Having a car in college can lead to some really fun times. Cross country road trips in the summer, getaway weekends and nights out on the town are all easier for students who bring a car to campus. However, maintaining a car as a student probably costs more than you think. So, when is it worth it?
The Privilege of Car Ownership
There are many advantages to owning a vehicle as a college student. First and foremost is the flexibility and freedom a car affords. You’ll no longer be dependent on other drivers when you’re making plans – simply by having a car you have more say in what it you can do and what you want to do. And, of course, your commute to campus is likely to be a bit shorter; so hitting the snooze button a few times won’t ruin your morning.
Owning a car in college can help you make and save money, too. Since you can commute a little further, you’ll be able to consider a wider selection of off-campus jobs. And with all that carrying capacity, you can tackle a week’s worth of grocery shopping in a single day. If your kitchen is stocked, you’ll cook more and eat out less (and all without hauling groceries on foot or by bus).
Car ownership in college also has benefits beyond daily usage. When you really want to get out of town, having a car will make it happen. This is especially true given how difficult it can be for college students to rent cars at affordable rates.
Important Auto Considerations
Despite all the benefits, however, there are some important financial factors you should consider before you decide to own a car while in college.
Gas is expensive, and it’s going to stay that way. The average car in the U.S. consumes around $1,000 worth of gas each year. If you drive your car regularly, you can probably expect to fill your tank once a week. Before you commit to bringing a car to college you need to determine how much it costs on average to fill the tank and how often you expect you’ll fill it up. If possible, you’ll of course want to bring a car with good gas mileage.
Car insurance is another major cost you’ll need to factor into your budget if you drive during college. Premiums are higher for anyone under the age of 25, whether or not they are enrolled in college. The good news is that, on average, Indiana auto insurance premiums are among the lowest in the country.
You’ll also want to consider the cost of campus parking before bringing your car to school. Here are the Purdue rates for parking permits. You should also make certain you are eligible; this is determined by the distance between your home and the campus.
Finally, when deciding whether or not it’s worthwhile to bring a car to college, you have to budget for damages and repairs. The average car needs just over $400 a year in repairs, not including oil changes. You can save some money changing your own oil and rotating your own tires, assuming you know how to do so safely.
So what are the alternatives to keeping a car at college? There are a number of great ways to get around in West Lafayette:
- Public transportation: The bus system in West Lafayette is very interconnected with Purdue. The university is central to the area, meaning the bus system can get you to the campus from almost anywhere.
- Bicycles, skateboards and so on: Bicycling is a great alternative in West Lafayette, and many people make it their main mode of transportation. Skateboarding, rollerblading and walking are also options, especially if you live on or close to campus.
- Zipcar: The local branch of this car sharing service is available to anyone over 18 and caters to Purdue students, faculty and staff.
The Bottom Line
Because car ownership is such a complex financial commitment, you’ll need to do extensive research before you know whether or not it’s a sensible investment. In a nine-month academic year, AAA reports that the average small car costs more than $3,000, including gas, insurance and maintenance; this doesn’t factor in parking costs and non-standard repairs. As a college student, you can’t afford to gloss over such a pricy and impactful decision.
Karla Lant is a life insurance writer for The Simple Dollar. She helps everyday people understand and master life insurance issues and questions. Lant has dealt with related regulatory issues in her work as an attorney and has researched and published on life insurance and estate planning. She has also taught subjects related to life insurance as an adjunct professor – she is currently an adjunct at Northern Arizona University. Here is her Facebook page.