Jay Leno bought his first car for $350 before he could even drive—here's what he's learned since then

Jay Leno has no debt thanks in large part to abiding by this one rule

Car connoisseur Jay Leno bought his first car at age 14. It cost him $350, which he paid with savings from his summer jobs.

"I bought a '34 Ford pickup truck and it didn't run and my dad said, 'You've got two years before you get your license, so get busy working on it,'" he tells CNBC Make It. "I learned how to fix it and make it run."

That was in the 1960s. Today, the host of "Jay Leno's Garage" has some different advice for first-time car buyers: Whether you're buying your first car or shopping for your kid, get a model that dates from at least 2005.

If you're tempted to buy an antique car, check yourself, says Leno: "Accidents you walk away from in a modern car would kill you in an antique car. If you are buying a car for a teenager, don't get them an antique car. Get them something from 2005 forward, because at least they'll have airbags and seatbelts and all that kind of stuff.

"Old cars are truly dangerous conveyances."

Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno.
NBC | Getty Images

It's worth it to spend on a car that will keep you safe, says Leno, whose rule of thumb is to "buy the best car that you can afford."

Once you've settled on one that you can afford, don't lease, advises Leno. "I always think it's better to buy a car," he told CNBC Make It in 2016. "Everyone seems to lease now. Everyone thinks you can write off this and write off that, and to a certain extent, you can. But at the end of the lease, you don't have anything."

There are pros and cons to both leasing and owning that you'll want to consider.

Lease payments per month are typically cheaper than loan payments per month. Buying offers more flexibility, though: You don't have to worry about going over an annual mileage limit and the car is yours to keep or sell. That's what Leno likes about it. He prefers ownership when it comes to most things.

After all, "when you don't have to write checks every month, you're just better off," he says.

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