Teenagers dream of owning their own car, and some teens save money for years to make the purchase. In most states, teenagers under the age of 18 are considered minors, so whether they can buy cars depends largely on laws of the states in which they live.
Ability to Enter a Contract
The biggest factor preventing most minors from owning cars is that they cannot enter into contracts in most states. Because a purchase agreement is considered a contract, a minor typically can't be the sole owner of a vehicle. The minor's parents or guardians would have to sign the contract as the majority owner of the vehicle. Minors cannot be majority owners until they reach the age of majority in their state or unless they become emancipated from their parents.
Someone Else Holds Title
If a parent co-signs a loan for a car, the parent is the majority owner of the car and the holder of the title. This doesn't prevent the minor from buying the car or using it, just from owning it. While there are some states that allow a teenager to register a car, a parent or guardian still needs to sign the contract and legal documents concerning the car. One variation on this is that Ohio allows minors to title vehicles, though a parent or guardian has to complete a minor consent form and accompany the minor to the Clerk of Courts office to title the vehicle.
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Minors can be emancipated from their parents, which frees the parents from any responsibility for the child. Emancipation happens if a minor joins the military, marries or petitions the court for emancipation. In essence, the child is being proclaimed an adult before the age of majority. He can do most things an adult can do, although limitations vary by state. This means that an emancipated minor can enter into a contract and title a vehicle in his own name.
Age of Majority
When a minor reaches driving age, it doesn't mean he can purchase and title a vehicle. Driving age is not the age of majority. The age of majority varies among the states.