Best Cars For College Students (Updated 2023)

WRITTEN BY: Julia Matseikovich


College life is an exciting and transformative period; having the right wheels can enhance the experience. When looking for the right car, you must consider affordability, fuel efficiency, reliability, and safety. Whether commuting to campus or embarking on weekend adventures, we think these are the best cars for college students.

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Top 5 cars for college students

You should consider several factors when selecting a car for your college student, from fuel efficiency to size, insurance costs, and what you need from a car. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of cars available. Here are some of the top car models recommended for college students

Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla is an excellent choice for college students due to its reputation for dependability, fuel efficiency, and low maintenance costs. With its comfortable interior, advanced safety features, and affordable price, the Corolla offers a practical and reliable option for daily commuting and long drives.

Honda Civic

The Honda Civic is a top pick for college students thanks to its reliability, fuel efficiency, and stylish design. With a reputation for longevity, the Civic provides a comfortable and enjoyable driving experience. Its advanced safety features, user-friendly technology, and affordable price point make it a popular choice among students seeking a perfect balance between practicality and style.

Hyundai Elantra

The Hyundai Elantra is an attractive option for college students due to its affordability and impressive warranty coverage. With its modern styling, spacious cabin, and user-friendly technology, the Elantra offers a comfortable and value-packed choice. It provides excellent fuel efficiency and a range of safety features, making it an ideal companion for students’ everyday journeys.

Honda HR-V

The Honda HR-V is a compact SUV that combines versatility and fuel efficiency, making it a great choice for college students with active lifestyles. With its spacious interior, flexible cargo space, and available all-wheel drive, the HR-V offers practicality and convenience. Its advanced safety features and strong reliability record further enhance its appeal to students seeking a reliable and capable vehicle.

Mazda 3

The Mazda 3 is a standout choice for college students who prioritize style, performance, and an upscale interior. With its sleek design, engaging driving dynamics, and efficient engines, the Mazda 3 offers an enjoyable and spirited driving experience. It also boasts advanced safety features, high-quality craftsmanship, and impressive fuel efficiency, making it a compelling option for those seeking a combination of sportiness and refinement.

Car considerations for college students

There are several factors that college students should weigh when choosing a vehicle. Each aspect plays a role in finding the perfect car, from the type of vehicle to affordability and financing options, maintenance and reliability, fuel efficiency, safety equipment, insurance costs, and practical features and technology.

College students should evaluate their needs and priorities, ensuring they choose a vehicle that suits their lifestyle and offers reliability, fuel efficiency, and advanced safety features while being affordable and providing practical features and technology that enhance their college experience.

Car type

Compact cars and sedans are popular with college students due to their affordability, fuel efficiency, and easy maneuverability. These vehicles are often more budget-friendly regarding purchase price, insurance, and maintenance expenses.

Their smaller size makes them ideal for navigating tight parking spaces on crowded campuses or urban areas. Additionally, compact cars and sedans typically offer sufficient space for individual or small-group transportation needs.

Another option to consider is a hatchback or a small SUV. These vehicles provide more cargo space, allowing students to transport larger items such as luggage, sports equipment, or dorm essentials. Hatchbacks and small SUVs can offer added versatility without sacrificing fuel efficiency, making them practical choices for college students with varying needs.

Affordability and financing options

Being a college student often means working with a limited budget. However, various financing options can make car ownership more attainable. Consider exploring used car options, leasing, or seeking student car loans. Additionally, credit unions may offer favorable financing terms for students.

Maintenance and reliability

Maintaining a car on a student budget can be challenging. Opting for reliable brands known for their durability and ease of maintenance can help minimize unexpected repair costs. Regular maintenance, such as oil changes and tire rotations, is essential to keep your vehicle running smoothly and prevent major issues down the road.

Fuel efficiency

Fuel efficiency plays a big role in the lives of college students for several reasons. First and foremost, as many students often have limited financial resources, choosing a fuel-efficient car helps save on fuel expenses. With rising fuel prices, having a vehicle that can go further on a gallon of gas can significantly affect their overall budget.

Additionally, college students are frequently on the go, commuting to and from campus, running errands, and embarking on road trips with friends. A fuel-efficient car allows them to cover more miles without refueling, providing convenience and saving valuable time.

Safety Equipment

As young and relatively inexperienced drivers, college students may still develop their driving skills and awareness, and safety equipment can assist in safe driving as they continue to learn. Having advanced safety features can provide an extra layer of protection and mitigate the risk of accidents.

In addition, college students often commute on busy roads and highways, sometimes in unfamiliar areas. Safety equipment such as anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and electronic stability control (ESC) can help maintain vehicle control during emergencies or when driving on slippery or uneven surfaces, enhancing overall safety.

Many college students frequently travel, whether returning home during breaks or embarking on road trips with friends. Safety features like multiple airbags, lane departure warning systems, forward collision warning, and blind-spot monitoring can significantly reduce the risk of injury in the event of a crash, providing peace of mind during their journeys.

A vehicle with modern safety technology may also lower insurance premiums, as insurance companies often offer discounts for cars with advanced safety features. This can help college students manage their expenses and allocate more resources to their education.

Insurance costs

Insurance costs are higher for individuals that are under the age of 25. Many college students operate on a tight budget, and high insurance premiums can strain their overall expenses, such as tuition, textbooks, and living expenses.

Insurance costs are influenced by various factors, including the vehicle’s make, model, and age, as well as the driver’s age, driving record, and location. Insurance companies may classify certain cars as riskier due to higher theft rates or expensive repair costs.

