Best car for students

13 minute read Published on Feb 2, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

A teenage girl sitting in the driver's seat of a blue car. She's looking behind her, smiling, and fastening her seat belt.

Starting a new chapter at college or university can be as exciting as it is daunting, with a myriad of decisions waiting to be made. Among these, choosing the best car for a student’s needs often takes precedence. A car for a student is not just a mode of transport; it becomes a companion for late-night study sessions, weekend getaways, and, yes, the occasional laundry trip home.

It’s not just about style or speed; affordability, safety, reliability, and low running costs are the key. In this blog, we delve into the best cars for college students and what types of auto insurance a student might need.

Whether you’re a student yourself or a parent looking to make a wise investment, read on for insights that will steer you in the right direction for that perfect campus-worthy ride.

Understanding the needs of student drivers in Canada

When it comes to selecting the best cars for college students, several factors come into play. Ideally, the vehicle should be affordable, reliable, safe, and fuel-efficient. Selecting the perfect car for a college student is a multifaceted decision that requires weighing several important factors. Here’s a closer look at each one:


For most college students, budget is a primary concern. They need a car that’s affordable to purchase and won’t break the bank over time. This means looking for cars with a low initial price tag, minimal maintenance costs, and good warranty coverage. It’s also worth considering the availability of parts and the typical cost of common repairs.


A reliable car is non-negotiable for students, as they often have limited funds for unexpected repairs and maintenance. A vehicle that is known for its durability and long-term performance can offer peace of mind and reduce the risk of breaking down between classes or on the way to an exam.


Young drivers, including college students, are statistically at a higher risk of accidents, which makes safety features a critical consideration. Look for vehicles that score well in crash tests conducted by organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Modern safety features like automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings, and backup cameras can be lifesavers for inexperienced drivers.

Fuel Efficiency

With the cost of education and living expenses already high, fuel efficiency becomes an essential criterion. A car that gets more miles per gallon can mean significant savings over time. It’s not only about the money – fuel-efficient cars are also better for the environment, which is an increasingly important concern for many students.

What to consider when buying a student-friendly car

When buying a student-friendly car, several considerations, including safety features, reliability, technology, ratings, and car insurance, ensure the choice made is both practical and wise for a demographic that values simplicity, efficiency, and safety. Here’s a breakdown of what to consider:

Safety features, equipment, and ratings

Safety should be at the forefront when choosing a car for a student. Modern cars are equipped with advanced safety features that can prevent accidents and protect passengers should a collision occur.

Look for cars with high safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Standard safety features include airbags, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), and traction control. More advanced equipment might consist of adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems like forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Fuel efficiency

As students often operate on a budget, selecting a car with good fuel efficiency can lead to significant savings over time. Fuel-efficient cars can reduce the cost per mile of driving, which is beneficial for students who commute to school or travel home during breaks.

Hybrid and electric vehicles, while sometimes more expensive up front, can offer long-term savings through reduced fuel or energy costs.

Practical features and technology

Students appreciate cars that come with practical features and technology.

This includes ample cargo space for moving belongings, user-friendly interfaces, and connectivity options like Bluetooth, USB ports, and smartphone integration for navigation and music.

Some vehicles also offer subscription services for added technology like Wi-Fi hotspots, which can be advantageous for a student’s lifestyle.

Maneuverability and size

For the college lifestyle, a car should be easy to manoeuvre and park, especially in tight campus parking spaces or during city driving. Compact cars offer the added benefit of being easier to handle and often come with a lower price tag. The size of the vehicle also affects fuel economy, with smaller cars typically being more fuel-efficient.

Reliability and low maintenance costs

The reliability of a vehicle is crucial to avoid costly and frequent repairs. Cars with a track record for longevity and enduring road conditions without significant issues are preferable.

Low maintenance costs are tied to reliability, as cars that are built to last typically require less frequent repairs. The costs should be reasonable when maintenance is needed, with accessible parts and straightforward servicing options.

Insurance costs

Car insurance is a significant part of the total cost of owning a car, and for young drivers, it can be especially high due to their inexperience on the road, which insurers see as a risk factor. When shopping for a student-friendly car, consider the models that typically have lower insurance premiums. These can be vehicles with a high safety rating, a history of fewer claims, or those that are less expensive to repair.

It’s also wise to shop around for insurance quotes, consider where you need collision or comprehensive coverage, and consider bundling with other policies, like renters’ insurance, to reduce costs. Students can also look for discounts available for good grades or for completing defensive driving courses. Learn about the mistakes to avoid when buying insurance.

Financing options

Financing a car is another critical consideration, as students or their families may not be able to pay the full price upfront. Research different financing options and shop for the best interest rates. Some manufacturers offer special financing rates for recent graduates or students, which can lead to savings.

