7 Best Cars for College Students

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2010 Ford FocusAs another school draws to a close, thousands of high school seniors around the country are preparing to head off to college. For many, this means that it’s time to get a car. However, taking an expensive car to college can put financial strain on a student who is already expected to live off Ramen. If you are shopping for yourself, or for your child, it helps to be smart about the car that you choose. Choose a car that’s cheap to own.

Sometimes, the cheapest option can be to buy used. When I bought a car my freshman year, I spent about $3,000 for a used Mercury Topaz. It was a five-speed (I learned to drive stick on an old Festiva), and it got great gas mileage. My car was cheap to own, and it didn’t need a lot of repairs. It was a great option for me. However, not everyone is willing to go through the used car lots in an effort to find a good deal. Here are some ideas for cheap cars from Forbes and CNN Money, with my thoughts thrown in. You just might find something that makes sense for the student in your life:

  1. Ford Focus: I know a lot of students that drive this car. A new Focus can cost around $16,500 for a base model. However, if you’re willing to get something that is a few years older, you can cut that cost down to $6,000 or $7,000 for a used car. The latest Focus gets around 26 MPG city, and 36 highway. It’s a great car that can be serviced almost anywhere, and it’s usually relatively inexpensive to fix.
  2. Nissan Versa: With a base MSRP of $11,770, this car, new, isn’t a bad bet. It offers a decent-sized back seat for your student’s friends, although strage space is somewhat limited. The Versa gets an estimated 27 MPG in the city and 36 on the highway. Of course, you can find it cheaper used.
  3. Kia Soul: One of the great things about the Kia Soul, for many, is its SUV look. It has a little more storage space, and can be more comfortable for road trips. Additionally, many are surprised at the 27 MPG city and 35 MPG highway that the Kia Soul gets. You can get a new Soul for $14,650, but its high depreciation rate means that you can find used cars for less.
  4. Fiat 500: If your student doesn’t mind something small, the Fiat 500, with its 38 MPG on the highway, can be a great gas saver. Even city driving results in 30 MPG. Not bad at all. The cost is a little higher for a new car: $15,500. However, it’s not horrible, and you might be able to find an older used Fiat that still gets decent gas mileage for less.
  5. Chevrolet Cruze: There’s adequate trunk space for most college students in this car. It gets 26 MPG in the city, and 36 MPG on the highway. It starts at $16,525, but its draw for parents is the peace of mind: You can make sure your child gets roadside help with OnStar.
  6. Hyundai Elantra: This car is reasonably roomy, and starts with a MSRP of $15,195. You can get 40 MPG on the highway, leading to substantial gas savings. And, since the depreciation is fairly large, it’s possible to get used versions for good deals.
  7. Ford F-150: A truck probably had to be included on this list. You can start with $12,565 for a new F-150. But it’s possible to find a reliable used truck for less. The hauling capability is a draw for many, and the F-150 has tested well for safety for years. Plus, it’s a common truck so it’s easy to service. Gas can be spendy, though, with 16 MPG city and 21 highway.
What do you you think are the best cars for students?

(Photo: CC-BY-CarImages)

{ 15 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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15 Responses to “7 Best Cars for College Students”

  1. Darci says:

    I’d like to know where you’re getting your new F-150 for $12,565. We’ll be there right in line to buy one!

  2. cvargo says:

    I drove and still drive a Hyundai accent. 40 MPG, and 10 year bumper to bumper warranty. Can’t go wrong there when you are living off of ramen and mac and cheese for 4 years

  3. Mike says:

    Seriously? A Fiat 500 for a student? The Elantra is cheaper, offers better fuel economy, and has miles more interior room. Plus it’s not a temperamental, stylish Italian car.

    And if you’re buying an “older used Fiat”, you’d better be an enthusiast and ready to do your own repairs, because you’re going to be shopping 1984 and prior — that’s when Fiat withdrew from the US market.

    I’m surprised not to see the relatively inexpensive, utilitarian, highly reliable Honda Fit or Civic or the Toyota Yaris on the list.

  4. lostAnnfound says:

    I’ll be right behind you, Darci. The cheapest used Ford F150 I could find locally was a 2000 model with 65,000 miles for $10,983. For a new F150 around here you’re looking at $28,000 for a 4-door V6 2WD.

  5. Martha says:

    I’ve driven my Honda Civic 5-speed for the past 7 years and love it! I bought it used, one year old, with only 11k miles on it. They last for a while so I know that even if you can’t purchase a new one, a used one is still a good bet!

  6. freeby50 says:

    A lot of college kids would do better without a car. IF you’re living on campus you usually really don’t need a car.

    If you do need a car then I’d certainly go for something used, cheap and practical. I’m surprised theres no Toyota or Hondas on the list.

    I wouldn’t bet on a Fiat. Fiat does not have a very good reliability record. Fiat = Fix It Again Tony
    They only started selling them again in the US in the past year or so and you won’t see used ones on the market.

    THe $12k price given for the F150 pickup is actually the CPO or certified pre-owned. New F150’s start around $21k for a base barebones 4×2.

    • Sarah in Alaska says:

      My husband and I both got through college without a car…living off campus. We had bikes and lived across the street from school.

    • daenyll says:

      My first two years i didn’t have a car, the only reason I got one later was I moved to an apartment style dorm where we our own kitchen and I didn’t have to pick thru the meal plan offerings for edible options, so having an easier and more reliable means of getting to grocery than the bus was needed. The last semester I was off campus and needed to commute in a Cleveland winter.

  7. Shorebreak says:

    VW Beetle, Ford Mustang 6-cylinder, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Tacoma are surely to be included. But the best is the Mazda Miata MX-5.

  8. Matt says:

    Seems like a decent list, was there any criteria for what cars made the list?
    I would think a civic would be a great car for a college student, better then a F150

  9. VHD says:

    If affordability is the issue, then it seems like one of these fits best: Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, or one of the classic two (Corolla/Civic).

    The above have low MSRPs (and can be found 2-3 years old with low mileage for much cheaper), get the decent 30-35MPG fuel economy, and are very reliable. The above also tends to be cheaper to insure. Basically, all of them have a low TCO (total cost of ownership).

    Of course, there are a number of other similar vehicles (Yaris/Mazda2/etc), but the results are the same.

    I’m not so sure about recommending a Ford F150. Of course, there will be people who buy that, but in terms of affordability? In my area, a new Ford F150 is in excess of $29+K (way above its MSRP, which is already high at $23K). Plus, the fact that its fuel economy is in the 15MPG area is appalling. Fuel costs for it would literally be doubled what it costs for the other cars. Basically, according to Edmunds, its TCO over the course of five years is some $16K higher than the Versa/Corolla.

    If you want it, you want it, but if the other cars on this list is even a possibility, then it seems like a rather lopsided comparison.

  10. shiftomnimega says:

    I would have gone with Kia Forte, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Civic. Why Money would list the Fiat, I read it, and still can’t figure it out. Also, that is not the price of a new F-150, but the original article lists it as the price of a Certified Pre-Owned.

  11. Noel says:

    Why do you need car to begin with? Most college towns are good for bikes. If you live in south, try vespa. Here we are complaining about oil prices all the time then why not think of cheaper and environmentally friendly options?

    Have you been to Italy or France or India? They all have expensive gas than us. Many there drive vespas that offer about 200mpg. Check I wonder why they don’t have such in the US.

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