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How to Keep Car Costs Low During College

Written by CB Community

College is well-known as a time for being broke. School can be expensive, and being out on your own for the first time and learning to manage your money can be a tough thing to tackle on top of coursework and just trying to survive the college experience.

One particularly expensive fact of life — owning a car can cost a lot of money. This might not be a problem if you live on campus, opening the question as to whether you should have a car at all while you’re there.

But, if you live off-campus, that’s an entirely different story. Even with public transportation, you might not be able to get away from having to own a vehicle.

So how can you keep your costs down in the meantime, so you’re not living the cliche and subsisting on ramen noodles six days a week?

Choose the Right Vehicle

So let’s say you’ve decided to bite the bullet and buy a car for while you’re in college. Will you be able to afford that on a student’s budget? The answer is yes — with a little bit of work.

Picking the right car for your college experience can make all the difference. For example, while it might be tempting to get that shiny new sports car, that’s going to put a lot of extra stress on your budget.

Used cars between two and six years old tend to offer the best value for their money — brand new cars (or old vintage cars!) can have a much higher cost-to-value ratio. The brand also matters (for example, a VW will be much easier and cheaper to maintain than a BMW).

Less powerful, less expensive cars tend to be the cheapest to own — so go for basic transportation!

In particular, look for cars that have good gas mileage and high reliability when it comes to maintenance and repair. Your bank account will thank you later.

Find Cheaper Parking

Parking spaces at universities are at an absolute premium, and what’s more, universities know that — it’s reflected in the prices for parking on campus. It can get very expensive very fast.

If there are any parking garages, street parking, or other places you can (safely and legally) park your vehicle, try using the alternatives instead of coughing up cash for university parking.

Some of those options may not be free, but there’s a good chance they’re significantly cheaper than parking on campus.

Avoid Traffic Violations

While we’re on the subject of parking and expenses, let’s talk a little about traffic violations.

In general, it’s best to avoid running afoul of the law, as that can raise your insurance premiums by as much as 45%, which might leave you scrambling to find some cheaper car insurance.

While there’s no way to guarantee you won’t get in a car accident (there’s always the other guy), you can keep your premiums down and yourself safer by avoiding reckless driving, driving while under the influence, or otherwise risking trouble with traffic laws.

Drive Less

Living on-campus is a great situation if you don’t want to have a car, or just don’t want to drive it very much. But that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect situation.

The freedom that college life brings can mean going out to parties, visiting friends, day trips to explore your new surroundings, and a lot more.

These things are a valuable (and perhaps even necessary) component of college life, and shouldn’t be cut out of your college experience completely.

But limiting these excursions to the ones that really matter can help keep your costs down — as can taking public transportation where available, walking whenever it’s feasible, and maybe only driving to visit the parents every other weekend instead of every weekend.


Speaking of taking trips: look for opportunities to carpool with others. Sharing a ride is not only good for the environment and more efficient for everyone.

However, it can also save you on fuel costs if everyone chips in a bit for the cost of the trip. It doesn’t just save on fuel expenses, either — carpooling can significantly reduce wear-and-tear on vehicles and reduce the number of trips to the mechanic (and all the associated costs that come with that).

And for an added bonus, you get to use the carpool lane!

Stay On Your Parents’ Insurance Policy

No matter how you cut it, however, owning a vehicle in college and paying for insurance can still cost quite a bit of cash.

If the opportunity is there and it’s financially agreeable with everyone involved, consider staying on your parents’ insurance policy, particularly if you’re a teenager.

Teenagers, in particular, tend to be cheaper when it comes to being on their parents’ policy and can save both you and them some money.

About the author

CB Community

Passionate members of the College Basics community that include students, essay writers, consultants and beyond. Please note, while community content has passed our editorial guidelines, we do not endorse any product or service contained in these articles which may also include links for which College Basics is compensated.