15 Best Affordable Cars for College Students in 2023

College life is filled with new experiences, challenges, and the need for independence. For many college students, owning a car is essential to this newfound independence. 

However, with tight budgets and limited financial resources, finding an affordable car becomes a top priority. 

This article will explore the 15 best affordable cars for college students in 2023. These cars have been carefully selected based on their affordability, reliability, fuel efficiency, safety features, and overall value for money.

Is it Possible to Afford a Car While in College?

A car’s affordability depends on the vehicle’s cost and the monthly payments involved. Whether the responsibility falls on the parents or the student to cover these costs, keeping them as low as possible is crucial. 

Many car manufacturers, such as Ford Credit and Honda Financial Services, have their own financing companies that offer financing options for new and certified pre-owned (CPO) cars. This can be a great starting point for exploring car financing.

If you seek a loan from a different source, the monthly payments for a used car will often be lower than a new car, assuming all other factors are equal. Credit unions are widely recognized for providing low-interest vehicle loans, making them a popular choice for many.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Affordable Car for College Students

Before delving into the list of the best cheap cars for college students, it is crucial to understand the factors that should be considered when making this important decision.

Budget Limitations

College students often have limited funds, so setting a realistic budget is crucial. Determine how much you can comfortably afford to spend on a car, considering the upfront cost and ongoing expenses like fuel, insurance, and maintenance.

Fuel Efficiency

With rising fuel costs, opting for a car with excellent fuel efficiency is essential. Look for vehicles with good mileage, hybrid options, or even electric cars if they fit your budget.

Reliability and Durability

College life can be demanding, and having a reliable car is crucial. Look for cars with a reputation for durability, low maintenance requirements, and a solid track record of reliability.

Safety Features

Safety should always be a top priority. Look for cars with advanced safety features such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), multiple airbags, and crash test ratings.

Insurance Costs

Insurance can be a significant expense for college students, so it’s important to consider the insurance costs of the car you choose. Cars with lower insurance premiums can help you save money in the long run.

List of the 15 Best Affordable Cars for College Students in 2024

Now that we understand the factors to consider let’s dive into the list of the 15 best affordable cars for college students in 2024. These affordable cars offer a combination of affordability, reliability, fuel efficiency, safety features, and overall value.

1. 2021 Toyota Corolla

Starting Price: $20,780

The Toyota Corolla, featured in this list, has received the prestigious distinction of being named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It boasts a strong reputation for reliability and offers a low cost-to-own. 

The Corolla’s starting Price reflects the entry-level L model. For just an additional $400, you can opt for the LE trim level, which comes with a host of extra standard features, including automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, and a center armrest in the back seat.

Every Corolla comes equipped with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 as a standard feature. This comprehensive package includes a range of advanced safety technologies, such as forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane centering, traffic-sign recognition, and high-beam assist.

2. Hyundai Elantra

Starting Price: $20,645

In 2021, Hyundai underwent a complete overhaul of the Elantra, introducing a fully redesigned model. Packed with value, the entry-level SE trim offers a remarkable price point while delivering Hyundai’s SmartSense suite of advanced safety and driver-assist technologies. 

With an impressive projected combined mileage of 37 mpg, this Elantra variant ensures efficiency on the road.

The SE trim has a comprehensive range of safety features, including forward collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane centering, driver-attention warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. These enhancements contribute to a safer driving experience.

Moreover, the Elantra SE doesn’t compromise on convenience and entertainment. It boasts a high-beam assist, an 8-inch touchscreen, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, Bluetooth connectivity with voice recognition, and two USB ports as standard features. 

This blend of technology and connectivity further enhances the driving experience, providing seamless access to entertainment and connectivity options.

3. Honda Civic

Starting Price: $22,005

Every variant of the Honda Civic comes equipped with the Honda Sensing Suite, a comprehensive collection of driver assistance systems. This suite includes features like front collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control. 

These advanced safety technologies come standard, ensuring a secure driving experience for all Civic owners.

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In terms of connectivity, the Civic offers practical features such as one USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. 

While Honda is not known for providing optional packages, those looking for additional features and materials must explore higher trim levels. Upgrading to higher trims allows access to a wider range of amenities.

For those seeking increased cargo space, the hatchback variant of the Civic presents an appealing option. With its versatile design, the hatchback offers extra room for storing belongings, making it an excellent choice for individuals with cargo needs.

4. Mazda3

Starting Price: $21,445 

The Mazda3 has been awarded the prestigious Top Safety Pick+ rating by the IIHS, showcasing its commitment to safety. Additionally, the government rates it at 31 mpg for combined city-highway driving, highlighting its efficiency. With exceptional handling capabilities, the Mazda3 offers the option of equipping all-wheel drive (AWD). 

