By on October 25, 2012

Every time you see them, a big smile shines across your face.

Full scholarship. Nice as can be. A good heart. Your wunderkind of a young adult has given you so much over the years and is now on the way to making this world a better place.

You want to help them by getting them some wheels for their new home away from home.

Will you pay for all of it? Pay for a portion of it? It’s a tough call. Decisions like these are never easy. Safe. Fun. Durable. Where can you find all three without spending too much?

You don’t want to spoil them. That’s for sure. But as an auto enthusiast who knows that a great car can be a reward all in itself, you do want them to experience a feeling of joy and satisfaction for their first solitary set of wheels.

Oh, one more thing. They have driven for several years without so much as an accident or a ticket. The big man upstairs says, “You’re welcome!”

So what would you buy? Better yet, should you buy?

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166 Comments on “Question Of The Day: What Would Be The Best Car For A College Student?...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    Easy…my son’s 1997 Toyota Tercel. Near-zero maintenance, superb fuel economy, decided lack of gizmos, 5 speed (so at least he knows how to drive one) and 97 HP…which for a pilot-in-training for the Air Force keeps him out of trouble when it comes to speeding.

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      1. Asian four-door sedan
      2. Under 100,000 miles
      3. 5 – 10 years old
      4. Private seller with service records
      5. Up-to-date maintenance, brakes, tires etc.
      6. Passed pre-purchase inspection
      7. $5,000 – $10,000

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Sensible, but I would suggest Asian (if it can be found with such criteria) or late model Domestic.

        When I think of the above criteria, all I can think of is yuppieish parents giving graduation gifts. There is no way my parents were giving me the equivalent of a $10,000 car as a high school or college student (I got saddled with an $1000, ’87 K car). I see a 99-06 Taurus, 97-09 W-body, 96-05 H-Body in the future of most sensible average income students, and beat Escorts/Cavaliers/Civics/Corollas in those who desire a four banger… I would add Foci but the ones I’ve seen are stupidly expensive used.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        @28
        Yes I’m always surprised (eventhough I shouldn’t be) at how many parents buy some seriously nice machinery for their college age kids.

        My parents could probably have afforded it, but dared to torture me by forcing me to fund my own vehicular purchases.

        Sure at the time I was jealous of those kids, but nowadays I really thank my parents for making my life uncomfortable enough that I had to build the skills to buy old junk cheap and fix it up enough to get around.

        Also uncomfortable enough to move out of their house 10 years sooner than a lot of my peers.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “Sure at the time I was jealous of those kids, but nowadays I really thank my parents for making my life uncomfortable enough that I had to build the skills to buy old junk cheap and fix it up enough to get around.”

        I too have come to realize the wisdom in my parent’s utter cheapness, helped me build character.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “I too have come to realize the wisdom in my parent’s utter cheapness, helped me build character.”

        Agreed. I got a POS 10-year (actually, that car went to 11) old hand-me-down. There was nothing mechanically wrong with it, and it was a car that ran and carried all my stuff on a 12-hour drive when needed. It was probably worth 1200-1500 at most at the time.

        The problem with buying your kid a car that’s too nice when they’re young is that they expect a too nice car later. Then they start leasing cars that are too expensive for their budget when they have a McJob and never really learn.

        I get that economic times have changed this calculation a bit, but your kids should want to move out, if they can afford it. They should want to be independent. If you keep buying them fancy stuff, they probably won’t learn.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Excellent points, gentleman.

  • avatar
    CrapBox

    Let the little blimps walk or ride a bike.

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      +1 for the Schwinn suggestion

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I took the bus a lot in college, and it was good for me to do so.

      Other than that, I rode a bike. I think that was better for me.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        I agree, the best car for college is no car at all. College campuses typically are the most pedestrian-and-bike-friendly habitats most of them will ever live and work in, so why pass up that benefit? And ever try to find parking at a major college campus?

        All that exercise will help them avoid packing on the “freshman 15″ (pounds). When I recall college, I remember biking, biking and an occasional jaunt in a borrowed car. When I see my old pictures, I see a lean, mean bikin’ machine. I really can’t recall how owning a car would have improved my undergraduate experience.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    You can hedge your bet on a clean corvette

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Takin’a ride… on heavy metal

      +1 for the Don Felder reference

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        ….and sure you get to fight in the breastuary,and swim in the fountains of farnoff(sp) with the itty titty fairies of Mammary Mountain….and then you fight the boob goblin in the gozongus cave…

        The South Park episode Major Boobage plays homage to Heavy Metal…I laughed my balls off…check it out.

        http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s12e03-major-boobage

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        @golden
        Being a big fan of the film for a long time, I LMAO when I saw that episode of South Park. That show gets better all the time.

  • avatar

    As a college student, I would say ANY Subaru minus an SVX or a Tribeca.

    • 0 avatar

      The Tribeca was a crime to both Subaru and the rest of humanity, and it was trampled by its nearest competitor, the (far better) Nissan Murano.

      And let’s not forget the instance in which a certain TTAC writer compared the B9 Tribeca’s front end to female genitalia…

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      Why not the SVX? That was my college ride, and it serves me fine. It was not until I graduated that its tranny failed… Not so good on fuel, but it was nice and refined, and eye catching too. Safe too, with all wheel drive. Good midrange acceleration means safe overtaking on two lane roads, but not so fast from standing still to inspire hooliganinsm. I’d say that in this case a WRX would be worse… (as far as inspiring hoolinganism)

  • avatar
    cdakost

    As a college student that has to drive between Minnesota and Ohio a few times a year, I’m quite happy with my white Subaru BRZ.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      After my son crashed his 1968 Ford Galaxie, he bought a BMW 328i– BIG mistake! (constant, expensive, mechanical repairs)- Now, he is trading it in for a Subaru!

  • avatar
    tatracitroensaab

    used Mazda3 hatch – its safe, fun, affordable, reliable, space efficient, and can even be gotten in a manual.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    With college students- fuel economy is probably the paramount concern.
    In the years past, I would have voted for a 92-95 Civic. But with the passage of time, those cars are getting to be too old. Now I would vote for a used Toyota Yaris. This car gets well over 35mpg- more if it’s stick shift. And it has proven to be dead reliable, cheap to insure and cheap to maintain.

  • avatar
    Battlehawk

    In a proper “college town” one may not even need a car. If you do, Pre-Pokemon Mazda 3, preferably the hatch.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    Hyundai Elantra!

    I helped buy a 2011 Elantra for my grand daughter when she graduated from High School in May 2011 and it has served her well on her daily 150-mile round-trip commute to college.

    Gas mileage ranges anywhere from 15mpg going up the mountain to 60mpg coming down the mountain, carrying four chubby teenage girls. Since I am the one who fills it with gas every day, my guess would be that if she kept her foot out of it, her mpg could be much better.

    Her Elantra has had no issues or problems and has not been back to the dealership for anything since it was bought, I would say that is a pretty good deal.

    I have done nothing to it except change the oil and filters every 3000 miles or so. The original Kumho tires sucked big time, but now with four Pirelli tires on it, I hope to get better wear out of them.

    And the 10-year/100,000-mile warranty doesn’t hurt either. I hope we’ll never have to use it but it is there if we should need it.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I think they should put you in a Hyundai commercial HDC ;)

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        28-Cars-Later, we’ve really had good luck with my grand daughter’s Elantra. She drives the p!ss out of it four days a week, most weeks, with her three girlfriends, and all I do is top it off with Premium pure-gas at the house every night, and change the oil and filters about every 3000 miles.

