Car Buying Guide for College Students

May 01, 2014

Are you in school and in need of a new car? has created a car buying guide for students to help keep your car buying costs to a minimum. Why throw away money on a car now when you’re going to need it to pay off those student loans later? Read on to find out what you need to do before you step onto the car lot.

Should I buy a new or used car?

Some people think that buying a new car is an investment. They think that maintenance will cost less or that the chance of needing significant repairs is lower. Some think it will last them longer than a used car would. These are rarely ever the case, especially if you are buying the car as a student. New cars have higher insurance rates, greater depreciation, and the additional cost of scheduled maintenance. Buying a car with fewer than 80-100,000 miles on it means you’ll be hitting some significant maintenance roadblocks within the first 3-4 years. Also, purchasing a brand new car means you’re likely to be making payments on it, which actually increases the overall cost of the vehicle. The car buying guide for students recommends buying a used vehicle because it will ultimately save you money.

What type of car should I buy?

Think about your current lifestyle and then consider what changes will occur after you graduate. You may want that SUV now, but when you’re working an entry level job will you be able to pay for premium gas or higher car insurance rates? How about tires that are $200 apiece? If your reason for wanting the SUV is that you need more storage space because you can’t fit your spelunking equipment into a Honda Civic, then consider a more economical option like a station wagon or hatchback that runs on low grade fuel and has significantly lower auto insurance rates. Do your future self a favor and consider the future expenses the car you want to buy.

Saving money by avoiding extra maintenance

You can avoid major mechanical bills by checking the Carfax report or service record to ensure that scheduled maintenance has been performed at the correct times. Look for things like coolant and/or transmission flushes, changing of spark plugs and wires, and timing belts/ serpentine belts. These things can be costly by themselves and if they are performed too late or not at all, they can result in more bills for you and possibly damage to the vehicle. Another great way to ensure that you’re buying a good vehicle is to have a mechanic you trust check out the vehicle before you buy it. Save money by avoiding costly upgrades.

Does this car require special maintenance? Special tires? Special fuel? Some cars do and that usually means added cost. You can save yourself a lot of money and hassle if you do your research ahead of time and confirm that the car you want won’t come with extra bills and expenses.

We know, this is a car buying guide for students, not for hermits, minimalists, or other people perceived to be uncool by society at large. We recognize that this next bit of advice will be unpopular. That being said, we think this could really save you some money, so it’s worth considering. Being willing to sacrifice upgrades that most people think of as standard (CD players, automatic windows, cruise control, sunroofs, etc.) could save you considerable money when buying a used car. Items such as the CD player can actually be purchased and installed separately for less money than buying a car that already comes with that equipment.

Don’t forget to plan for auto insurance payments

Speaking of expenses, don’t forget car insurance! Be sure to check the car insurance rates for the car you want to buy before you buy it. You stand a good chance of finding a favorable rate if you compare car insurance rates online. Car features such as engine size or trim level could have an impact on how much you pay for car insurance. Many auto insurance companies prefer certain kinds of drivers. If you aren’t their ideal driver because you’re young, inexperienced, or have an accident or claim on your record, then shopping around can help you find an auto insurance company better suited to your needs. Comparison shopping is a simple way to help you find a much better auto insurance rate and you can do that right here on

When is the best time to buy a used car?

Data shows that the best time to find a great price on a used car is any time between the start of July and the end of September. During this time there are more frequent price drops and the dollar amount of those price drops are greater than at other times of the year. The end of the month is another good time to go as many car lots will want to unload inventory and sales people will want to meet their sales goals.

Getting a better deal when buying your car

Another reason to buy a used car rather than a new car is that paying with cash will get you a better deal on your car. If you buy used, odds are the price could be low enough for you to offer cash. But if the sticker price says $8000, for instance, you could pay as little as $6500 by offering cash and showing up at the right time of the week/month/year. Many car buying guides don’t mention this, but financing a vehicle adds to the price because interest is included. If you must finance, don’t fall for 0% down schemes. Not making a down payment means you will end up paying the price of the car plus a lot more by the time the car is paid off.

Be willing to walk away

Here’s some advice you don’t typically see in a car buying guide. No matter how much you want a specific car, if you can’t find it for a price that fits your budget, don’t get it. Feel free to make an offer, but if the dealer can’t or won’t work with you on that price to bring it down to fit your budget, don’t be afraid to walk away. Sometimes this can work to your advantage. If a sales person thinks they are going to lose a sale, they may work a little harder to adjust the price. Other times, it doesn’t work out. Be prepared for that too because car shopping as a student isn’t easy and it isn’t fast. In all probability, you’ll likely visit a number of dealerships before you find what you’re looking for at a price that fits your budget.

Compare cars between dealerships

If you see a car you like and that fits your budget, don’t buy until you compare cars from other dealerships. Often, going back to a dealer and saying I’ve seen this car somewhere else for less can start them moving on lowering the price. Another good reason to compare cars is that you might find the same car in better condition, or with different features, by shopping around. For example, if you like a car on one Ford lot, go to another Ford lot and ask to see the same car. See if the salesperson can offer you anything that the other couldn’t. Differences between dealerships such as car sales volumes, the number of employees, and other factors can result in different prices among dealerships selling the same brand of cars. Just like car insurance, comparison shopping cars can save you money and potentially land you a better deal.

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In addition to our car buying guide for students, offers a number of money saving information resources related to cars, driving, and auto insurance. You can read more by visiting the Resources page on our website. If you need auto insurance or would like a free auto insurance quote, you can visit

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