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Cheap Car for a College Student?

As a college student going to enter his sophomore year, I’m allowed to bring a car with me on-campus. Being that I’m going to have to be travelling about 50 miles each way, once or twice a week, I’ve set off to find a car that can a) get me there and back, and b) ideally use the least amount of gasoline possible.

My problem is, however, while I might be willing to spend more, I’d rather not spend more than $1500. Probably $2000 at the most. Is there any car that someone could recommend that I could look into, which would be good for the trips?

You should not shop brand, but condition. Look for an unpopular car in excellent condition and 10 or more years old. The Chevy Cavalier comes to mind. Do you have friends that are motorheads? Take one along to check the car and you can save a few hundred bucks having a couple candidate cars checked by a mechanic.

Pig In A Poke

Besides the good advice from jtsanders, be sure and check with friends and relatives to see if anybody’s got anything. Getting a car from somebody who’s done regular maintenance is a good idea. The problem is trusting that a stranger has done that.

Also, try and buy a vehicle that is currently licensed and commuting. It helps prove it can do what you need it to do. A car parked with no plate (and weeds growing up around and under it) has to cause one to wonder why it was taken off the road.


Good info above. One thing to look at also is the overall condition of the vehicle. If the paint is bad, then its likely that the oil and other fluids were not changed per schedule. It shows a lack of concern for the vehicle.

A lot of small dents or scrapes in the paint are indications that it was “rode hard and put away wet” a lot. A trashed interior is another reason to run.

The Japanese vehicles command high prices on the used market, especially now. They have a reputation for quality and durability. Many US makes have greatly improved their quality and durability in recent years but have not yet earned that reputation, so there are sleepers out there.

Optional equipment is a real car killer. A lot of optional equipment means more opportunities for for things to go wrong, keep it simple.

The 2000 and newer low end GM cars like the Saturn and Cavalier can be found cheap and they are pretty reliable, but keep to the basic models. By 2003, Ford had worked out all (most all anyway) the bugs from the Focus.

Your question is very common. Just get a small car, but stay away from Dodge Neon. Don’t expect much, and have money put aside for repairs. Cheap cars often need expensive repairs.

Price out insurance, and hopefully you have a job. Car ownership is expensive, really no such thing as a cheap car.

What may be the cheap may not be economical to run. Look at older Prisms, Focus among models suggested by others. I agree, avoid Chrysler compacts. Toyotas and Hondas may be over priced for your needs but Hyundias, Suzukis and Kias might not be and may be worth a look. Check CR for better bets on used cars too and be very flexible with things like features, transmission and color. It’s a plus to be able to drive a standard as they may be easier to find cheap.