        But when I relate my nightmare stories about the domestic cars and trucks that I’ve owned over the decades, all of a sudden the Buy American fanboys deride me as somehow being anti-Detroit.

        Truth is, I’ve owned Detroit iron for decades longer than I have owned Japanese and South Korean vehicles, even those fur’ners made in the good ol’ USA.

        What can I say? Japanese and South Korean cars are just better than what Detroit cranked out. And most people know it. That’s why Chrysler and GM died in 2009. Not enough people interested in buying their crap.

        As soon as that little Elantra hits 100,000 miles, I’ll buy her another Elantra. And even if it dies before it hits 100,000 miles, there’s the warranty. I like that! No out of pocket repair expenses. I already checked it out at the dealer.

        Yep, that tickles me.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      @HDC: As a Hyundai fanboy, I approve your message.

      Actually, my son at college bought a bike, but he’s trying to convince me to let him take our 01 Elantra for next year when his brother may join him there. I was considering it, but at 182k miles it’s not as trustworthy as I’d like, and I won’t pay for repairs done by someone else. So he may just keep the bike.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      Everybody’s situation is individual, and your granddaughter may have sound reasons for her long college commute, but I can’t fathom what they might be. Three hours or more on the road, every day, isn’t going to help a student learn, and it cuts her out of campus life, too. Does anybody need reminding that auto accidents are the leading cause of death among young people? You’re talking about 15+ hours per week of exposure to that hazard. It would be better to get her a part-time job to pay for campus housing.

      My kid’s contemplating college options, and I’m recommending either nearby schools or ones so far away that an airliner will be the only practical means of commuting. But that’s easier to say living in Denver, where if you don’t like the big schools in Boulder and Ft. Collins, you’d have to drive all the way to the University of Calgary.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Wheatridger, NMSU in Las Cruces, NM is the nearest college to where we live at 75mi, one way. The next nearest college is UTEP in El Paso, TX, at 110mi, one way.

        Traveling great distances at breakneck speeds is nothing new to us living in the great Southwest. Wide open spaces, you know. Cost of gas, immaterial because you need gas to get around.

        And it does make for a long day, every school day, if you have to commute. But many do it, students and teachers, because college is only four days a week here, and on Fridays the school winds down with only the labs and libraries open.

        In this part of the world, people commute to jobs a couple of hours every morning. It is not unusual for people to live 150 miles from where they work and commute every day. Many carpool. That’s six hours on the road every working day, but at least you’re home with the family at night. And you make adjustments.

        When I was in the Air Force, many service members lived in El Paso, TX, and commuted to where we were stationed 110 miles further north.

        And vice-versa. I know several Army guys stationed at Fort Bliss, TX, who live in New Mexico and commute 110 miles, one way to get to work. Doesn’t faze them one bit. I did it when I was stationed overseas with the military. I commuted 65mi, one way, every day. I lived at Patrick Henry Village in Heidelberg, Germany and commuted to a classified location 65 miles away, up a mountain. Wore out a few motorcycles that way, and cars, blasting down the autobahn.

        In case of bad weather, there are always places you can fall back on to crash for the night. We’ve had people crash at our place because they couldn’t get up the mountain to Timberon, NM, because of weather. People learn to adapt and find ways.

        Part-time jobs are reserved for summer break, unless my grand daughter goes to summer courses, which she did this past summer. When she was in High School, she worked a part-time cafeteria job for all four years in High School.

        She had to be at the HS cafeteria, for work, at 5am, attended classes starting at 8am, worked at the cafeteria from 11am to 12:30pm, and then finished classes from 1pm to 3pm. On weekends and minor Holidays she worked at the local McDonalds in town.

        She got work ethic, and now in college is the time for serious education. I believe the daily commute with three of her girlfriends make all of them better students. They sure seem well adjusted, have a lot of fun, and actually look forward to the drive, interaction, and the school day.

        The Elantra has held up very well. Better than I thought it would.

  • avatar
    retrogrouch

    WTF does a college kid need a car for? Did I want a car? Hell yeah! Did I need one? No way. The bus and a bicycle got me everywhere I needed to go. I hit the ride board for an open seat in a car making the 12 hour trip home for breaks. After freshman year, I only came home for winter break anyway.

  • avatar
    Keith_93

    One they can pay for.

    That might mean an 18 speed Giant bicycle. Or if a car it must be, a 1992 Volvo 240. Safe, and actually college town retro cool in that hip to be square kinda way.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Bought my daughter an Accord. My mom decided she needed a Mustang convertible to park at her sorority. Accord traded in on the Mustang paid for by grandma. Son drove an ex-company Ranger that was headed for trade-in.

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      Ranger is a good suggestion for two reasons: for the most part you aren’t the driver of choice to get people to the party (excluding riding in the bed) and because you can move yourself or your friends in/out of dorms, apartments, or your parents house.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Go grandma! I’m sure it was a V6 but still, my grandma too always loved the look of the first Mustang.

    • 0 avatar
      glwillia

      I drove a ’97 4cyl/5spd Ranger in undergrad and the first few years of grad school (1997-2006). I drove it once a week at most, my actual “daily driver” was a bicycle.

  • avatar

    I am a college student whose taste is in Bentley products, or, failing that, powerful cars that fly under the radar. One of my favorites is the (departed-in-the-U.S.) Pontiac G8, whose insurance is surprisingly cheap for a RWD, V8-powered sedan. Another is the Subaru Legacy. I also like certain V8-powered Volvo products. And some of the new compact cars are a lot of fun to drive, like the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Subaru Imprezza. I would never recommend a Camry, but the V6-powered Accord (in manual or automatic) guise is also a great buy.

    Of course, if someone wanted to get me a Bentley in college, I’d be fine with that too…

  • avatar
    BrianL

    Basically a safe reliable used compact car. Something they can afford to fill up with gas when they need it. Nothing from Germany.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll second that, and add “nothing from England.” I don’t know how many friends I have who’ve bought Discovery II’s or previous-gen Jaguar XJ’s…only to be stranded somewhere on the interstate or to have to sell them because parts and maintenance were too costly.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Can’t speak for LRs, but [newer] Jags are just finicky about maintenance schedules… they are not plug [your payment down] and play. Now if your talking pre-X305 Jags well… good luck with that.

      • 0 avatar
        korvetkeith

        “It is worth noting that sometimes a Honda, Nissan or Toyota can be a worse buy than a Jaguar or an Audi.”

        I own a Jaguar, and you are delusional.

    • 0 avatar
      Mandalorian

      I disagree. German cars are perfectly fine, it is the idiot owners that ruin them. By neglecting matinence, services, etc, they cause the car to fail.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        What Mandalorian said.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        So a vehicle that doesn’t require strict adherence to a maintenece schedule without breaking is “finer” then?

        I’m personlly more impressed by a vehicle that can take abuse over one that had wonderful intial engineering but can’t take a lick of negelct.

        If you’re really into cars, then the European stuff can work out alright. However, every non-enthusiast I know would rather own a car that can run 10K miles on Wal-Mart swill oil than some fussy German car that requires EXACTLY 2.241 litres of 17.5W-23 Castrol (that you have to order online) every 4000 miles or it exacts revenge on you.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “some fussy German car that requires 17.5W-23 Castrol that you have to order online and if you don’t change every 4000 miles the car exacts revenge on you.”

        Nice strawman, but while many German cars suggest synthetic (in normal weights, of course), they usually have long oil change intervals too, often 10-16K.

        But I wouldn’t suggest anything German for most college kids. Just pointing out that what Mandalorian says is true and that many people are lazy about maintenance and then complain loudly when something bad happens.

