Top 10 Tips for Buying a Car in College

Although college students may be known for attributes like drive, determination, and intelligence, one thing they aren’t known for is having disposable cash. So, when it comes time for a college guy or gal to buy a car, it’s important to find both a vehicle that fits a student’s unique needs and is within a pretty tight budget.

Here are some tips for buying a car on a college budget:

  1. Buy used: Especially if you are a freshman who won’t be pulling in any significant income until after graduation, this is not the time to rack up a bunch of debt. Although there’s an allure to a brand new car, you can find a vehicle that is dependable and attractive for far less money when it’s a few years old. This is because cars depreciate quickly, so use that to your advantage. Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans are best known for their long-term performance.

  2. Pay cash if possible: If you’ve saved a little cash working over the summer or can borrow money from your family, buy your car outright. While financing a car can build credit, it’s hard to predict what your monetary needs will be while in college. Having a car payment on top of the stress of exams and other parts of student life isn’t an ideal situation.

  3. If you can’t pay cash, finance smartly: Don’t overestimate what you can pay on a monthly basis because, if you default, your car could end up repossessed. If that happens, you will be out all the money you’ve already paid in and be right back at square one and carless. Shop around and find the right balance between interest rates and payment amounts for your situation. If you’re a senior, this is a good opportunity to begin building credit, but don’t take on more than you can handle. If not, consider asking a parent or relative with good credit to cosign your loan.

  4. Consider gas mileage: Fuel these days isn’t cheap, and it’s an expense that compounds quickly, especially if you commute a considerable distance. While you may like the look of an SUV or other vehicle that’s notorious for being a gas guzzler, keep your expenses low by opting for a smaller, more fuel-efficient choice. This is, of course, most important for those who live off-campus and will have to drive more than someone living in an on-campus dorm.

  5. Consult your insurance company before you buy: College students don’t typically get the best insurance rates based on their age and general lack of experience on the road, so it’s even more important to know how much your insurance will be before you commit to a costly vehicle purchase.

  6. Don’t shop alone: Although the figure of a shady car dealer is a stereotype that doesn’t apply to all salesmen, that picture does have some basis in truth. Dealers in search of a sale (and commission) can omit certain information about a vehicle or gloss over issues. Consider booking an appointment with one of our mechanics. They can meet you at the car’s location and perform a thorough pre-purchase inspection. If any repairs are needed, the mechanic will also provide an estimate, so you know the full cost of ownership.

  7. Research before you purchase: See how much parts and labor can cost when it needs regular maintenance or in the event there are problems. If you book one of our mechanics for a pre-purchase inspection, they can give you an idea of what to expect cost-wise on the most common issues that go wrong with that specific vehicle. Set aside money every month just for car maintenance and repairs.

  8. Don’t buy the first car you like on the spot: Even if you’ve thoroughly researched the model and have checked with your insurance, it pays to shop around. There may be a similar vehicle elsewhere with a lower price tag or in better condition.

  9. Take your prospective car on a thorough test drive: Test the car on different terrains and with varied speeds. Test the car on slow streets and highways, paying careful attention to maneuverability. Also, test all of your blinkers, lights, windshield wipers, heat, air conditioning and other features to see if they work properly.

  10. Learn the fine art of haggling: Whether you choose to purchase from a dealer or independent lot, the price tag is not written in stone. Don’t be afraid to point out issues like wear on the tires or a less-than-perfect interior, and then offer to pay a little less. The worst that can happen is they will make a counter offer or just say no; the price won’t go any higher.

As you prepare to buy a car as a college student, you are far less likely to be disappointed if you follow these tips. While this may or may not be your first vehicle purchase, it is still a learning experience that will inform your future car-buying decisions, so do everything in your power to make it a good one.


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