Buying a car is never easy, whether it’s your first or your fortieth. Scouring the market to find one that’s both affordable and reliable is enough of a feat in its own right, but it’s not just the purchase price you have to consider. Insurance, running and maintenance costs all quickly add up, and as a university student, let’s face it: you’re already skint.
Young drivers are not only more likely to have less disposable cash, but also pay more for car insurance than any other age group, largely because they’re more likely to be involved in a crash. Whether it’s because of driving over the legal alcohol limit after a night out partying, or incurring speeding fines and penalties by showing off to friends, university students fall into this category of people who generally pose more risk to an insurer.
So, when buying a car as a student, it makes sense to keep things sensible and keep costs down. Small hatchbacks often make a good choice as they don’t need a big engine, so are usually cheaper to buy, run and insure than bigger models. They may not be the flashiest or best looking, but being at university is all about being practical.
Here are our top 10 picks for great cars for students at university.
Buying a brand new car
Budget is an important consideration when you’re a student – simply because you’re probably not going to have a lot of spare cash to throw around. However, if you can afford to buy new – perhaps if you’re lucky enough to take a loan from the Bank of Mum and Dad – there are some great deals on low-insurance cars and reliability shouldn’t be an issue.
1. Dacia Sandero Access
A relatively new arrival to the UK, Dacia is making massive inroads into the new car market with a range of reliable and affordable models – its entry-level Sandero hatchback can be picked up for just over £5,000, making it the cheapest new car in Britain.
It sits in insurance group two and covers 54mpg combined, making it one of the cheapest cars to run and the ideal choice for a cash-strapped student.
2. Volkswagen Up
Volkswagen is giving the Up a facelift and introducing a host of new features, including a new engine, new equipment and a restyled exterior, so now is a great time to buy – especially as the 1-litre entry-level model can be picked up for around £9,000.
Cheap to run and insure, it could be worth keeping an eye out for a used but nearly-new VW Up, as prices of older spec models inevitably drop once the facelift model hits the forecourts.
Buying a first car for under £5,000
Buying nearly-new is often more cost-effective than buying brand new, not least because depreciation can wipe up to 35% off the screen price after just one year on the road. Second hand cars are just as useful for running to lectures, driving back home to see family, and doing the weekly shop (read: beer run) at the supermarket, so pre-owned cars should be given serious consideration for any uni student.
3. Ford KA
Ford’s KA has been the young drivers’ go-to motor for over two decades now - its combination of robust build, reliability, and low-running costs make it the ideal car for anyone looking for a little run-around that’s easy to manoeuvre and park up.
It’s undergone a few facelifts since it was introduced in 1996, so there’s a model to fit every budget and style.
4. Toyota Yaris
Japanese cars aren’t always given the credit they deserve for their superior build quality - ‘German efficiency’ is generally the industry buzzword – so it’s worth considering a Toyota Yaris if you’re looking for a high-quality, reasonably-priced, and ultra-reliable run-around.
It’s quirky, both inside and out, and its tiny engine is easy on the gas but has plenty of zip to get you around town.
5. Kia Cee’d
Kia is another relatively new name in the UK, the South Korean manufacturer first started selling cars in the early 1990s and has been a story of steady growth ever since – and that’s largely due to the fact it was the first to offer an amazing seven-year warranty with the Cee’d.
If you’ve got around £5,000 to spend, you can pick up a Cee’d that’s just four or five years old, and because the warranty is fully transferable with the car, you’ll have a second hand motor that’s still covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
Buying a first car for under £3,000
If you’re really looking to maximise the amount of cash you have to dedicate to drinking, then you might even be looking to spend no more than three grand on a motor. If so, you may want to consider the following:
6. Ford Focus
If you need something with a little more leg room, look no further than the Ford Focus, still one of the most affordable and reliable hatchbacks out there, two decades after it revolutionised the hatchback market and Ford’s fortunes.
You might find and original MK 1 Focus that’s still reliable and cheap to run, but ideally go for one that’s around 10 years old for more bang (and less banger) for your buck.
7. Renault Clio
The Renault Clio is a stylish-but-basic hatchback that’s been a favourite of new drivers for decades, offering low-cost and reliable motoring, while also being fun to drive and easy to manoeuvre and park.
If you’ve got up to £3,000 to spend, you can pick up a 2010 facelift model, and if you opt for a diesel you’ll pay just £30 a year in vehicle excise duty (VED, better known as road tax).
Buying a first car for under £1,000
If you’ve got up to £1,000 to spend on your first car, you really have to do your homework and resist the temptation to just go for the cheapest model you can find – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is, and could end up costing you a fortune in breakdown recovery and repair bills. However, if you do manage to snag a bargain, you may even be able to include some food in your weekly shop to soak up all the alcohol.
8. Vauxhall Corsa
The Corsa has been around for years and remains one of Britain’s best-selling cars for a reason – its reliable, cheap to run and every model looks good. The Corsa is a long-standing favourite with young drivers as it’s also cheap to insure. You can pick up a 2004 model with a full MOT for as little as £500, just make sure you give the car a thorough once over before you buy.
9. Volkswagen Polo
Volkswagen has become a byword for reliability, and while you often need to pay more to get the benefit of the German manufacturer’s superior build quality, it’s well worth the extra outlay, and you can still pick up a good example for under a grand.
A Polo may not be the most exciting to look at or drive, but it’ll do the job with the minimum of fuss.
10. Ford Fiesta
Ford has been making Fiestas forever, meaning there’s a model out there to suit every budget, and an abundance of spare parts means repair costs can also be relatively cheap – something to keep in mind when buying for under £1,000.
Low running costs, coupled with good looks, great driveability and a roomy cabin make the Fiesta the ultimate car for university students – and you can pick up a 2002 fifth-generation facelift model with a full MOT for as little as £500.
When buying any used car, always give it a thorough test drive, and get it checked over by a professional, or at least someone who knows their way around an engine and can spot those hidden problems that can end up costing a fortune to fix.
Always be prepared to haggle on the price and walk away if the deal isn’t right for you – there will always be another car that comes along to suit your needs and budget.