        All cars do better with proper maintenance, even applicance cars.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “All cars do better with proper maintenance, even applicance cars.”

        I agree, but “do better” is different than “runs at all”.

        Really, you and I aren’t that far apart in our opinions.

        I think that many German cars have high maintence requirements. These will cause an owner to need to do things like buy VAGcom, join a forum, buy fluids/filters/lights online, and find a specialty mechanic. If people don’t want to deal with these sorts of things then they should not buy a European car.

        I just wouldn’t classify this as “German cars are fine” more like “German cars require a commitment”.

        This flowchart sums it up:
        http://img638.imageshack.us/img638/7724/shouldibuythatpassat.png

      • 0 avatar
        BrianL

        @Mandalorian
        College kids aren’t known for being responsible. I wouldn’t expect them to keep the maintenance up like they should.

        Even with that, the German brands are typically at the bottom of JD Power rankings for dependability (but I do believe that Porsche is doing better as of late if my memory is working, but not getting a college kid a Porsche).

        I still stand beside my original statement and will add what others have said, no LR or Jags either.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “I agree, but “do better” is different than “runs at all”.”

        Another strawman. It’s a long-term/short-term thing. Failure to do maintenance on any car will cost you in the end, whether you repair it or choose to buy a new car afterward. Even my 80s Ford products that supposedly blow transmissions at 60K ran for 180K and 200K+ (not sure exact number, because I got rid of it, but it was still going at 215K) on the first transmission.

        As someone else said, it’s not just true about cars, but also it’s a good life lesson:
        http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/memoirs-of-an-independent-repair-shop-owner-you-want-me-to-do-what-customers-seeking-partner-in-pushing-whats-possible-or-prudent/

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        You keep editing your posts:

        “I think that many German cars have high maintence requirements. These will cause an owner to need to do things like buy VAGcom, join a forum, buy fluids/filters/lights online, and find a specialty mechanic. If people don’t want to deal with these sorts of things then they should not buy a European car.”

        What high maintenance requirements? You mean, actually doing the maintenance? That’s where we disagree. The maintenance requirements for an Audi are probably less than my 80s Fords. The maintenance intervals are longer for European cars now — often 10-16K, and the maintenance is really not that much different from any other car. Sometimes it costs more, sometimes it doesn’t. My buddy spent more on his Honda’s 60K, 75K, and 90K non-stealership services than a typical German car non-stealership service. But I bet a timing belt costs more for the Audi than a Honda.

        Most non-enthusiasts definitely don’t have a VAG-COM (now called VCDS, btw). What is with the buying fluids and filters online? You’ve repeated this twice, and you definitely don’t have to do that unless you live way out in the boonies (in which case you do that with lots of things). You might be able to save some money online, but that’s true of everything.

        Also, the specialty mechanic thing may have been true in the 80s, but most independent mechanics can handle European cars just fine these days, although it’s getting a little bit harder with all the electronic modules these days (which is true of every car, not just European).

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Failure to do maintenance on any car will cost you in the end”

        I agree with you. The thing is the degree of “cost you in the end” is going to be somewhat dependent on the vehicle.

        Like I wrote earlier, I don’t think we are that far apart on our feelings.

        I think that many European cars sold in North America have too high of service requirements for the average car owner- especially those that are used to owning a more forgiving vehicle. Therefore, I would not recommend a European car to one of these people.

        I also wouldn’t just tell them “they are fine if you keep up on maintenance” because they need to know that the maintenance needs will be different and usually more expensive.

        You obviously keep a very close eye on your cars so you’re a perfect candidate for owning one.

        *Sorry about editing the posts, sometimes my browser screws up what I was typing.*

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “Like I wrote earlier, I don’t think we are that far apart on our feelings.”

        Yeah, I don’t think we’re that far apart.

        In the past, Japanese cars seemed to take most abuse in terms of lack of maintenance, although I’m not sure if that’s true any more with some of the engine sludging and transmission issues that seem to be popping up lately.

        I think one difference is that a lot of Japanese car deferred maintenance gets subsumed up under “30K service” or “60K service”. In reality, when I’ve looked at the invoices, there is stuff breaking that shouldn’t be breaking sometimes, and it just happens to get fixed during those major service intervals. It’s seamless to the appliance-user who already expected to pay big bucks at the service interval.

        The owner just sometimes doesn’t know it and doesn’t read the invoices carefully. When I looked at my buddy’s invoices, there was definitely broken stuff that he probably didn’t even notice and that a mechanic or enthusiast might have been able to tell just from driving the car.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “College kids aren’t known for being responsible.”

        So buy them a car. That’s a great idea! :)

        Mostly being tongue-in-check there, of course. Theoretically you know your own kid and know what they can handle.

      • 0 avatar

        It is worth noting that sometimes a Honda, Nissan or Toyota can be a worse buy than a Jaguar or an Audi. This is because a lot of people take Asian cars’ durability for granted, to the point where their abuse exceeds such durability measures. “Really? I should have had the the oil on my 80K-mile Accord by now? I’d never thought of that…It was always like an appliance to me…”

        Such cars are time-bombs waiting to detonate, even if they are Asian…

      • 0 avatar
        BrianL

        corntrollio,
        That was pretty good, they aren’t responsible so buy them a car. I enjoyed that. Depending on where they go, they won’t need one, but for many places, they are a requirement. They do need to learn how to take car of a car. I would prefer one that is more forgiving.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    A car which doesn’t need a steady drip-drip of spare parts, time, maintenance and money. For my 3 years at College I drove Ford Escort. Surprisingly the only thing that went wrong was the a/c, which I never bothered to fix.
    I guess pretty much any small Toyota would fit the bill quite well also.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Probably an iQ, Spark, or Prius C.

  • avatar
    Corco

    I’m just getting out of college now.

    The first half of my college career was spent with a 1990 Dodge Colt hatchback I got for $600. The thing was basic as hell, had a four on the floor, no power steering, no A/C, and I could do all the maintenance on it myself. I used to drive it back and forth from Seattle to Idaho frequently. It was underpowered but a lot of fun to drive- felt like driving a go-cart. I miss it. When I transferred to Wyoming, I sold it for $600 having only put in routine maintenance, replaced a headlight, and installed a passenger side mirror from a pull-a-part. Per mile, that car was about as cheap as possible.

    My main car after that has been a 2002 Jeep Liberty. When I transferred to Wyoming, it was nice to have a car that was better in snow, but gas mileage sucks and there’s little things that have to be serviced like the transfer case that make it a lot more expensive to own. It’s a good car, but it hasn’t been cheap.

    Especially when I started grad school here in Tucson and it got stolen a month after I moved here. I got it back, but it cost more than $4000 to get it going again (only had 75,000 miles on it and I only had liability), so for about a year I used my grandma’s 1997 Ford Escort. She doesn’t drive anymore so the car had basically been sitting with 50,000 on it.

    That was also a good car- boring to drive with an automatic, and running the air conditioner in Arizona seemed to overwhelm the engine, but I put 20K on it in a year with very little maintenance cost besides needing an A/C recharge.

    I’m back to the Liberty now. The one good thing about having an SUV is that college kids do move a lot, and it’s nice to be able to load everything in a trailer without having to hassle with the cost and logisitics of renting a truck.

    I’d say the perfect college car is a Ford Ranger or something like that- it offers utility, decent gas mileage, 4WD if you need it, low cost of ownership, and reliability. Get a stick because that way you don’t get hounded by people wanting to borrow your car (when I had the Colt, I had one of two cars on my dorm floor and people wanted to borrow it so I just asked if they could drive a stick and 9 times out of 10 the answer was no, giving me a very easy out). A pickup is nice too because it has a low passenger capacity, which means their car isn’t the one getting miles racked up on inevitable college roadtrips.

