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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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