Nothing screams affordable reliability quite like a Honda. Not only are Hondas renowned for their reliability, they also have fantastic fuel economy. Two extremely desirable traits in a vehicle, especially while paying for tuition! Specifically the Civic comes to mind. Being one of the most common cars out there, repair parts are plentiful and how to do most maintenance jobs are one YouTube search away. Two extremely desirable traits in a vehicle, especially while paying for tuition! Sure, you’ll be one of 100’s of Civic owners on campus, but that many people own these cars for good reason.
Toyota is an extremely similar case to Honda. Both are Japanese, affordable, reliable, fuel-efficient cars, and a great choice for any student looking for a vehicle to get them to and from class reliably and affordably. The Camry or Corolla tend to be the most common choices, but a used Celica can also make a solid sporty option. Many will argue which of the two is better, Toyota or Honda? At the end of the day, each has slight differences that make them more ideal for one individual over the other. But if you’ve been considering a Honda and having found what you’re looking for, maybe give Toyota a try. Either car brand, when treated well, will last you for years to come.
Switching gears (hah, get it?) from Japenese to European car makers, Volvo is on this list primarily for one huge reason: safety. Volvo’s are well known for being built like tanks, and are always built with safety in the front of the mind. They are the first company to mass-produce a seatbelt in their vehicles, after all. The S40 will probably be your best bet as a student, as it is one of Volvo’s least expensive models. While not as affordable as the first two makes on this list, and repair costs are much higher, the added safety is sure to make mothers everywhere worry a little less about their fresh-out-of-the-house kid.
Continuing on with European car manufacturers, Volkswagen may be the most popular European car brand among college students. While this may be primarily due to Volkswagen’s affordability and fuel economy instead their actual reliability. This is not to say Volkswagens aren’t reliable in their own right, but maintenance costs on Honda and Toyota are going to be much kinder. Two of the most affordable options for students are the Passat and the Golf, the former being a sedan and the latter a well-respected hatchback, especially in the “hot-hatch” sect. In Volkswagen’s defense, they are going to have a few more bells and whistles coming standard, being a bit closer to a “luxury” vehicle in most instances.
Getting into some domestic options for students, a Ford can be a solid choice. With Ford you have a slew of options, from the economical Focus to the sporty Mustang. Ford is also a solid choice for an affordable pick-up truck, should you opt for more utility. The Ford Ranger is a classic choice for helping your buddies move out to college, and you might get a case a beer or a free pizza out of it! To top all this off, Ford’s insane market presence means you will have a wealth of after-market support, and parts will be readily available. Because, let’s face it, at some point that $800 Taurus you bought on Craigslist that “runs well” probably won’t last until graduation without a repair here or there.
For some reason you can’t seem to mention Ford or Chevy without at least mentioning the other, and here is no exception. Chevy’s relationship to Ford is a lot like Toyota’s to Honda; they appeal to the same demographic for the same reasons, just some people will have a preference for one over the other. Just keep in mind if you pick a Chevy, you’re in to get a lot of flak from Ford fans, and vice-versa. But setting the classic rivalry aside, Chevy is a solid American carm manufacturer in it’s own right, with used Cobalts and Impalas being exceptional and affordable choices for students. And whether you buy Ford or Chevy, you’ll be making Uncle Sam proud.
Circling back around to the Japanese car makers, Mazda may be one of the most inexpensive Japanese options out there, that isn’t going to break the day after you buy it. Mazda also makes for a bit more sporty (albeit not quite as reliable) option for college students, though I would stay away from the Rx-8 if you’re looking for something to get you to and from classes, solely because of it’s rotary engine, but that’s a topic for another time. With both the Mazda 3 and 6 being solid, inexpensive 4-door cars, it makes a great third option in the debate between Toyota or Honda. Or if you are a fan of Ford and appreciate the styling of Mazda, Ford played a large role in the manufacturing of many Mazdas.
I’m not sure how many more Japanese manufacturers we can put on this list before needing to admit that they make solid, very affordable vehicles. But Subaru is a little different, as typically they are not all that affordable in the grand scheme of things. So why are they on this list? Subarus are easily one of the most inexpensive ways of getting an all-wheel drive sedan or hatchback. This makes them one of the most ideal choices for a college student living in a colder climate. Depending on where your campus is located, you may have snow on the ground for the vast majority of the school year, in which case all-wheel drive will be essential for getting to and from class consistently and safely. The base model Impreza come with sedan and hatchback variants, so you still have options at the lowest cost of entry. Also if you’re into modifying cars, Subaru may have one of the most fervent car-mod followings of any brand out there.
Yeah, yeah, another Japanese car. But Scion is(or… was) a child company of Toyota, aimed specifically at a younger demographic, i.e. the people most likely reading this list. Scions are often simply re-badged Toyotas, stripped down for affordability and given a facelift to appeal to a younger audience. The xD has proven to be an extremely long-lasting car, while the 2-door tC makes for a more stylish option, and makes a great platform to modify. Although Scion isn’t around anymore, since they use almost entirely Toyota components, you’re not losing much as far as aftermarket support. Essentially, Scion’s are a great student car because they were designed with the intent to be sold to college students. However, with the steady increase in tuition cost, fewer students (and their parents) are able to afford new cars, so the idea of a car dealer aiming new vehicles at a younger demographic began to no longer make fiscal sense. Someday soon Scion will be a well-missed car brand.
Maybe at this point I should have just made note of whenever a car brand wasn’t Japanese. Mitsubishi has a long history of being a sporty well-respected brand, granted it’s lost some of that luster during more recent years. This is due to Mitsubishi’s surprising success in the SUV market. If you’re in the used car market, there are plenty solid choices left from Mitsubishi’s hay day. Though they don’t have the reliable reputation as some of the other choices on this list, if you have the need for speed on a budget, Mitsubishi is one of your best options.
Nissan is a great brand to look for in the used market, with many of their sedans from the early 2000s surpassing 200,000 miles on the regular. They may not have the presence of Honda or Toyota, but many of their vehicles could easily contend with them for reliability. On the note of reliability, you may want to steer clear of any of the vehicles with a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) as the earlier models that implemented these transmissions suffered from a few well-known issues. So as always be shrewd when inspecting a used car to purchase, but I would have no problem recommend a Nissan to a student looking for a vehicle.
So there you have it, eleven of the best car brands for college students. Keep in mind there are plenty of solid car brands (and models) that didn’t make this list that would treat a student just fine. However, these eleven can make a great place to start your search. Hope you found this list useful and best of luck buying your next car!