  • avatar
    wavespy

    If you’re living on campus you don’t need a car….No you don’t.

  • avatar
    dasko

    A hatch or wagon of some sort. I managed to move my possessions every year in a Mazda Protege5. Focus SVT, 1st gen Matrix XRS, Honda Fit, VW GTI, Golf TDI (if those are your tastes), Forester XT, Mini Clubman, plenty of options out there.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    You are pretty good at asking questions where the answer actually is: It all depends? I guess you sorted some of that out by describing the kid. I would just look for something that was cheap and low maint. I think Hyundai probably gets the nod.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Question Of The Day: What Would Be The Best Car For A College Student?”

    Used, well kept, mileage irrelevant.

  • avatar
    Ltd783

    Even going to college in Oklahoma, I didn’t need a car the first year I lived on campus. I brought my car to school first couple weeks, after realizing how unnecessary it was, and leaving it in a student lot, I took it to my parents home one weekend and garaged it till I moved off campus.

    In the rare event you need to go off campus, I could borrow a friends car. Plus, it assures your kid gets no DUIs those first few years of independence.

    If you must have a car, cheaper the better. If you must fit in, the aforementioned Mazda3 is a slick car that always fits in. If you’re into the whole “Greek” life, a Jeep Wrangler is hard to beat for cool per $$$.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    1. Chevy Cobalt (non-SS!)
    2. Ford Focus
    3. Dodge Cali—never mind…
    3a. Something else cheaper than a Civic or Corolla
    4. Your old car, then buy yourself something else – that’s what I did.

    • 0 avatar
      GoesLikeStink

      #4 is my plan. By the time my middleschooler needs a car she will get my Fiat 500 convertible. And I will get a new car. Now what to do about her younger sister?

    • 0 avatar
      AoLetsGo

      +1 on the cobalt. In HS the boy had a 92 Exploder sport manual which was sold when he went to college and the mainatance was too much for the $1000 initial price. The last Cobalt on the lot (2 door stripper) has been the car for the 10 hour drive to school and the two summer internship jobs. He tells me the high mileage tires are crap in the snow so we will be buying ice tires for this winter.
      Pray for SNOW in the midwest this year!

  • avatar

    Lately I’ve been recommending a late model Ford Focus. Cheaper than an Asian brand, but drives better than any aside from the Mazda3 (if you get a model with the low-profile tires and upgraded suspension) and about as reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I’ll agree with this. A while ago, I drove an ’11 with the sport package across the country and up through the mountains. Netted over 30mpg avg cruising mostly at 90mph and it handled the twisties pretty well for an econo car.

      The transmission left a lot to be desired, but the 2.0L motor in the car wasn’t bad.

      From my time at Ford, they were surprisingly trouble free as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Wabbit3

      I’m not sure. Had one as a rental for a four hour drive recently. Granted it was very basic, but I felt packed into it (I’m not tall, but I am, uh, “padded”). I was pleasantly surprised at how quick it was, easily cruised at 80 all day getting 31 mpg (indicated), but the steering was SO responsive that the slightest rental-car move such as changing ipod tracks or reaching for soda put me over the lane markers. You’d have to have a very attentive kid, as one attempt to text and steer and it would be off the road. I know they’re not supposed to do this, but I sit at intersections all the time next to high-school girls engrossed in their phones at each red light. It’s worrysome for me as mine get closer to driving.

  • avatar
    BigMeats

    Plenty of obvious good choices, the bigger problem for me was where to park it and how much that would cost.
    Of course, my college was built on an isthmus between two lakes. Back in 1848, they probably thought they had all the room in the world.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Only one would do:

    http://www.instablogsimages.com/images/2009/03/19/animal-house-deathmobile_XOW7w_5965.jpg

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    2wd 4-cyl Ford Ranger with a manual.

    It’s practical, not too fast, easy to learn to drive stick on, and parts are everywhere and cheap. They’re not too bad on fuel either.

  • avatar
    Tom_M

    Yaris

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I drove a Grand Marquis in college. Cheap to buy, maintain, insure and you could stand a keg up in the truck and close the lid.

    It was perfect. Highly recommended.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I gave “This is what I expect” talks, gave advice, and answered questions about college. I was writing checks for tuition, room and board, books, expenses, and spending money and monitoring the gas and credit cards. Plus there were the logistics of my house, their mom’s house and where everyone would be on breaks. Plus finding them union summer jobs and checking out their internships. Watching my kids learn and grow was bittersweet for me and integral part of their lives. As a dad I had bigger concerns than what they drove. This blurb is for all the dads. My car comments are above.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    The most comfortable cheap, long-lasting and easy to service car that they can find. Cheap to run is a gimme, but you never know how long you will keep the car afterwards, a decent job is not a given. Cheap, but something that you would want to use for a long time, not just for college.

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    Used Fusion or Taurus. Or maybe an Impala. Big enough to move out a dorm room. Cheap to buy and insure, relatively reliable and cheap to repair, safe, comfortable if they have a long drive to school, won’t get them into trouble.

    G8 = not good for a college student because of HP.
    Toyobaru = same problem — hoonage.

    Also, for college students, who these days don’t have as much driving experience and have high insurance rates, most FWD cars are probably better than most RWD cars — again, less likely to get them into trouble most of the time, and if you have snow issues, better for inexperienced drivers in the snow too.

    I saw a statistic that more than 30% of 19 year olds don’t have driver’s licenses these days, which is more than double the 13% it was in the 80s — the inexperience seems to be going up.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    2003 Dodge Durango hammer-wagon with a 158,000 miles; not a suggestion, the real deal for my college junior. “Can’t find a parking place? fuggetaboutit, make one!”

  • avatar
    holydonut

    Kids can go buy their own damn car. Never understood why college is considered the “growing up time” when parents still force feed tens of thousands of dollars at someone that is supposed to be an adult.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Legally adults? Yes. My kids went to college to have an education and an advantage when they stopped being students and graduated and entered the real world. Most of the checks for tens of thousands of dollars went directly to their university or where they lived, not them. Seven years of not living with the parents and not being in the working world. Some growing up occurs.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Yes, legally an adult, sure. But recent studies have shown that 18-19 year-olds’ brains haven’t fully matured yet.

        We had to have a curmudgeon or two reply, but I think only a few people who are suggesting new cars are suggesting “tens of thousands of dollars.” Most of the rest are not, and it’s also not uncommon for some parents to match funds that their kid contributes. I personally don’t understand the “let’s buy my 16-19 year-old a new car” phenomenon.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I am intrigued, where did you read/hear about this study?

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Here are literally the first two links from Google:

        http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/2006/02/06.html
        http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141164708

        It is a physiological difference in the prefrontal cortex, apparently.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      ‘Never understood why college is considered the “growing up time”’

      It isn’t…that’s what the military is for.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “It isn’t…that’s what the military is for.”

        Having had members of my family in the military, some of them think it’s fake-”growing up time”. For example, lots of married people because “omg, my hunny is going off to war” and “I’m knocked up” and “my living allowance is higher if I’m married,” but also high divorce rate because of getting married too young and having kids too young, etc.

        Also, it’s the first time some kids have some money in their pocket, so they start buying fancy cars or fancy motorcycles and end up in the poorhouse after their enlistment ends and they aren’t on the government dole any more (except apparently unemployment is automatic after you get discharged?).

