As 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
(Photo: CC-BY-CarImages )