College students, often considered young and relatively inexperienced drivers, may already face higher insurance rates compared to more seasoned drivers. Therefore, choosing a car with lower insurance costs can help students manage their expenses more effectively.

Practical features and technology

Practical features can enhance your college experience. Look for cars with ample cargo space for moving belongings or accommodating friends during road trips. Connectivity options like Bluetooth and USB ports enable seamless integration with your smartphone for hands-free calls and music streaming. Parking assistance systems can also make navigating tight campus parking lots a breeze.

Car rating factors

Affordability is important for college students, so brand-new cars with all the latest features may be out of reach. Some features have become industry standards due to government regulations. Since 2013, the U.S. government has mandated all cars’ anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control. Therefore, if opting for a used vehicle, aim for a 2013 model or newer.

Various resources, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Consumer Reports, provide information on the safety of specific makes and models. Parents can consult these resources to ensure their chosen vehicles meet safety expectations.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), researching to find the right vehicle begins by understanding the key features that matter the most. The IIHS offers four guiding principles for parents when considering which cars to purchase:


Horsepower directly affects the car’s performance and acceleration. A car with sufficient horsepower can keep up with traffic flow, merge onto highways safely, and maneuver effectively in various driving situations.

A car with lower horsepower can also be advantageous. Higher horsepower vehicles can be more challenging to handle, especially for those who are still refining their driving skills. Choosing a car with less horsepower allows students to acclimate to the road and gradually build their confidence.

In addition, cars with lower horsepower often offer better fuel efficiency. Higher horsepower typically requires more fuel consumption, impacting a college student’s budget and overall expenses.

A vehicle’s horsepower can affect insurance rates. High-performance cars are often associated with higher insurance premiums due to the increased risk associated with their capabilities. Choosing a car with moderate horsepower can help college students secure more affordable insurance rates, saving them money.

Car size

There are a few things to consider when choosing the vehicle size for college students. Generally, compact to midsize vehicles are a good fit for college students due to their practicality, maneuverability, and affordability.

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is a safety feature that enhances vehicle control and helps prevent accidents. ESC intervenes during skidding or loss of control by actively monitoring factors like wheel speed and steering input. This feature benefits less experienced drivers, providing added confidence and stability.

ESC is especially valuable when navigating curves, wet or snowy roads, as it counteracts oversteering and understeering tendencies, reducing the risk of accidents. Its intervention has significantly lowered the chances of single-vehicle fatality crashes. Additionally, vehicles equipped with ESC often qualify for insurance discounts, making it an advantageous feature for college students seeking safer and more affordable transportation options.

Opt for high ratings

College students should opt for cars with high ratings for several reasons. High-rated cars often have better safety features and perform well in crash tests. College students, particularly younger and less experienced drivers, can benefit from the enhanced safety measures offered by these vehicles.

Cars with high ratings often have better reliability records. College students lead busy lives and may not have the time or resources to deal with frequent breakdowns or costly repairs. Choosing a car with a reputation for reliability can minimize unexpected maintenance issues, reduce the likelihood of inconvenient breakdowns, and provide a positive driving experience.

In addition, cars with high ratings may also result in lower insurance premiums. Insurance companies often offer lower rates for vehicles with superior safety features and positive crash test records. This can lead to significant cost savings for college students who are often managing their expenses on a tight budget.


What cars do 25-year-olds drive?

Common cars driven by 25-year-olds often balance price and value, making them suitable for college students on a budget. Some of the more popular ones include:

  • Honda Civic
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Ford Focus

Alternatively, students with a bit more cash flow might drive SUVs or sports cars. Some more popular options include:

  • Honda CR-V
  • Toyota RAV4
  • Mazda CX-5
  • Subaru Crosstrek
  • Ford Mustang
  • Chevrolet Camaro
  • Subaru WRX
  • Mazda MX-5 Miata

Is a sedan or SUV better for a college student?

Sedans offer better fuel efficiency, are easier to maneuver and park, and tend to be more cost-effective both in purchase and insurance. However, they might have limited space for passengers and cargo.

On the other hand, SUVs provide greater cargo space, better visibility, and enhanced performance in adverse weather conditions, but they often come with lower fuel efficiency, higher costs, and can be trickier to park in tight spaces.

For budget-conscious students primarily commuting in urban areas, a sedan might be ideal, while those needing more space or dealing with tough weather might lean towards an SUV.

Is it worth bringing a car to college?

Bringing a car to college depends on several factors. If your college is in an urban area with good public transportation, a car might be unnecessary and even cumbersome due to limited parking and additional expenses like insurance and maintenance.

Conversely, if the campus is in a suburban or rural location, having a car can be beneficial for off-campus activities, jobs, or frequent trips home. Before deciding, consider costs, the availability of parking, your lifestyle needs, and any environmental concerns.

Find affordable auto insurance for college students

Now that you have discovered the best cars for college students, it’s time to ensure that your new wheels are protected with the right car insurance. Don’t let unforeseen circumstances dampen your college experience. Take a proactive step and secure the coverage you need. 

Fill out our online rate form today for a personalized car insurance quote that fits your budget and provides the necessary protection. Don’t wait – safeguard your investment and enjoy the freedom of the open road with peace of mind. Get started and take the first step towards securing reliable car insurance for your college journey.


  • “Safe Vehicles for Teens” (
  • “Best Cars for College Students” (Kelly Blue Book)
  • “Best Cars for College Students: Cheap Cars You Can Buy Today” (

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