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        I was being tongue-in-cheek.

        I spent four years in the air force, 1969-73.

        You are correct in most of what you say: I saw too many “one-year-marriages”, airmen living in poverty who chose to live off base to enjoy the “freedom” of getting out of the barracks, nailed for not knowing how to manage money and checking accounts, etc.

        Myself, I chose to live very simple, bought a beautiful 1964 Impala SS convertible in 1970 (this was northern CA), and not get involved with anyone of the opposite sex for fear of the above – plus I was extremely immature, but apparently smart enough to see what happened to others!

        Me? I just cruised endlessly in the foothills, the Sacramento valley, the Sierras, the Bay Area, Lake Tahoe and worked on my car.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        Were you at Travis? More than one of my relatives were there back in the day. Their impression was that the people who had their shit together before they were in the military and knew what they were getting into did pretty well too, but unfortunately that’s not everyone.

        Re: the living off base thing, my relatives know more than a few people caught up in foreclosures because they bit off a bigger house than they could chew in the most recent housing boom. It’s unfortunate — I’m assuming all the lenders don’t care because the loans are guaranteed.

        Nice car that ’64 Impala SS convertible, although these days you probably only see them as lowriders.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        I was stationed at Beale AFB, 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing. My outfit flew the SR-71 Blackbird. I was in a privileged outfit and had it made! Trouble was, although I KNEW how good I had it, I was too immature to APPRECIATE it!

        The service DID drag the buried work ethic out of me dad couldn’t, so I came out better than when I went in.

    • 0 avatar
      froston13

      In southern california, kids in high school and college dont just get new cars… they get damn nice ones.

      At the university in my city (california lutheran university), just driving through the dormitory parking lots, I would say the average car price (in its current state, not when bought) is around $45,000.
      M3s, corvettes, hundreds of mercedes, GT500, panamera turbo, C63 AMG, are just to name a few.
      Honestly, there are more luxury cars than there are non luxury cars.

      That might be a nice school in a wealthy city, but even going to a car meet at UC Riverside,
      I met a college kid that had 2 cars: a F430 and a GTR.
      Again, all those college kids had EVOs, 335is, etc.

      ALot of kids are spoiled beyond belief. Its actually very normal here in southern california.

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    Brand new base Versa with zero options.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Subaru Outback. It is reliable, safe, comfortable, will last forever and not-too-bad on insurance. Also has plenty of room for cargo and can even tow a small U-haul trailer if need be. Great off-road or in bad weather.

    The 2013 2.5 Limited is my pick of version.

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    Ford Focus – new or used
    Honda Civic – new or used
    Hyundai Elantra new or used
    Chevy Cruze new or used
    Recent panther
    used Chevy Impala
    used chrysler 200/sebring
    Chevy cobalt
    Used camcord
    used Lexus ES
    used altima

    list driven by value, reliability, safety, and MPG (save for the panther)

    • 0 avatar

      Just a comment: You guys in America don’t know how good you have it. Most cars on your list are available here and they’re all luxury cars. Difficult even for middle class managers.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        Ditto Marcelo, but I tell you that it is very very pleasant to open the classifieds and find a decent running POS (you put name and model) in the $500-1000 range.

        Sadly, that doesn’t happen in the 3rd world.

        Heck, I wouldn’t have been able to afford my current ride in Vzla. And we’re not talking about a spanking new car.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Very practical list although this is my favorite “used Lexus ES”.

      Here is how my conversation would go: “Son, have fun with my [insert crappy car here], I just picked up a used Lex for myself.”

      • 0 avatar
        285exp

        When my daughter started driving in high school 5 years ago I gave her my 97 ES300 and bought myself a very low mileage 2000 ES. A couple of years ago, when the 97 hit 150k, I swapped cars with her because she’s in school 500 miles away and I wanted her to have the newer car. I had new stereo’s installed in them so she could plug in her iPhone and have Bluetooth capability for hands free phone calls. They have both been dead reliable, comfortable, and reasonably economical. I told her if she didn’t screw up my car I’d buy her a new car for graduation and I’d get mine back, so far so good.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr. K

        Reasons to buy a used lexus.

        1) it’s a very boring car. In a household without teenage males it may be driven at 85 MPH but it will not be floored from every stop and braked so that the ABS engages.

        2) Lexus has an affluent customer base

        3) Lexus has ridiculous service schedules (do not play games with t belt schedule!)

        4) Lexus owners get their cars taken care of. Often at the dealer.

        So lets see, a bulletproof Camry that cost 15K more so will be treated as a luxury good rather then a mobile refrigerator and will receive (in most cases) very good service, a boring car that does not reward hoonage, yet has a powerful (read understressed) drivetrain and ABS, stability, loads of air bags, and a safe interior with a decent enough stereo so that no kid will screw with it save for that Bluetooth stuff (when I was a kid we had AM only and we liked it!) good toys, Toyota reliability and a good supply of used ones in the graveyard (albeit not necessarily the graveyard close to you)

        I think the Lexus makes a lot of sense for a mature kid and will tend to encourage boring activity rather then the things that taught me how not to t bone that stupid kid in some tin can sub micro mini car who ran a red light in Philly. then stopped right in the middle of the intersection blocking my wife’s 88 ish Ford T bird with me at the wheel – skills that I totaled 1 car and got many traffic tickets learning before I was 20…

    • 0 avatar
      hidrotule2001

      +1 for panther

  • avatar
    genuineleather

    My college car is a ’92 Mercedes 500SL: it only has two seats, gets 12 mpg, and is expensive to service.

    It’s not the best car for someone my age, but it’s the one I love and can afford. Not having a car payment leaves plenty of cash for gas and a German car specialist.

  • avatar
    msquare

    Free. As in hand-me-down.

    My oldest brother snagged a ’62 Rambler Cross Country wagon from my neighbor who didn’t want to bother trying to sell it. My dad kept his ’70 Buick Estate Wagon on the road so that all six of his kids ended up driving it at one time or another, and the ’77 Pontiac LeMans that was supposed to replace it became a family taxicab (driven mostly by my mother and sisters) that finally immolated itself after 7 years and 231,000 miles when the fuel pump leaked all over the hot engine.

    We changed the frame and front clip of a ’70 Malibu hardtop coupe that served my next-oldest brother and me well through college (only 2 years apart in age) until the replacement frame rusted out. My cousin picked up a ’71 Impala hardtop coupe that he dumped on us for 200 bucks. Both my brothers had ’71 Firebirds, one a Formula 350 with a 3-speed stick, the other a six with an auto, neither of which was acquired for more than $1100.

    Not a series of options I’d recommend for anyone lacking in mechanical skills, by the way. My dad taught us well, and his dad taught him. We did everything from gapping points to frame, engine and tranny swaps, not to mention the odd Turbo Hydra-matic rebuild.

    My nephew has it easy. He’s driving my old ’95 Ford Contour that I did most of the work on to put back on the road.

    If your have a car that isn’t worth much and would be too much of a hassle to sell, hand it down to some kid.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, my actual experience (having had 3 daughters, all of whom went to college).

    Nissan Altima (1997), purchased used in 2002. Very reliable, safe handling car. I drove it cross-country to deliver. Daughter still managed to total it on the Pasadena freeway. I told her that attempting to negotiate curves at 20 mph over the “maximum safe speed” posted on the sign was well beyond her driving abilities, and probably the car’s as well. Reason for car: daughter went to USC; can’t get around LA without a car. Car supplied sophomore year.

