Aaron Raines, 18, stands near his first car, a 1999 Camaro. The Dade County senior remembers when he got the car. "During the summer, I would drive the guys around with the T-tops down. We had a blast."
On Valentine's Day, chocolates and flowers may be the go-to gifts of choice, but for some teens, what their first love really wants is an oil change.
The relationship between some teenagers and their first vehicle shares a lot in common with a romantic relationship. Many times they start out with excitement, eventually grow into strong bonds and, for the majority, are short-lived.
"It's my baby, I treasure it highly," said Rodney Brown, a senior at East Hamilton High School, of his white 2001 Ford Mustang. "I grew up with it. It was my first oil change.
"I got it when I was 15 on spring break ... . I was the only freshman driving."
Several teenagers said their cars have opened doors for them.
Dade County High School student Aaron Raines, 18, cruises through town in his 1999 Chevrolet Camaro. When his parents bought him the car last year, he said it helped him become more independent.
"My car changed everything. I didn't have to rely on my parents anymore ... and it helps out with the ladies," said Aaron. "I look forward to driving it to college."
Boyd-Buchanan High School junior Kayla Toth's parents surprised her with a silver 2008 Ford Mustang, which she now drives everywhere.
"I cried when I got it," said Kayla, 16. "My parents hid it in my garage two weeks before my birthday."
For some teens, a car is something they depend on for both work and leisure.
Dade County High School student Billy Reeves, 18, drives his Chevy S10 pickup to school and to his job at Ace Hardware in Trenton, Ga., almost every day.
"My truck has made a huge impact on my life. It opens up so many doors and opportunities," said Billy, said. "I tell (my truck), 'I expect you to work when I need to do something.'"
Bill Perry bought his first car for $25, a 1929 Model A Ford, at age 14. Perry is now the Chattanooga representative of the Sports Car Club of America and said he feels today's teens are more infatuated with their cars than aware of how they function.
"Teens are very fascinated with cars today," he said. "When I was a teenager, you had to be dedicated to your car."
Teens share their memories of their first vehicle.
"I remember I hit a pole in the middle of the Northgate mall parking lot.
— Kayla Toth, 16, Boyd Buchanan.
* First car: 2008 Ford Mustang
* Current car: 2008 Ford Mustang
"I got it from a dealership that sold lost or stolen vehicles that are unclaimed. Two or three days later, the dealer called and said that the owner came to claim it."
— Eller Malchok, 17, senior, GPS.
* First car: 1998 Toyota Forerunner.
* Current car: 2004 Volkswagen Pasaat.
BY THE NUMBERS
* 9,080: Number of 15-18 year-old drivers with valid licenses in Hamilton County in 2010.
* 9,258: number of teen drivers with valid licenses in Hamilton County in 2000.
Source: Tennessee Department of Safety statistics