This feature makes it one of our top choices for Best Cars for Snow, ensuring reliable performance in challenging weather conditions.

Inside the Mazda3, you’ll find a luxury that belies its price tag. While blind-spot monitoring is only available on the Select model, the base model comes with a range of advanced safety features as standard. 

These include forward collision warning, emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, and high-beam assist.

Connectivity features are also well-appointed in the Mazda3. Bluetooth connectivity with speech recognition is a standard feature, allowing for convenient hands-free communication. The vehicle has an 8.8-inch touchscreen and two USB ports, providing easy access to infotainment and charging capabilities.

5. Subaru Crosstrek

Starting Price: $23,295

The Subaru Crosstrek, designed for off-road adventures, comes standard with all-wheel drive (AWD), ensuring exceptional capability in any terrain. While the Crosstrek is initially equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, upgrading to the continuously variable transmission (CVT) for an additional $1,350 brings additional safety features. 

With the CVT, the Crosstrek offers a selectable mode between fuel economy and power, enhancing versatility. Furthermore, the CVT contributes to improved fuel efficiency, resulting in a combined mileage of 30 mpg compared to 25 mpg with the manual transmission.

Options for the CVT also include Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, recognized as an IIHS Top Safety Pick, on the base Crosstrek. The CVT variant adds forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control to enhance safety. 

Higher trim levels may feature a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert as optional or standard equipment.

In terms of connectivity, the Crosstrek offers a comprehensive package. It includes one USB port, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and hands-free phone integration. 

These features ensure seamless connectivity and entertainment options while on the go.

6. Kia Seltos

Starting Price: $23,110

Introducing the all-new subcompact SUV from Kia, the Kia Seltos. This fresh addition to the lineup brings a blend of style and functionality. Except for the LX trim, each version of the Seltos comes equipped with an extensive array of safety features. 

These include forward-collision warning with emergency braking, driver attention warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane centering, and high-beam assist, as confirmed by the IIHS. For those desiring blind-spot monitoring, an upgrade to the EX grade is required, which comes with an additional cost of $3,400.

Connectivity options in the Seltos are designed to keep you connected and entertained on the road. Bluetooth with speech recognition, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto integration, and one USB port are included, ensuring seamless integration with your devices and various entertainment options.

One standout feature of the Seltos is its class-leading cargo space, providing ample room for your belongings. The second-row seat is also spacious enough to accommodate adults, prioritizing passenger comfort comfortably. The Kia Seltos combines practicality, safety, and connectivity, making it an attractive choice in the subcompact SUV segment.

7. Hyundai Kona

Starting Price: $21,540

The Hyundai Kona, a subcompact SUV, offers impressive value for your money. Its compact size makes maneuvering and parking in crowded areas, such as campuses, effortless. The rear cargo compartment is spacious enough to accommodate all your gear, making it an ideal adventure companion.

To enhance your driving experience, the Kona comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. These features allow seamless connectivity with your smartphone, providing access to your favorite apps, music, and navigation.

When equipped with a gas engine, the Kona delivers an impressive fuel efficiency of up to 33 mpg, ensuring fewer stops at the gas station. It’s worth noting that an electric vehicle variant of the Kona is also available, offering an eco-friendly and efficient driving option.

The Hyundai Kona offers a compelling combination of practicality, connectivity, and fuel efficiency, making it a smart choice in the subcompact SUV segment.

8. Honda HR-V

Starting Price: $22,140 

With its roomy interior, the Honda HR-V offers ample space for passengers and cargo without compromising fuel efficiency, achieving a commendable 30 miles per gallon in combined city-highway driving. Additionally, the HR-V has demonstrated exceptional safety performance, receiving top ratings in crash tests conducted by the government and the IIHS.

The pricing mentioned pertains to the base LX trim; however, if you desire the advanced driving aids of the Honda Sensing Suite, including forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and a blind-spot camera, you will need to opt for the EX trim. 

These features provide extra safety and assistance while on the road, enhancing the driving experience.

9. Nissan Sentra

Starting Price: $20,335

The Nissan Sentra combines practicality, sophisticated aesthetics, and a touch of sportiness. This compact car showcases an elegant appearance with a hint of sporty flair. Inside, the Sentra offers “zero gravity” seats to enhance comfort during your daily commute to school or work.

With its impressive fuel efficiency, the Sentra allows for economical journeys, achieving up to 39 miles per gallon on the highway and 33 miles per gallon combined. This means fewer visits to the gas station and less strain on your wallet.

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Regardless of the trim level, all models of the Sentra come equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, ensuring seamless integration of your smartphone for an enhanced driving experience.

Safety is a top priority in the Sentra, as even the base model includes the comprehensive SafetyShield 360 suite of driver aids. 