    Hand me downs:
    1996 Toyota Previa (former family car) — bulletproof, not fashionable but could haul a lot of her friends. Reason for car: daughter went to U of Virginia, Charlottesville, about a 2-hour drive from DC. Easy way to get back and forth between home and school. Car supplied sophomore year, when she lived off-campus.

    1992 Volvo 740 (grandfather’s former car)– safe, not fast, surprisingly good gas mileage; no mechanical issues. Exterior paint and interior deteriorating badly. See above.

    2002 Saab 9-5 wagon (this one gets driven between Madison, WI and DC; daughter rows for UW crew; needs a way to get to the boathouse quickly for 6:00 a.m. practice every day (including in the winter). Car supplied sophomore year, after she moved off-campus. As you would expect, a number of mechanical issues with this car: a/t not healthy (fluid flush fixed for a while), main oil seals leaking, CEL on; codes say rich mixture (have to have that fixed soon)

    I didn’t have a car when I was in college and was mostly glad of it. My college was an all-residential college (you had to have permission to live off-campus); it was easier to walk/bike around town than drive (parking); and no one in their right mind drives to NYC when there’s both a train and cheap bus service that runs 2x/hr.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    I think the ideal candidate is the car I got shortly after graduating.

    A 1990-05 Mazda Miata.

    Reliable, cheap to maintain, lots of fun, so little space that you can’t have much in the way of distractions.

  • avatar
    Colinpolyps

    Best car for a college kid would be one that they pay for themselves period.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Volvo 850 non-turbo, your choice of sedan or wagon. Safe and cheap transportation that isn’t a penalty box.

  • avatar
    JLGOLDEN

    If the kiddo is commuting hundreds of miles weekly, I can see the need for a newer car. Even if the college living situation is on or near campus, it is safe to stick with a 5-6 year old Corolla-Camry-Civic type of appliance. There’s no reasaon to park a NEW car in a student lot, amongst a mish-mash of other students’ questionable driving “talent”.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    What a college student needs in an automobile:

    1. Absolute reliability
    2. Utility

    Car use is infrequent for most students, as they walk or ride a bus to class. On-campus parking is usually expensive and restricted. So the car will sit around a lot of the time. When they do need the car is to go to of-campus events like parties and grocery store runs. But when they really need the car is to travel between home and school at the start if the year, during fall, winter, and spring breaks, and to return home after the academic year ends. That often means a car stuffed to the gills with personal belongings and perhaps other riders who are sharing gasoline expenses in exchange for a ride home. Parents worry about the safety of their little darlings, so reliabillity is paramount. Besides, most college students are close to broke anyway and don’t have extra money to pay for any repairs.

    A Kia Soul would be good, as would a Scion xB, Honda Element, or Nissan Cube. A manual transmission really helps in turning down requests to borrow the car from other students because so few teens these days are taught how to drive one. Ask me how I know: I have three kids all in college right now.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    The perfect college car would be something uncool (4 cyl fwd), old, battered, and cheap. That way that student will learn to appreciate the simple comforts of nicer cars.

    He/she definitely wouldn’t get anything new, not in todays debt-run world.

    Also nothing German, no one wants to miss a class from an expensive propietary/impossible to fix/part breaking. Though an air cooled VW could work.

  • avatar

    In Brazil if you can swing a brand new car it’d be good, as kid might be lost finding competent mechanic. In that case you’d need a car that had:

    -Low insurance;
    -Low maintenance;

    Also, around universities it’s always high crime area as cars sit around for hours unattended. These areas attract car thieves, sound system thieves, thieves who hijack students for their ATM cards, thieves who like to steal bits and pieces off of cars. So it’d be best if car has alarm, hubcaps (no wheels to rob),simple sound system, a measure of invisibility.

    So that would lead me to: Ford Ka, Fiesta, Fiat Uno, Nissan March, Renault Clio. That would leave out VW Gol and Palio cause they’re too robbed and insurance rates are high (maybe include Uno here, too), and also leave out all the small Chevies as they’re terrible drives.

    As a car enthusiast you’d love your kids to be too. So a Ka, Uno and Clio would probably be the best bets by that criteria.

    The winners then: low maintenance, low insurance, unattractive to thieves, engaging to drive Ford Ka or Renault Clio.

  • avatar
    Shankems

    3 years ago my 2000 Buick Regal hand me down crapped out on me and I still had 2 semesters of commuting left until graduation. I was a shitty student, but I passed my classes and paid for 100% of school with my part time job. So the parents decided to help me purchase my first car by co-signing etc. It was going to be a Ford Focus or Pontiac G6. But as we were walking around the lot, I saw some fake ass hood scoops and 19″ wheels and asked what it was. “G8 GT, program car that was used by some pro golfers.” says the salesman. “Great car, too expensive for you” my dad says. After the “used” program car discount (all of 63 miles and $6k off), incentives ($1000 cause my mom owned an infinity? what?), the parents GM Credit $$, and my own $10k down, I drove out of the dealership with a fully optioned (sans sunroof) G8 GT for $22k AFTER taxes. 365HP 385lb-ft and 4 doors for 22K. My first car.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    The math has changed since I went to college.

    An older “beater” or crappy old car made more financial sense because gas was so cheap, it really didn’t matter how many mpg it got. And the older they were, the easier they were to fix.

    But in this day in age with $4 gas (soon to be $5) you can almost make the case that its cheaper to buy something close to new for the added fuel savings.

    As someone though who had a crappy car for the first few years of college and had a job, I can also attest though to how much of a hassle it is to own a car that needs repairs and not having a garage or the time to work on it.

    Also, gender matters. A crappy car to toughen up a boy is one thing, but as a father of two daughters? I could see myself just buying or leasing a new bottom of the barrel Hyundai econobox and letting them focus on school. I definitely think though parents are doing a disservice to kids on a lot of levels by buying them a really nice new car for college.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I’m not sure I agree with this. There are plenty of good beaters to be had from the late 90s/early 2000s that can average 25mpg + for the cost of 7 or 8 lease payments. You’ll never make up the cost difference even at $4 fuel.

      Most of the people I know who buy or lease new cars for their kids try and justify the fuel cost into their decision, but in reality it’s that they don’t know anything about cars themselves or trust any mechanics and feel their kid NEEDs the protection of a new vehicle warranty and roadside assistance.

      God forbid their offspring, male or female, should ever need to learn how anything on their car works, how to change a tire or how to find and deal with an honest mechanic.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “Most of the people I know who buy or lease new cars for their kids try and justify the fuel cost into their decision”

        Yes, fuel cost is only one of the many costs of running a car. The capital cost of purchasing a new car will far outweigh fuel costs. Insurance on a new car is also typically much higher, especially if you lease/finance as some people are suggesting, since you must maintain collision/comprehensive.

        Most people just don’t do the math or don’t want to do the math. Generally running your existing car for an extended period of time is far more economical than buying a new fuel efficient car. Similarly, a used mid-size that gets 25 mpg or so combined (not hard to find) would be far more cost-effective in this case as well.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        “God forbid their offspring, male or female, should ever need to learn how anything on their car works, how to change a tire or how to find and deal with an honest mechanic.”

        I found one when I was in college. Just like my current mechanic, he used to show me what was wrong with my car and show me how the busted parts failed.

        What was funny is that he bought several brand-new Daewoos for $8K each and actually fixed them up to make them decent cars. He re-built the engines and did a few other things and I think he kept one for himself and gave the others to family members. They ran quite well after that.

      • 0 avatar
        turbobrick

        Fuel costs are nothing, it’s the insurance that kills your budget. Especially in states that require PIP. With gas around $3.50 a gallon, going from a 20mpg beater to Yaris will save maybe a grand for every 12000 miles driven.

