College students rarely need to leave campus on a daily basis unless they are commuter students. However, owning a car is still a priority for a lot of college students, even if they don’t know how they will afford it.

Whether or not they need a car, a lot of young people feel the need for one. It makes things like going home for a visit, grabbing lunch and seeing a movie much easier and is far less time consuming than walking or riding the bus, the exception being a commuter bus.

However, not everyone has parents who just gave them a car the day they turned 16 and, just in case anyone was wondering, the budget for a typical college student doesn’t have room for a car-sized expense.

There are options though, and just in case students have some savings built up, here are some tips for keeping car purchases affordable and reliable:

Buy used

There’s no getting around the fact that most college students cannot afford $400 per month for a new sports car, so the used car market is a poor college kid’s best friend. Look for cars that are more than three or four years old because after the three year mark car values tend to tank — greatly depreciate.

One of the most important indicators of a used car’s health is the number of miles on it. Simply put, the more a car has been driven, the worse condition it will generally be in. Obviously this varies greatly across car manufacturers, but in general, the car with fewer miles will be in better shape.

There are many used car dealerships in the Tacoma area and a few can even be spotted just by driving up and down Pacific Avenue here in beautiful Parkland.

Stick to dealers

Dealerships may not have the best deals when it comes to used cars, but at least the car will run. Owners can sell the car for cheaper than a dealer, but for most people it’s impossible to tell if the car will need thousands of dollars of work in the near future.

For college students, it’s simply not worth the risk of buying a car from the owner just to have it break down a week later. Dealers have to respect implied warranty laws, which for Washington can be researched at

Basically, every used car sold by a dealer has to meet certain requirements: the car will be fit for ordinary driving, will have no major defects and will be reasonably safe.

Once students stop worrying about what “reasonably safe” might mean in court, they can take advantage of other services dealers supply. They allow old cars to be traded in for discounts on the purchase of a different car and also provide financing options should anyone need them.

Bring a connoisseur

As mentioned earlier, not everyone knows what to look for in a car. This can make a reasonably-priced, reasonably safe used car a very expensive compilation of metal and rubber that is very safe once it stops running and ends up stuck in the driveway.

The best way to mitigate this is to bring someone who knows what they’re talking about. Most people have that friend who is obsessed with cars or at least a family member who has bought a used car before.

Take advantage of that person’s knowledge and experience, and that person can, in turn, take advantage of the snazzy used set of wheels he or she just helped pick out.

Use smart money

Cash — in this case cash refers to any money a student may have, whether it’s physical bills or in a bank account — is the cheapest way to buy a car. Any form of institutional financing will cause students to end up paying more money than the car is worth over the lifetime of the loan because of the interest that will inevitably accrue.

Students can avoid this by waiting to buy a car and saving their money until they can afford it or by finding different methods of financing.

If students can secure a loan from a family member, it is very possible to secure low-interest, or even interest-free, loans, because that family member understands that studying is more important than trying to come up with a bunch of cash for a car.

I’m not trying to promote stealing from relatives, but this is one of the few times that being poor could work in favor of college students, so I highly recommend this route if students need a car and can’t wait to save enough money.


Cars are a luxury that bikes and public transportation are great substitutes for, but nothing beats the feeling of freedom that comes with having a vehicle parked in the driveway that can go from Washington to California overnight, assuming the cost of gas doesn’t completely drain the bank account first. ◼︎

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