How Much Is a Car Really Going to Cost You When You’re In School?

car at collage

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Many college students think they need to have a car while in college. You may have plans to live at home with your parents and want a car to make the commute to school easier and faster, or perhaps you have plans to attend college farther from home and are considering the benefits of having a car to get around campus, to travel off-campus when necessary, and even to get to a part-time job.

There certainly are benefits to having your own transportation, but there are significant costs associated with having a car, too. Before you make the decision to get or keep a car while in college, it’s important that you fully understand and analyze the costs that college students face when owning a car.

Car Payments

While some college students save up money from a part-time job and purchase a cheaper used car with cash, and some are lucky enough to get a car as a gift from family, there are many students that will have to take out a loan to buy a car. The monthly payments on an auto loan are a required expense to you, and you will have to may interest in addition to the principle amount (which, depending on your loan, can be at an exorbitant rate). If payments are not made regularly, your auto loan lender has the right to repossess your vehicle.

Car Insurance

Almost every state in the United States today requires that drivers maintain car insurance on their vehicles. Car insurance is generally more expensive for young adults, and even the least amount of coverage can be very expensive, depending on your age, driving record, and the car you drive. This will cost you a significant amount every month and will go up exponentially if you get into an accident. Further, if you do have an accident and have to file a claim on your insurance, you will be required to pay the insurance deductible before your insurance company will pay on your claim. The amount of the deductible can be adjusted, but a typical deductible is $500 or more.


Unless you have a fully electric vehicle, you are also going to have to pay fuel costs regularly. The price of gas fluctuates, and sometimes it increases sharply with little notice. Higher gas prices can make driving very unaffordable at times, which is particularly true for college students who are living on a fixed budget. Even electric cars have some energy-related expenses: plugging in your vehicle every night will increase your home utility bill. Further, you have to make sure that you have the ability to charge your vehicle in the area you will be living.

Registration and Inspection Fees

Most states require that cars not only be registered with them each year but also that the car receives an inspection from a certified state inspector. If the registration and inspection fees are not paid regularly, you may face fines from the DMV or get tickets for having expired tags on your car. A vehicle inspection may reveal required maintenance issues that must be repaired before it can pass inspection, which may result in additional costs.

Vehicle Repairs and Maintenance

All vehicles require regular maintenance, and some will require more significant repairs. Buying a newer car or a car that is otherwise under warranty can limit this cost to you, but even newer cars will need regular oil changes, tire rotations, replacement of filters and wiper blades, fluids topped off, and more. Some of these maintenance items, such as oil changes, are recommended every three months or 3,000 miles traveled in your vehicle.

Parking Permits

If you plan to live on campus or drive your vehicle to campus with a commute, you will want to spend time researching the cost of parking permits. Most colleges and universities charge a fee for the purchase of a parking permit, and this fee will need to be paid every semester in many cases. Parking off campus and walking a little farther to classes may be one option to consider, but this is not a feasible option with every campus location.

As you can see, there are numerous costs associated with college students owning cars. In some cases, the costs may be well worth paying. In other cases, however, other options such as using a city mass transit service or riding a bike may be more feasible. Take some time to look over your specific situation and see if you can do without a car based on how far and how often you will need to travel.