        $3000 Toyota with liability and comprehensive insurance only might be the best way to go. Any repairs that it needs will be offset by the savings in depreciation and insurance. Also, If the damn thing doesn’t break you can stuff that money in your pocket.

    • 0 avatar
      kkt

      Wouldn’t they focus on school even better if they lived on/near campus without a car, and weren’t driving off on trips all the time?

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “But in this day in age with $4 gas (soon to be $5) you can almost make the case that its cheaper to buy something close to new for the added fuel savings.”

      There’s some truth to that for a commuter you’re putting a lot of miles on. The beaters that get good mileage are unsafe and I wouldn’t encourage my kid to drive one.

      But how far does a student need to drive? They aren’t tied to the mortgage with the job where they can find one.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    My parents went with the “do it yourself” option. I WORKED through high school to purchase my own car. Then I WORKED some more when I wanted another.

    So around my sophomore year of college, I replaced my 93 Audi 90S with a 97 Infiniti I30. White/tan, two-owner, 110K miles, records, $3900. And that was in 2006. Good car!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Most colleges seriously punish freshmen who want to bring a car to campus by making them park way out in the boonies, usually in some unsecure location. Probably the best car for a freshman or Sophomore in a college town (or one who lives on-campus in a big city) would be a Zipcar membership. Older students, who are more likely to live off-campus or who have work and internship responsibilities, would be well-served by any of the better small cars, new or used. My top pick would be a new Ford Focus. The new cars are better deals than the barely used cars these days. There’s nothing wrong with handing down Mom or Dad’s old car. Beggars can’t be choosers.

  • avatar
    sideshowtom98

    I bought my daughter a Honda Accord sedan for her Junior year of college. She insisted on a manual. Turns out that no one else in her sorority could drive a manual, so her car never got borrowed or loaned. A benefit I had not considered.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      “Turns out that no one else in her sorority could drive a manual, so her car never got borrowed or loaned. A benefit I had not considered.”

      That’s a huge benefit when the car is on your insurance policy. Although at some schools, the sorority girls all drive fancy new BMWs (and the frat boys either BMWs or Wranglers), so not sure why they’d want your daughter’s lowly Honda. :p You definitely don’t want those girls driving your daughter’s car — most of them have already totaled one Bimmer and daddy bought her a new one to replace it.

  • avatar
    sideshowtom98

    I have to confess, my daughter totaled her BMW in High School. I lived in the sticks, and she had to carpool to a magnet school. She got my 328 hand me down, which lasted 2 weeks. She got a beater old Accord for 3 years as payback, but the fact she was unscathed, despite rolling it several times sort of offset the foolishness I felt in over estimating her maturity. (And driving skills).

    There are always students, even in sororities, that do not have a car.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      It happens. I knew someone who got a (used) Fox Mustang 4-cylinder that overturned it within 2 weeks, totaling it. Not sure if it was partly his money or completely his parents’ money but he was fine.

      It might have been the Toyobaru effect — ricer-types who have always driven FWD cars end up crashing into a telephone pole or tree because they don’t know about power oversteer.

    • 0 avatar
      AJ

      I would be more generous with a daughter and so that she has a safer ride. IMHO, a daughter would be more likely to roll a car by accident over a son who more then likely would roll a car due to taking a risk. (Which I’d have less sympathy for!)

      A used Accord or Civic would be my choice, and with a nice bike and a bike rack. Myself I had an RX-7, and I had to have the bike for when the car was often broke down. But it sure was fun! (Talk about risk… LOL)

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    For a commuting student, I would lean towards a brand new high MPG car. Since the kid will likely be saving you some money on college costs, I’d let my daughter pick out the car (within reason). (Back in my day, the most popular commuter car was the Chevy Chevette. My Nissan Sentra was a Rolls Royce in comparison.)

  • avatar
    FuzzyPlushroom

    I’d spec a Taurus wagon, Legacy/Outback, or Volvo 940/960 – all acceptably safe, with plenty of cargo space, and just efficient enough to be tolerable. Bonus points, with the Subaru, if it’s a manual, for a bit more efficiency and (as SideshowTom said) less chance of it being borrowed.

    Aside from that, whatever ten-year-old reasonably-maintained car a parent happens to currently drive, provided it’s not something too ludicrous.

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    FratHoe. What other vehicle has a college related knickname?

  • avatar
    Marko

    Depends on the situation and who is paying – but either a well-maintained hand-me-down, preferably American or Japanese, if not driving too much, or an affordable new car with a warranty if doing a lot of driving or commuting.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      I don’t understand why a new car would be better if doing a lot of driving/commuting. It would annoy me greatly to blow out the warranty on a new car in a short time period. If you drive 20-25K miles/year, you just won’t get enough benefit from the warranty whether 3/36 or 4/50 because highway miles stress the components less. Hard city miles and extra time will make sure you get the most out of the warranty, so that you figure out what components are weak and you see how the car will wear when out of warranty.

      Even if you got a 2 year old CPO car with at most 25K miles, you’d be better off if driving a lot of miles. With the CPO warranty (6/100?), you’d still have at least another 75K to go on the warranty which would be 3-4 years at 20-25K/year vs. the 1-2 years on a new car. Also, there’s the obvious depreciation hit taken by someone else, etc.

  • avatar
    jim brewer

    Sheesh is it the 1970′s or something? I paid 22K for my new car. AFTER aid and scholarships, college is 19K per semester. Anyway, car for college student should be any semi-reliable not too old to be dangerous car. A hand-me down, preferrably.

    I never knew why parents would pay the big bucks for a nice car for a student or new graduate. If parental units were so generously inclined, a much better move would be to wait until kid seems to be reasonably established in first real job then spring for an appropriate car. Buy the maintenance plan to go along with it, as that sort of thing is easy to let slide for a young person.

  • avatar
    otter

    Something inexpensive, reliable, economical and, ideally, kinda fun. And with a manual transmission. This will probably end up Japanese, but doesn’t have to be. Ideally something not too popular.

    I was fortunate enough to be given (to my extreme surprise) a car when I graduated from high school, and I drove home with a new (1993) Sentra SE-R. The idea was for me to have a car that would get me through college, after which I would presumably get something else, but it was my daily driver until 2004, and 18 years later I’ve still got it! Seems like a perfect college car to me.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    My practice has to give away my own daily driver and replace it with another.

    I gave one niece my B13 Sentra, with its stiffened chassis. 1.6 auto. Mild speed stuff. Looked like a 100% stock car. Her mechanic loves it. So does she. So do I. She bashed it quite a bit, parking lot events, it still runs, takes care of the transport requirement for her. It was better than she knows.

    I gave another niece my 1980 Jetta, a while back, 3 speed auto with manual sunroof, black vinyl interior. I would buy another new one this evening if they were sold here. Same for the Sentra. She totalled it right away. Bunch of friends, laughing and talking and she was not looking out the windshield when she ran that stop sign and got clobbbered. She was carless for a while after that.

    Gave nephew my SW21 upon his marriage. I loved that car. He sat there on a snowy street in Syracuse and watched a pickup do a slow mo spin down the hill right into him. T-boned and totalled.

    Gave another nephew a friend’s escort GT. He was really stupid about it, Thought it was a cheap car, which it was, but he trashed it. That ended badly.

  • avatar
    windbane

    A good pair of Nike’s for the footmobile.

