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Back to School Shopping Tips

How to Find the Best Car for Your College Student

So your child is going to college and is ready to trade in the big yellow school bus for their very own car. Kind of scary isn’t it?! As parents, we want to know the car our child is driving is safe and reliable. But with so many vehicles out there, how do we know which car is best? Whether you opt for a new car or a used one, there are some basic things to look for when it comes to choosing cars for college students.

back to school

Does it Make the Grade?

Like with any major purchase, research is your best friend when it comes to choosing cars for college students. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, beginning the research for the right vehicle should start with knowing which features are most important.  They recommend following these four key principles:

  • Size matters. Look for mid-size or larger cars. Mini-cars and small cars are not safe for teen drivers. While some smaller sized SUVs can be alright, make sure to check their safety ratings.
  • “Acceptable” should never be good enough when it comes to crash test ratings. Avoid cars with an “acceptable” rating in crash tests. Instead, look at cars that at the very least are listed in the “good” category, and have earned a “best” rating.
  • Avoid cars with higher horsepower. Younger, less experienced drivers are better off with cars that have less horsepower. In most cases, the base engine of a model has sufficient horsepower.
  • Electronic Stability Control is a must. It helps a driver maintain control on curves and wet or slippery roads. ESC is also credited with cutting the risk of single-vehicle fatality crashes nearly in half. Electronic Stability Control has been a standard feature on cars since 2012, so if you are looking at older models, ask about it.

Safety Ratings and Features

While your child is probably more concerned with color, style, and stereo, you are more concerned about their safety.  It’s a known fact that young drivers are inexperienced, and statistically, they have more accidents. So when you’re looking for a car, safety should be at the top of the list.

When it comes to selecting a safe car, vehicle crash test scores are the first place to start. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the IIHS both conduct independent crash tests and publish their results. You can also look at Consumer Reports. Always choose from the cars with the highest scores.

toyota corolla

Also look at the basic safety features that are offered on each car you are considering. At the very least, ensure the vehicle offers:

Daytime Running Lights (DRL)
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Traction control
Anti-lock brakes (ABS)
Multiple Airbags
All Wheel Drive

Some advanced features that are definitely worth considering include:

Collision-warning systems
Adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking
Blind spot monitoring
Rear back-up camera
Rear cross-traffic alert
Lane-keeping assist
Automatic crash notification feature

choosing cars for college students premium safety features

Vehicle Size

When it comes to choosing cars for college students size really does matter. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, your best bet is to look for a mid-size vehicle or smaller SUV.

Larger vehicles such as full-size sedans, trucks and large SUVs can be awkward and difficult to drive, especially for a new driver. Plus, large trucks and SUV’s have a high center of gravity which tends to make them more susceptible to rollovers should a driver lose control due.

Smaller sized vehicles such compacts and subcompacts are lighter and don’t fare as well as larger models when it comes to crash protection.

Overall Cost

While the actual cost of a vehicle plays a large role in choosing cars for college students, many people forget to consider all of the other costs involved. And these costs can add up quickly, so you want to make sure that they fit into your budget.

Fuel efficiency is always a factor you should consider. How much driving will your college student be doing every week? Do they live off-campus? Are they planning on coming home on the weekends? Do they like to take road trips with their friends? Unless you are willing to cover the cost of your child’s fuel every week, a gas guzzler is probably not the best idea.

choosing cars for college students overall costs to consider

Then there are the long-term maintenance costs of owning a vehicle. As I’ve said many times before, the best way to keep your car in prime shape is preventative maintenance. This includes everything from regular oil changes to replacing air and gas filters when needed.

Then there is the scheduled maintenance recommended by the vehicle’s manufacturer to consider, as well as the possibility of any unplanned repairs that may arise. Oh, and don’t forget about tires, front end alignments…the list goes on and on.

Insurance is another cost you should consider. Call around to several different insurance companies so you can compare the rates. Find out what kind of insurance you will need, and what you can expect to pay for insurance on each car you are considering. And don’t forget to ask about any potential discounts the company may offer!

All of these factors should be weighed when choosing cars for college students. The good news is, there are plenty of cars that come highly recommended. Cars.com can help you decide Before making your final decision, talk with your Nationwide insurance agent to find out what kind of insurance you’ll need, and what you can expect to pay for insurance on each car you’re considering.

riverview toyota

The Next Step When Choosing Cars for College Students

Now that you know what to consider, the next step is to start looking for a car you and your child agree upon. Once again, research will be your best friend. Looking around online before heading to a dealership will save you a lot of time and help ensure you get the best deal.

Cars.com is where my husband and I research any vehicle we are considering buying. Their user-friendly website is packed full of useful information to help you make an informed purchasing decision. You can research both new and used vehicles, find reviews from experts and from owners, and even look up safety and recall information.

You can also look through a huge selection of cars for sale both through owners and dealerships, locate and research dealerships near you, and so much more.

Choosing the right car for your college student doesn’t have to be a stressful and intimidating process. By keeping in mind the above suggestions and taking the time to do your research, you’re sure to find the car that fits your college student perfectly!