It’s also important to understand the total cost of the loan once interest and fees are included, as a lower monthly payment may result in a higher overall cost over the life of the loan. Making a larger down payment can reduce monthly payments and the interest paid over time.

However, it’s crucial to ensure that car payments fit comfortably within the student’s budget, considering their income and other financial obligations.

Finding a student-friendly car means finding a well-rounded, safe, reliable, economical, and well-suited vehicle for a student’s daily life. A balance of these aspects ensures that the car is a reliable tool rather than a source of stress or financial burden.

Buying a new vs. used car for a college student

The decision to buy a new versus a used car for a college student comes with its own set of pros and cons, such as the latest technology versus cheaper insurance, and what’s right for one student may not suit another. Here are some key points to consider for both options:

New car

When considering a new car for a college student, you’ll find that it boasts the latest advancements in technology and safety, ensuring the driver benefits from modern conveniences and protection on the road. They come with the peace of mind of a full warranty, meaning most repairs within the first few years will be covered. Reliability is another advantage, with a new vehicle free from the wear and tear that comes with time.

Furthermore, financing a new car often comes with attractive lower interest rates, making the monthly payments more manageable. However, this option isn’t without drawbacks. New cars face steep depreciation, with a significant loss in value occurring as soon as they leave the dealership. They also tend to have higher insurance costs, and the upfront purchase price is substantially greater than that of a used car.

Used car

On the flip side, opting for a used car can offer considerable financial benefits. The initial depreciation has already occurred, so you get more value, and the vehicle retains its worth for a longer period. Insurance premiums are generally lower for used cars, which contributes to ongoing savings. For the price of a new economy car, a student might be able to purchase a used luxury car with more features.

However, a used car might harbour hidden issues that could result in costly repairs, and any remaining warranty may offer limited coverage. Additionally, loans for used cars usually carry higher interest rates, potentially offsetting the savings made on the purchase price.

The choice between a new or used car for a college student should balance the immediate costs with the potential for long-term savings and benefits. Certified pre-owned vehicles offer a compromise, with more features and a semblance of the new-car experience at a depreciated price point.

The decision ultimately hinges on the student’s driving needs and the family’s financial circumstances, alongside the intended duration and use of the car.

Best new cars for college students

  • Honda HR-V
  • Honda Civic
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Kia Seltos

Best used cars for college students

  • Toyota Corolla
  • Toyota Prius
  • Volkswagen Jetta
  • Honda CR-V
  • Mazda3

Top safest cars for college students

  • Toyota Camry
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Mazda3
  • Acura Integra
  • Honda Civic

Top fuel-efficient cars for college students

  • Volkswagen Jetta
  • Toyota Prius
  • Ford Focus
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Honda Civic

Best cars for college students

Purchasing a vehicle for a college student involves a thoughtful mix of factors such as safety specifications, dependable performance, modern tech, credible ratings, and economical fuel consumption. Let’s talk about a few models that typically stand out in these categories include:

Honda Civic

A perennial favourite, the Honda Civic stands out for its exceptional balance of reliability, efficiency, and resale value. Its compact size makes it ideal for tight parking spaces on campus and city driving. The newer models come equipped with advanced safety technology like collision warning and automated emergency braking, which are crucial for inexperienced drivers.

Toyota Corolla

The Corolla is synonymous with longevity. This car is known for its ability to hit high mileage with few mechanical issues, which means students can rely on it throughout their college years and beyond.

The newer models also feature a suite of safety features, with the optional hatchback trim level, including lane departure alerts and adaptive cruise control, wrapped up in a stylish exterior.

Hyundai Elantra

The Elantra is a solid choice for students who want new-car style and features without the new-car price tag. Its safety credentials have been bolstered in recent models with the inclusion of Hyundai’s SmartSense suite, offering forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention warning systems.

The Elantra’s interior is roomy for its class, and its user-friendly technology interface makes it a hit with tech-savvy students. For those who prioritize fuel efficiency, the Elantra also has an Eco model that maximizes miles per gallon.


The Mazda3 is for the driving enthusiast, with responsive steering, top safety features, and a peppy engine that makes any trip enjoyable. It combines this driving pleasure with practicality, offering both sedan and hatchback models to suit different cargo-carrying needs, and its interior quality is often compared to that of much pricier vehicles.

Safety is also a priority in the Mazda3, with available features like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a driver attention monitor. The latest models even offer all-wheel drive for better handling in challenging weather conditions.

With its excellent fuel economy and fun-to-drive nature, the Mazda3 remains a top pick for students who want a car that’s practical yet enjoyable to drive.

Nissan Sentra

The Nissan Sentra is a compact sedan that offers an appealing mix of spaciousness, comfort, and economy. It’s a pragmatic choice for students due to its low starting price and cost-effective maintenance.

Recent models have seen a significant uplift in interior quality and design, making the Sentra feel more upscale than its price tag suggests.

Safety technology in newer models includes automatic emergency braking and blind-spot warning systems, which are valuable for less experienced drivers.