  • avatar
    JimothyLite

    A college gift from my parents in 1986: a 1973 Mercury Capri, manual, copper, very used. But its 2.6 liter was marvelous, handling the steep San Francisco streets just fine. It was a little bit unnerving, however, waiting at a red light on a 26% grade, headed uphill. Man, did I become good with that clutch. Used the car less and less, BART more and more. Sold it junior year for a little over $400 to cover books and supplies. I miss it.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    My dad’s first and only answer to me wanting a car was ‘you want a car, you pay for it.”

  • avatar
    solowing

    It depends on where the student is attending and what they’re doing. I’ve had (still have) two cars in my college career (graduating in May), the beater ’91 Honda Accord my father bought me when I turned 17, and a 2010 Chevy Cobalt bought by my mother/stepfather when I was 19.

    I deliver pizza to keep my bills paid, live off-campus (cheaper) in an area with next to no public transport, and have parents that live 3 and 6 hours away, so a working car is important.

    The Honda has performed well, aside from an expensive clutch replacement, taught me a lot, and I’ll forever love the car, but at 275K miles the engine is pretty much toast, so I’m at a crossroads as to whether to try and replace it with a salvage unit (the rest of the car is solid), or junk the car, leaning toward the former if I can pull it off cheaply enough, due in part to the latter car.

    The Cobalt is a nice car that they got a good deal on (base model at the end of the model run, wound up getting it for $10K), and I’m grateful for it, but it’s been more trouble than the junker, for money that would’ve kept me in junkers for a decade. In 40K miles, it’s needed three warranty repairs, two catastrophic failures requiring towing (clutch cylinder blew out at 21K, and the left front lower control arm, apparently because the dealership installed it wrong during the clutch replacement, fell out of the front end at 31K), and dealership service has been beyond abysmal (trying to stiff me with a massive bill when the control arm failed), such that I doubt I’ll ever purchase a GM car with my own money. I just hope I can get another 2 or 3 good years out of it so I can save up to buy something else outright.

  • avatar
    mightytall

    My suggestion is NO CAR.
    Usually any college town is geared to provide cheap housing just around campus and there will be plenty of infrastructure to park your bicycle.
    Some may even have a useful network of public transportation.

    Save up the money you’d spend on a car and rather spend it on plane tickets to bring the kid home for the various holidays and other occasions throughout the year.

    I would rate any choice of car somewhat of an anchor that weighs your kid down.
    I’ve experienced the dire parking situation in Ann Arbor around campus, so in essence the car would only be used on weekends anyway because during the week any attempt to drive to school in a car would only be a hassle, not a help.

    If you do insist on giving them a car anyway, I would pick a econobox of any make that has a reputation for reliable frugal little cars.
    Unfortunately the choices are somewhat limited in the US, but something along the lines of Chevy Aveo, Nissan Versa, Kia Rio, Honda Fit would be good.
    Too bad you don’t have access to all the European small car goodness with all these tiny Diesel Hatchbacks.
    All the small Citroen, Peugeot, Ford, Volkswagen, etc. cars with three and four cylinder Diesel engines with displacements less than 1,5 Liters and miles per gallon in the high fourties.

  • avatar
    carsRneat

    Subaru Forester – XT turbo version. Good in foul weather, holds lots of stuff, doesn’t look like a boy racer, and yet has 0 to 60 in about 6.8 seconds (so it can be fun).

    Works well at your first professional job after college too, and doesn’t scream either “extravagant” (like many of my fellow students and later colleagues BMWs) or “scraping by” (like some of the beaters my co-workers continue to drive after college).

    And sometimes you actually have a date and a night out while in college – this is where you can win points with either the practical aspects or the XTness of the vehicle – depending on how things go . . .

  • avatar
    swilliams41

    We bought my son a new GTI after he completed his sophomore year. That was our agreement, also he has to keep his grades above a 3.0 or the car comes home. I notice he doesn’t drive it much at school, (in Houston)), probably because the campus is great for walking or cycling. He loves cars and has an appreciation for driving dynamics and assembly etc.. It seems to be a good fit for him. He also keeps it clean and takes it in for maintenance.

  • avatar
    TheDward

    I’m obviously coming from a highly biased position here, because my debut contribution to Curbside Classic is this:

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1996-1999-ford-taurusmercury-sable-all-things-must-pass-2/

    I bought my Sable in 2004, which for me was senior year in high school.

    When I went away to college about 110 miles away, I was living off campus. The car was great for loading up my three roommates for a trip to the grocery store, and the spacious trunk fit everything we bought.

    The 1996-2007 Taurus/Sable are great choices for several reasons. The Vulcan 3.0-liter V6 is a bit slow, but decent enough for highway trips. It can also get near 30 mpg on the interstate. Pretty much every mechanic can fix these cars no problem. And if you are forced to go to a dealer while away from home (like I did) the Ford techs can pretty much work on them in their sleep.

    They’re also cheap to insure, and can be had for very good prices. Don’t forget about bad weather traction either, these things are unstoppable with the right set of tires.

  • avatar
    RatherhaveaBuick

    I am currently a college student with a lot to say on this topic…

    Now…I go to a community college…and you’d be amazed at what’s in the parking lot. It’s as if these kids’ parents took the money they saved on tuition and used it to buy their kid a shiny new car.
    -Obscene amount of WRX’s. Every kid who has one thinks he has the only one.
    -GTI or Golf dressed up like a GTI.
    -Early 00′s to new BMWs (its like Bangle city…)
    -Civics up the ass (obviously)
    -New Camaros
    -New Mustang’s all of which are loud as hell with great sounding exhausts and hood scoops, driven by douchebags at 50mph from speed bump to speed bump.
    -C6 Vettes

    As to be expected, and much to my chagrin, the parking lots are also packed with appliances such as newer Corollas and Accords, but that’s a given in that environment, as some other posters have pointed out their efficiency.

    This is not to say that there aren’t lots and lots of other old beater cars all over the place, because there are. Camrys, Bonnevilles, Buicks, Olds’, Panthers, Jeeps, molested 90′s Lexus’, Hyundais, Integeras, and a lot of Volvo’s. Some girl has a mint 86′ XJ Cherokee, I’ve seen a kid with a perfect ’76 Ford Maverick (if there is such a thing), looked at a nice ’84 E30 the other day, and occasionally a few tastefully modified 3rd Gen’s roll around.

    Personally, the best car I think someone my age should have is either a Volvo 240 (VERY trendy in the city amongst 20 somethings) or a car once owned by an elderly person. Nicely maintained, clean, cheap to insure, reliable, durable, and mid-size. Something like a GM A, W or H body.

    This is why I drive a 93 Buick Regal GS that has never *knock on fake wood grain* let me down. And yes, I paid for it.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      +1 on the Volvos, although its getting more difficult to find them in well kept condition (irrespective of miles on the clock). I think Buick is a solid buy for a college student (or really anyone) at least until the ’09 MY.

      Evidently people outside my sphere of life have way too much money… no child deserves a C6 Vette… good way to get your kid killed either by speed, poor road conditions, or carjacking.

  • avatar
    qest

    I don’t understand why anyone would put their kid in a RWD car without stipulating advanced driver training.

    I plan on putting my kids into zero-down leases with gap insurance. When/if they crash/wreck it, my kid will have the protection of a modern car in the crash, and then it’ll be the bank’s problem. The payment is low enough that the kid can pay part or all of it reasonably easily if that’s your thing. Plenty of options starting around $200-250/mo.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Back in the day “stipulated advanced driver training” was a summer drivers-ed class taught by a high school coach. FWD is not that superior over RWD that advanced driver training is needed. After my kids went through drivers-ed in a FWD automatic, I had to teach them how drive on an 5 speed RWD car. I think the Miata helped.


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