The 5 Best Used Cars for College Students

Kids heading to college need a car that’s cheap, safe and reliable.


Choosing a college car is a delicate balance. Parents want something cheap and safe; kids want something fun and fancy. A good college car is more practical than an MX-5 Miata but more reliable than a dirt-cheap Land Rover. Satisfying both parent and child is not easy … but it is doable.

When selecting the best used cars for college students, we gave ourselves a $12,000 budget. We came up with five compelling — and affordable — options, then we found an example on sale for each of them. You may want to take a lengthy spin yourself before handing the keys over.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

The Volkswagen Golf may be the best all-around cheap car ever made. This one is a five-speed manual from 2015, with a little over 60,000 miles. You can cram a lot of stuff in the back of that hatch for moving. Swoop in after that notorious VW depreciation sets in.

BUY NOW: $9,575

2010 Volvo S40

Volvos hit the sweet spot for the college car. They have a bit of cool; they’re premium without being pretentious, and they’re safe and practical. A wagon is going to be tough to swing in this price range, but you can easily find a sedan like this 2010 S40 with a little over 60,000 miles pretty easily.

BUY NOW: $8,995

2011 Subaru Forester

Subies are generally better to buy new, given their low up-front cost and great resale value. But a few models — Legacy, Impreza, Forester — will depreciate enough to become a good value as a solid all-around used car. Here’s a Forester with fewer than 50,000 miles.

BUY NOW: $10,991

2007 Lexus RX 350

Who doesn’t love Toyota build quality? (Other than, y’know, their competitors.) That choice high-quality Tacoma or 4Runner won’t depreciate into this price range, but a Lexus RX will. Here’s a great-looking RX350 with only 50,000 miles — and a bumper guard that may come in handy on a college campus.

BUY NOW: $10,995

2012 Nissan Frontier

The Nissan Frontier has a reputation for being a solid, reliable and cheap truck. Here’s a six-cylinder crew cab 4×4 with about 70,000 miles. It should be a reliable hauler for the next four years. (Just don’t tell your kid how many friends he or she will end up having to help move.)

BUY NOW: $11,999

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