Gianetta Palmer is a writer for CarInsurance101.com, copywriter, and essayist. Her work has appeared in EverydayHealth.com, Healthline, and The Dyrt Magazine. She is the author of Scrunchie-Fried and writes a lot about car insurance in her spare time.

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Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific car insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. She also specializes in automa...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert

UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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Most young people get used cars as their first vehicles. Used cars are affordable, meaning that a student can afford their own car or their parents can purchase it without racking up substantial debt. Students are also often very rough on their cars, often driving them without proper maintenance or in less-than-ideal conditions. Coupled with the tendency of young drivers to get involved in accidents, and a student’s first car is unlikely to last very long.

Although a used car is a good investment for a young driver, some cars should be avoided. Car insurance for young adults is expensive, and coverage for these vehicles is even higher due to their safety ratings, incidence of theft and other factors. Saving money on a used car won’t help a driver if the car insurance is prohibitively expensive or if the car itself is unreliable.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Used Car for a Student

In many ways, buying a car for a student is the same as buying a car for any other driver. On the other hand, students do have certain unique considerations. They pay more for insurance in general, so it’s more important to focus on a car that’s affordable to insure. They also live in areas that may have a higher risk of theft, they might go on long journeys more often and they may need a car that can withstand harsher handling than a more experienced driver. Here are a few major things to think about when buying a student’s first car:

–Reliability

Some car models have well-known problems that should be avoided. For example, many late 90s model Volkswagens have expensive electrical problems that range from being a nuisance to necessitating full-scale repairs. Even if a particular used car you’re looking at doesn’t seem to have anything wrong with it, that doesn’t mean that a problem may not arise down the line.

— Vehicle History

Any specific vehicle will have a history, and it’s a good idea to know exactly what a vehicle has been through before you choose to buy it. You can pay a few dollars to have a VIN search run and check if the vehicle has ever been stolen, involved in any accidents or had any other concerns.

— Vehicle Safety

Insurance companies charge more for vehicles that have low safety ratings, and unsafe vehicles are certainly not ideal for first-time drivers. A car’s safety rating is based on how it performs during an accident, now how likely it is to get in one, so a car with a high safety rating doesn’t mean you’re less likely to wreck it; it just means that you won’t sustain as many injuries if the accident occurs.

— Likelihood of Theft

Students have a higher chance of getting their car stolen than other age groups. They often live in poorer neighborhoods where they can afford housing or in dorm rooms and other community living arrangements. This large number of cars parked in a single place is appealing to thieves. Thieves also prefer older-model cars, such as those produced in the mid to late ’90s, due to the ease of stealing them and the demand for parts.

— Efficiency

Students tend to drive a lot, especially if they’re going to college outside of their home state. It’s important to pick a car that can withstand long road trips without costing a lot for gas. You should also look for a car that’s big enough to haul all of their belongings to and from dorm rooms or apartments; young people move a lot more than older drivers, and they need room to carry all of their stuff.

Further Considerations

Once you’ve purchased a vehicle, you may be able to improve its insurance costs by adding after-market safety features or anti-theft devices. These will increase the car’s ability to be insured, and you can improve the vehicle’s overall safety as well to increase your peace of mind.

When choosing a used car, it’s important to recognize the driver’s preferences and limitations; it’s also smart to know how much it will cost to insure so that the expense can be budgeted. Unfortunately, some of the factors that make a vehicle very appealing to consumers, such as efficiency and high safety ratings, may also translate into high premiums in other aspects such as a high theft rate.

Buying affordable auto insurance is a balancing act, and it’s a good idea to thoroughly investigate the vehicle before committing to a purchase. You may want to try getting a few insurance quotes for different vehicles before choosing which to buy; this will give you a better idea of the real value of your vehicle.