Mustang? Prius? SUV?

With young adults across the country heading back to college campuses to kick off a brand-new school year, buying a car may be on their to-do lists, but which ones are the best?

Advice from the Experts

Several considerations should influence a buying decision when shopping for cars for college students, but sometimes they can conflict. To help college students and their families tiptoe through this minefield, Kelley Blue Book, a Cox Automotive company, recently provided helpful advice and was named the Best Cars for College Students for 2023, according to a news release.

“There are so many variables to weigh in picking any car – let alone one for a college student – and sometimes the process can be truly overwhelming,” said Brian Moody, executive editor for Kelley Blue Book. “Usually purchase price is top-of-mind, so we started with a price ceiling of $25,000 for the new cars on this list, and then chose several used models at various price points for more budget-oriented shoppers. Other important factors to weigh include cost of ownership, safety, technology, and practicality. While reduced inventories of new and used cars have presented challenges including stubbornly high prices and limited choices for some brands, we are seeing downward movement on the average prices for new cars, so there is hope. We recommend shoppers stay flexible, understanding they may need to make a few compromises on car color and content to secure the type of car they want.”

Things to Consider When Buying a Car for College

Want vs. Need

  • A car at college can be a real hassle between expenses, campus parking, and more, so if a personal car isn’t necessary for getting to a job, or to and from an off-campus residence, it may be more of a want than a need.

Vehicle Affordability

  • An affordable payment is a function of a vehicle’s cost, and whether it’s the parents or the student shouldering the monthly installments, those payments need to be kept low.
  • Most carmakers use a captive financing company that offers financing deals on new and certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles – that is a good place to start.
  • If securing a loan outside of captive financing, usually you can get a lower monthly payment on a used vehicle versus a new one. Credit unions are known to offer lower percentage rates on car loans, which is something to consider given recent interest rate increases.

Cost of Ownership

  • Cost of ownership factors including insurance, maintenance/repairs, fuel economy, and depreciation all can vary greatly from one car to the next. Check out Kelley Blue Book’s 5-Year Cost to Own tool to compare models.
  • Insurance cost is a key contributor to the total cost of ownership, and historically, drivers younger than 25 can expect insurance to be an even greater factor in the total cost of ownership. Always involve your insurance costs in a purchase decision, and shop around for insurance to save money.
  • Gasoline is a monthly expense that can vary wildly from year to year depending on fluctuations in the price of oil. Seeking out vehicles delivering better fuel economy, or considering hybrid vehicles, can save you a few trips to the pump. Hybrids tend to cost a bit more than gasoline-fueled cars, so a used hybrid may be a better choice.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Safety features and ratings always should be a key qualifier in purchasing a vehicle for anyone regardless of age, so be sure to check out the crash test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The picks on our lists below scored high with most of them.
  • Technology factors are critical on several levels, but staying connected is of the utmost concern for college-aged people. At the very least, they expect to be able to integrate their devices into a vehicle’s infotainment system. The newer the model, the more connectivity options available.
  • Remember that this car may need to continue as the main mode of transportation after college and into the first few years of building a career, so put some time into thinking about what that may look like regarding commuting needs and lifestyle, in addition to the cost of ownership.

Kelley Blue Book’s Best New Cars and SUVs Under $25,000 for College Students for 2023

1.  2023 Toyota Corolla

6.  2023 Subaru Crosstrek

2.  2023 Honda Civic

7.  2023 Kia Seltos

3.  2023 Hyundai Elantra

8.  2023 Hyundai Kona

4.  2023 Honda HR-V

9.  2023 Nissan Sentra

5.  2023 Mazda3

10.  2023 Kia Soul

Kelley Blue Book’s Best Used Cars and SUVs Under $20,000 for College Students for 2023

1.  2015 – 2017 Toyota Camry

7.  2015 – 2016 Honda CR-V

2.  2016 – 2017 Honda Accord

8.  2016 – 2018 Subaru Crosstrek

3.  2017 – 2018 Toyota Corolla

9.  2016 – 2018 Mazda3

4.  2015 – 2018 Mazda CX-5

10.  2016 – 2018 Honda Civic

5.  2012 – 2015 Toyota Prius

11.  2017 – 2019 Kia Soul

6.  2014 – 2016 Toyota RAV4

12.  2015 – 2019 Honda Fit

Kelley Blue Book’s Best Used Cars and SUVs Under $15,000 for College Students for 2023

1.  2012 – 2014 Toyota Camry

4.  2011 – 2014 Toyota Corolla

2.  2007 – 2014 Honda CR-V

5.  2013 – 2015 Honda Civic

3.  2011 – 2015 Honda Accord

6.  2009 – 2012 Toyota RAV4

For more information about Kelley Blue Book’s Best Cars for College Students for 2023, including full editorial commentary about each vehicle, pricing details, and more, visit here.

Source: Kelley Blue Book