The Complete Guide to the Perfect College Car

college road sign

When you graduate from high school and head off to college, you want to cut ties with your parents. Unless they’re paying your rent and tuition, and for your food… okay, so maybe you don’t want to cut ties entirely. But you don’t want to be beholden to them for your wheels if you want to go out with your friends. You especially don’t want to have to go cruising for dates in the family mini-van.

Forbes has put out their list of the Top 10 New Cars for College Kids and the 2013 Ford Focus is included on the list.

What is it about the Focus and the other vehicles on the list that make them such great buys? What makes for the perfect car for a college kid? Let’s start with the responsible stuff.

AFFORDABILITY

This car is in all probability your first car, but you in all probability will not be its first driver. And if you’re holding your breath for your parents to get you the brand new Boss 302 Mustang… well, you might want to sit down.

The barest minimum price on a solid car nowadays is about $15,000 for a new car, let’s say $20,000 if your parents are feeling generous or if you have the savings bonds your great grandma saved for you from the war. For a used car, you’re probably looking at about half that.

LOCATION-SPECIFIC SIDEBAR: For those of you in the Chicagoland area, there is a dealership that specifically caters to college students with well-taken-care-of used cars that are about $10,000 and under. Check out College Cars Chicago for more.

Anyway, take it from me, the only-recently-out-of-college dude, you don’t need all the stuff you think you need. I have a 2.4L engine in my hatchback, and really all it’s ever been good for is light whiplash.

GAS MILEAGE

Money is tight in college. Depending on your major, you can drop $500 on books pretty easily… for one semester. That’s four grand on books alone in your college career, and if you’re planning on going out to eat (or drink; you’re not fooling anyone), or seeing a movie, or that indie band you like with the xylophone and the dubstep samples, you’re gonna need to save money.

Go for a lightweight vehicle that’s been regularly serviced. You can hit 23, 24 miles per gallon pretty easily by forming good driving habits and keeping your vehicle well-maintained.

The less often you have to drop $50 to fill your gas tank, the more often you can go have fun with your friends, and the less you have to dip into that loan you told your parents you were going to get for “living expenses”.

STORAGE AND/OR PASSENGER SPACE

You’re going to move back and forth from your college dorm or apartment roughly four times a year. Moving all your dirty clothes for your mom to wash, or your coffee table, or your acoustic guitar and your collection of ironic coffee mugs is going to take up space in the car. You want to be able to drive comfortably and still keep space for your stuff.

Alternatively, you might want to go camping with your buddies, or take a road trip to New York City or Chicago. I recommend doing both; you’re young and road trips are the best. If you’re packing all your friends and your gear into a Honda Civic, or a Toyota Yaris, you’re going to have a bad time. You get something a little roomier, and there’s plenty of room for lounging, chillin’ out and/or maxin’, relaxin’ all cool, etc.

To that end, I would recommend a hatchback. You still have the maneuverability and fuel efficiency of a much smaller car (and it’s easy to park!), but you get storage space comparable to a small SUV, and you can fit four or five people plus a cooler full of snacks (road trip essential numero uno).

RELIABILITY

This should go without saying, but you shouldn’t be putting money down on a car that isn’t in tip-top shape. You don’t want to be the guy whose car just collapses around him while you’re driving, like some sort of sick cartoon. If it costs a little more to buy a vehicle that will have good resale value a few years down and is a little bit more solid, I say go for it.

STYLE

Okay, so earlier, when I said not to hold your breath for the Boss Mustang?

Still don’t hold your breath.

But regardless, style is important. You’re a freshman in college and possibly pledging a sorority or fraternity, so you’ll get your fair share of debasement without driving the Corolla station wagon your grandma’s been driving since 1994.

So don’t necessarily get yourself a 6-speed convertible in Gotta-Have-It Green, but definitely also don’t get a 1990s beige sedan, just like great grandma used to drive to church. Get something in a color you like with a body style that you don’t hate. If you’re lucky, you might be driving it for a long time.

Focus-driven

The Ford Focus 2013 Hatchback is the perfect marriage of all the above. It gets great gas mileage in the city and the highway, it’s got plenty of room for friends or furniture, it’s reliable and stylish, and it’s right in the sweet spot for pricing.

Stop by Lebanon Ford and check out the hatchbacks on our lot. We’d love to help send you off to college in style.

About Nick Philpott

Nick Philpott is the Chief Storyteller at Lebanon Ford. He believes that every vehicle and driver has a unique story to share. You can contact him directly at (513) 932-1010 or nphilpott@lebanon-ford.com.