These features comprise auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic rear braking, blind-spot warning, lane-departure warning, and high-beam assist. The Sentra is equipped with ten airbags, providing extra protection for occupants.

The Nissan Sentra offers a practical and comfortable driving experience, advanced safety features, and impressive fuel efficiency, making it an affordable car for college students.

10. Kia Soul

Starting Price: $18,610

The base model of this IIHS Top Safety Pick does not offer any driver assistance features, even as an optional upgrade. However, the S grade includes forward-collision warning, emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring with a rear cross-traffic alert at an additional cost of $3,100. 

As for connectivity, the base model includes Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and one USB port, although voice recognition is not available.

Regarding fuel efficiency, the standard Soul, equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission, achieves a combined mileage of 27 mpg.

Despite the absence of driver assistance features in the entry-level model, the Soul remains an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The S grade offers additional safety enhancements, while the base model provides convenient connectivity options. The Soul balances safety and connectivity, making it an affordable car for college students.

11. Ford Maverick

Starting Price: $22,195 

The Ford Maverick is an enticing option for college students, thanks to its affordable starting price. However, there are additional reasons to consider this vehicle. Notably, it offers spacious seating for five individuals, making it suitable for group outings, and provides ample cargo room for transporting belongings.

One standout feature of the Maverick is its standard hybrid powertrain, which combines a four-cylinder engine with an electric motor. This configuration offers efficient performance, ideal for those conscious of their environmental impact and fuel consumption. 

For those seeking additional power, there is also an option for a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s worth noting that the resurgence of small pickups is evident, and the adventurous nature of college students makes them a perfect match for this type of affordable car.

12. Toyota Camry

Starting Price: $25,945 

While the Toyota Camry may not epitomize excitement, it excels in practicality. And for many college students, practicality is precisely what they seek. As one of the best-selling cars in the United States, the Camry has garnered popularity for its well-rounded nature, offering impressive performance in multiple areas without necessarily standing out in any one aspect.

The Toyota Camry may not be the flashiest choice, but its practicality, reliable performance, and strong safety features have made it a favorite among many car shoppers. The Camry is an affordable car for college students seeking a versatile and well-rounded vehicle.

13. Hyundai Tucson

Starting Price: $26,450 

Hyundai decided to maintain the 2023 Tucson without introducing any significant changes following its complete redesign in 2022, and it’s hard to blame them. 

In 2022, we recognized Tucson as our top choice for Best Compact SUV for the Money, Best Compact SUV for Families, and one of our Best Affordable Cars for Teens. With such accolades, is there any more convincing needed to showcase its suitability for college students?

Consider the spacious and comfortable cabin, which surpasses expectations in terms of aesthetics and quality, especially given its affordable Price. The Tucson also boasts abundant user-friendly technology, further enhancing the overall driving experience. 

Powering the Tucson is an efficient 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, delivering a respectable 187 horsepower. All-wheel drive is available for those concerned about weather conditions as an upgrade, ensuring enhanced traction and control.

The Hyundai Tucson is a compelling choice for college students with its track record of awards and recognition, impressive interior, user-friendly technology, and efficient performance.

14. Hyundai Santa Cruz

Starting Price: $25,450 

The Hyundai Santa Cruz is a compact pickup truck that impressively accommodates five passengers while providing a remarkable amount of versatile cargo space in its bed. The Santa Cruz offers a comfortable ride thanks to its unibody design based on a crossover platform. 

It not only delivers strong performance but also boasts a functional and comfortable interior, as well as commendable safety scores and features.

The Hyundai Santa Cruz stands out as a compact pickup truck with spacious seating for five passengers and impressive cargo-carrying capabilities in its bed. Its unibody design ensures a comfortable ride, while its performance, interior functionality, and safety features add to its appeal. 

With a choice of powertrain options and the availability of all-wheel drive, the Santa Cruz caters to a wide range of needs and preferences. This car is a cheap car for college students.

15. Honda Accord

Starting Price: $26,120 

The Honda Accord takes the lead in our midsize car rankings, boasting an attractive design, solid construction, extensive features, and an appealing price point. It has earned two prestigious awards for 2022: Best Midsize Car for the Money and Best Midsize Car for Families. 

Overall, the Accord is an outstanding choice, with the added benefit of a spacious trunk that proves advantageous for college students.

The Honda Accord excels in all aspects, from its captivating design to its high-quality construction and many features. It’s well-deserved accolades and spacious trunk make it a cheap car and an ideal choice for college students. 

With two turbocharged engine options, the Accord provides both performance and efficiency, ensuring a satisfying driving experience.

Why Do You Need A Car In College?

