Buying a first car as a college student

Cars parked at a dealership. Austin Carroll | Lariat

Do your research before making a purchase

College students may demand a variety of different cars to meet their daily practical needs and wants. Some students will focus on low acquisition cost (used car) and some may want something newer and more reliable, possibly safer with better technology.  Some may focus on style, like a sports car or small truck. Still others might like Japanese, German or domestic.


For most college students, the priority when buying a first car would be affordability. Car values have changed a lot in the past few years as the pandemic caused many product shortages making the value of used cars go up.  


“I like a car that’s small so I can park in spaces easily, but big enough to hold my stuff. I also would like something that’s good on gas. I really like Mini Coopers” said Amy Valencia, a Saddleback College business major living in Los Angeles.


Mini Coopers are a fun and practical option for college students. They’re lightweight and peppy cars, but also spacious enough for books and stylish. Pre-owned models are inexpensive and new models start at $22,900.


John Turner, a resident of Anaheim, recently purchased a 2022 Toyota Corolla Hatchback. 


“I really think it’s the perfect car for me to be driving in college. When I’m driving down to south Orange County to see my friends I get over 30 miles per gallon. I chose to get the manual transmission. It always impresses a lot of people when they see the manual on such a newer car.” John said about his Corolla.


In 2021, Kelly Blue Book rated the Toyota Corolla as the best new car for students. Many new Toyota models come equipped with their Safety Sense technology that help ensure the safety of the student on their commute to school. Generally, most Japanese cars aren’t over engineered like European ones. Which means maintenance is easier and less expensive.


For those looking to buy a new car, Toyota, Subaru and Chevy, among others, offer student discounts that range from $500 to $3,000.


 “I would definitely look for a car that has good gas mileage to help save on expenses and one that is reliable. It’s also cool to pick one that matches your style so that you feel confident in your car.” said Alora Reyes, a former student turned entrepreneur.


She’s right, after all, a car is an investment you will typically make for several years. You’re likely going to make memories in this car and at the same time you’re going to want to make sure it’s practical and you won’t grow out of it.


Before purchasing a new car, it would be a good idea to go out, look at a few different  models and test drive a few. There are many websites that will provide ratings for acquisition cost, maintenance costs and reliability, longevity safety comfort and more.  


It is easy to make an emotional decision when buying a car. Particularly a used one. Always take it to a reputable dealer or repair facility to have them look it over.  Once you buy it, you own it, problems and all. No one wants to spoil the joy of buying a car only to have to spend thousands more unexpectedly.  


Other considerations are younger college students have higher insurance costs because they’ve spent less time driving. Also because they’re more inexperienced, they might want a car with a good safety rating to keep themselves away from danger.  


Once you have found your “dream car”, call your insurance agent to see how much it will cost you as well.  The cost of insurance for that sports car you want may just make it unaffordable. Also new cars cost more to insure.  You might not need collision insurance on an older used car which could save you a thousand dollars per year or more. 


Also, license fees and taxes are much higher on new cars which might mean you get less car while you pay more in areas that do not contribute to functionality.  


Buying a car is a process that should take some time and serious thought. So do your research and find a car that’s practical, reliable and makes sense for your lifestyle!