Kia Seltos

A newcomer to the market, the Kia Seltos stands out with its rugged styling and practical interior. It offers generous cargo space, making it suitable for students who need to move their belongings between home and campus.

Its higher driving position provides good visibility, and the inclusion of advanced safety features, even on lower trims, adds to its appeal for safety-conscious buyers. The Seltos also offers an impressive range of features, including an intuitive infotainment system and available all-wheel drive.

Honda HR-V

The HR-V is Honda’s smallest SUV offering but is big on versatility. Its ’Magic Seat’ system allows for multiple cargo and seating configurations, making it ideal for students who need flexibility for passengers and cargo.

It’s also recognized for having a smooth ride and good fuel economy, both of which are critical for students. Like other Honda models, the HR-V maintains strong resale value and reliability scores.

Volkswagen Jetta

The Volkswagen Jetta provides a blend of comfort, spaciousness, and German engineering at a competitive price point. It tends to be more engaging to drive than many rivals, with a comfortable interior and user-friendly technology.

The Jetta has traditionally offered a range of engines, including turbocharged options that balance power and fuel efficiency. It also comes with a comprehensive set of driver-assist features, contributing to its reputation as a safe and reliable choice for student drivers.

While these models are excellent starting points, the choice of a car will ultimately depend on individual circumstances, including budget, location, and personal taste.

Students should also consider used cars from these models to find options that depreciate less and may come with many of the same features as newer models.

Whatever choice is made, students and their families should prioritize safety features, ratings, and total cost of ownership when choosing the ideal car for their college experience.

Is a sedan or SUV better for a college student?

Choosing between a sedan and an SUV for a college student depends on several factors, including their specific needs, driving habits, and the environment in which they’ll be using the vehicle. Here’s a comparison to help decide which might be better:


Sedans typically win on the affordability front, with lower initial purchase prices and reduced insurance costs. They also excel in fuel efficiency, which translates to ongoing savings—a critical factor for budget-conscious students.

The ease with which a sedan navigates crowded streets and slips into snug parking spots makes it a practical choice for urban commuting.

Maintenance for sedans is often less expensive, given their simpler construction and the widespread availability of parts.

Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV)

On the other hand, SUVs have a strong appeal for students requiring more space for their adventures, hobbies, or frequent moves. Their ability to adapt to various driving conditions, especially in regions prone to severe weather, makes them a robust choice for safety-conscious drivers.

The height and heft of SUVs may provide a sense of security and durability. However, it’s worth noting that many modern sedans come equipped with advanced safety features and perform admirably in safety tests.

For social butterflies who often travel in groups or partake in outdoor activities, an SUV’s roomier interior and comfortable seating can be quite beneficial.

The decision ultimately comes down to personal preference and practicality. A sedan might be the right choice for a cost-conscious student who primarily drives in the city and values fuel economy.

An SUV could be better suited for students who live in areas with harsh weather conditions, need more space, and have a slightly higher budget to accommodate the additional costs associated with owning a larger vehicle.

Before deciding, it’s also important to consider the total cost of ownership, including loan payments, car insurance, gas, and maintenance, and to evaluate the need for space versus the importance of savings on operational costs.

What type of car insurance does a college student need?

In Canada, car insurance is mandatory for all drivers, including college students. The type of car insurance a college student needs will depend on several factors, including the province or territory in which they reside and whether they are Canadian or international students, as car insurance regulations are governed at the provincial level.

While some parents may add their college or university students onto their car insurance policy, other students may need to purchase their own. Here are some general guidelines that college students should know before they hit the road.

College students must have third-party liability insurance. Depending on where you are in Canada, this can or will include direct compensation-property damage coverage, uninsured motorist coverage, and accident benefits coverage.

For optional coverage, college students should strongly consider comprehensive and collision coverage.

Another great option is accident forgiveness to help protect your driving record and an insurance increase after your first at-fault accident.

For someone looking for more complete coverage, all perils coverage combines both collision and comprehensive coverage.

It’s important for college students to have a conversation with an insurance broker to understand their coverage options fully and to find the best insurance plan for their needs and budget. The broker can also advise on any additional provincial requirements and help tailor a policy that offers the best value.

Get affordable auto insurance for college students with BrokerLink

Getting affordable auto insurance as a college student can be a bit of a challenge due to your age and lack of driving experience, which are factors that typically lead to higher insurance rates. However, working with an insurance brokerage like BrokerLink can help in finding a policy that suits any college student’s budget and coverage needs. So don’t fret! There are many tips and specific discounts geared toward college students that can help you lower your insurance premiums.

Our BrokerLink insurance brokers can offer our student customers comparative insurance shopping, competitive insurance costs, unique discounts, tailored advice, adjustable coverage, and more. If you’re in the market for affordable student car insurance, reach out to BrokerLink today for your free insurance quote!

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