Having a car in college can offer several advantages and conveniences for students. Here are a few reasons why someone might consider getting a car while in college:

Transportation flexibility

With a car, students can travel and commute at their convenience without relying on public transportation schedules or the availability of rides from others. It allows them to explore the surrounding area, run errands, and travel off-campus more easily.

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Commuting to campus

For students living off-campus or in areas with limited public transportation options, a car can make the daily commute to campus more efficient and convenient, especially if they have early morning or late evening classes.

Part-time jobs and internships

Many college students work part-time jobs or internships to gain practical experience and earn income. Having an affordable car can expand their employment opportunities by allowing them to access job locations that might not be easily reachable by public transportation.

Grocery shopping and errands

Having a car makes handling routine tasks such as grocery shopping, running errands, or picking up supplies easier. It provides convenience and saves time compared to relying on public transportation or walking long distances with heavy bags.

Social activities and events

A car can enable students to participate in social activities, attend events, and explore nearby attractions. It offers more flexibility in planning outings with friends, attending off-campus events, or visiting family and friends in other locations.

What is the Cost of Car Insurance for College Students?

The cost of car insurance is a substantial component of the overall ownership expenses. It is widely known that certain vehicles tend to have lower insurance costs compared to others. The insurance market is highly competitive, and conducting thorough research may lead to potential savings.

However, insurance premiums are influenced by various personal factors, including driving history, annual mileage, place of residence, and more. 

Historically, insurance has represented a significant portion of the overall ownership expenses for drivers under 25. Engaging with an insurance agent during decision-making is advisable to gain insights and guidance specific to your circumstances.

What Role Does Safety Play In A Car For College Students?

Safety plays a crucial role in choosing a car for college students. Here are some reasons why safety is important:

Protection in accidents

College students spend a significant amount of time on the road, commuting to and from campus, running errands, or traveling. A safe car with advanced safety features and good crash test ratings can provide better protection in the event of an accident, reducing the risk of injury or serious harm.

Peace of mind

Safety features such as airbags, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), electronic stability control (ESC), and collision avoidance technologies can instill confidence and peace of mind in drivers and passengers. Knowing you are driving a car with safety measures can alleviate concerns and create a more secure driving experience.

Insurance rates

Car insurance premiums are often influenced by the safety ratings and features of the vehicle. Cars with excellent safety records may be eligible for lower insurance rates, which can help reduce the financial burden for college students.

Potential resale value

Safety features and a good reputation can contribute to a higher resale value when selling or upgrading the car. Buyers often prioritize safety when purchasing a used car, so having a safe vehicle can be advantageous in the resale market.

College students need to consider safety features and ratings when selecting a car. Researching safety information, such as crash test ratings from organizations like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), can help make an informed decision and prioritize safety while in college.

Where To Get Affordable Cars For College Students

There are many places where college students can get affordable cars. Here are a few of the most popular options:

New car dealerships

Many new car dealerships offer discounts and incentives for college students. You can also get a car loan through the dealership, making it easier to afford a new car.

Used car dealerships

Used car dealerships often have a wider selection of cars and lower prices than new car dealerships. However, it’s important to research before buying a used car, as you may have to pay for repairs or maintenance down the road.

Private sellers

You can also buy affordable cars from private sellers. This can be a great option if you’re looking for a specific make or model of car. However, it’s important to be careful when buying from a private seller, as there is no warranty or guarantee that the car is in good condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most important factors to consider when choosing an affordable car for college?

The most important factors to consider when choosing an affordable car for college are Price, fuel economy, reliability, and features. 

What are some of the most affordable cars on the market in 2024?

Some of the most affordable cars on the market in 2024 include the Honda Fit, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, and Kia Forte. These cars are all priced under $20,000 and offer good fuel economy, reliability, and features.

What are some of the benefits of buying an cheap car for college?

There are many benefits to buying an cheap car for college. First, it can save you money. Second, cheap cars are often more fuel-efficient. Third, cheap cars are often more reliable, making you less likely to pay for expensive repairs.

What are some of the drawbacks of buying an cheap car for college?

There are a few drawbacks to buying an cheap car for college. First, cheap cars often have fewer features than more expensive cars. Second, cheap cars may not be as safe as more expensive cars. Third, cheap cars may not hold their value as well as more expensive cars.

What are some of the best places to buy an affordable car for college?

Some of the best places to buy an affordable car for college include new car dealerships, used car dealerships, and private sellers.

Conclusion

It’s important to consider your driving needs when choosing a cheap car for college. If you need a car that can handle long road trips, you’ll need a larger engine and more cargo space. 

If you only need a car to get around campus, you can get away with a smaller car with less power.

No matter your needs, there’s an affordable car out there that’s perfect for you. 

Do your research and compare prices before you buy, and you’ll be sure to find a great deal on a car perfect for college.

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