piston does its thing. How air conditioning works. The difference between torque and horsepower.

The teenage years are very formative. Try to give your youngster opportunities to develop mastery of this very complex world, to feel confident about breaking out a toolbox rather than calling a handyman or AAA when something goes wrong.


Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges, and works as an expert witness on embedded issues. Contact him at . His website is .

13 thoughts on “Buy your kid a car

  1. “People have been grumbling about the youngsters since forever. A few weeks ago I saw a letter written to the newspapers in the 1890s – it could have been written yesterday.nnAs a generalisation, kids form a template from what they see around them. If ki

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  2. “I bought cars for both my boys when they came 'of age' to drive in the '80s and '90s. nnThe eldest got a Dodge Dart and spent a lot of time pop-riveting sheet metal over the rust holes in the body. He also learned how to change the oil, replace spark p

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  3. “”The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the

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  4. “I had a good laugh at this because this very topic has been brought up in the office where I work. First, today's kids don't really want to drive. I was EXACTLY 16 when I got my license, but I have nieces & nephews who are 19 and still don't drive. Sam

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  5. “I think a lot depends on the household they're raised in. My kids grew up helping me add onto the house, and maintaining old cars. When they were old enough to drive, they got the old cars (and still have them).nnWhen my son moved into his first off-c

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  6. “Great article. I towed my first car home and had to repair the transmission just to get it back on the road! Mind you I never had worked on a manual transmission from a 1965 Ford before. That learning experience and many others like it really did enable m

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  7. “I find myself agreeing with the article and comments.nnI helped my dad when he worked on cars and then worked on the junkers that I got after turning 16. Rebuilding a vehicle gives one a dose of project management skills. And the experience of making

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  8. “I agree. My dad & I built racing cars and I was forever fetching tools and cleaning up afterwards. At times this was frustrating, but I learned a lot. Often the lesson had nothing to do with the actual task, but were more general, i.e. how to figure it

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  9. “Its nice to gift your kid a brand new car, but it's also very important to let him understand some vital traffic rules and regulations. It makes your kid safe and secure. So,keep some patience and see your kid is able to drive or not. If yes, then gift hi

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  10. “Great article my friend!Its a cool idea to gift your kid a brand new car, but before letting them to drive please tell them some important traffic related rules and regulations. It safes your child's life from any incident. thanks for sharing with us!nht

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  11. “It's a sweetest and lovely moment when a father gifts something to his child.Generally father wants to give everything to his son for his fulfillment of all wishes.But,some gifts certain expensive cars to their son who are under age to drive;i mean have n

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  12. “This is the actual love of parents for their child because the child is not adult but his father is giving him branded car.I know father wants to give everything to his son but in the case of presenting a car is a danger because he has to drive throw the

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  13. “This is the actual love of parents for their child because the child is not adult but his father is giving him branded car.I know father wants to give everything to his son but in the case of presenting a car is a danger because he has to drive throw the

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