There are few moments that come with such a wide range of emotions as finding out that your kid has been accepted for their university placement – thrilled, excited, proud ... followed by worry, stress and contemplation – this is perhaps the biggest step into adulthood that they’ll have ever faced. For some, the thought of being away from the family home means just one thing ... no access to Mum & Dad’s Taxi for the foreseeable.
Of course, many universities become the heart of a community, based centrally and with great public transport, the need for a car isn’t the be all and end all. But what if you want to see your youngster in the intervening periods between holidays? A car could be the answer to spending time with them, without them actually living at home. But what sort of thing should you be considering?
These are my top five tips.
1. Substance Over Style
Retro cool has never been bigger – we’ve seen most of the large car manufacturers bringing back old names with an updated styling (think Fiat 500 for example), but let’s be honest, if you’re transporting anything more than the clothes you’re wearing, these supermini’s just aren’t practical. Added to the fact that these vehicles have usually quite a high insurance and car repair cost, you can see that they aren’t going to make an ideal student car, especially when you think that cars like the Fiat 500 often top the lists for ‘Most Vandalized Car’.
Cheap and cheerful seems to be the order of the day, but you should also consider reliability. Buying a used car for <$200 might sound like a great way to save money, but if it’s going to cost hundreds (even thousands) to get it reliable, you could just be wasting money. Of course, the flipside of the coin is that by spending more money on a car, it will be more expensive to insure, and should it need any parts, they will also be more costly.
Let’s face it, a student’s car (in most cases) will be treated pretty roughly – it’ll serve as a mobile catering wagon, shopper, impromptu party venue ... and in some cases, will be used to get from A to B. Having flimsy bits of trim that just fall off when subjected to the daily rigors will be no good at all. Some manufacturers are renowned for their build quality, but even then, you should be aware that these manufacturers have their ‘off’ moments too – modern cars are generally reliable, but most are built to a stringent budget, meaning that many components have an acceptable ‘life’ period and you want your car maintenance cost to be low.
Buying a 500+ bhp monster may seem like a great idea at the time, but it will drink fuel faster than a student at a free bar and the tyres will get eaten up like Mum’s traditional Sunday roast. Speaking of choosing the right tires, you’ll find that some tire sizes are naturally more expensive – buy a vehicle that’s just even slightly out of the ordinary and you’ll find running costs mounting up because it’s ‘special’. Ideally, you should be thinking of something small, reliable and cheap to insure, but how do you know you’re getting reliability?
5. Experienced Help
Let’s be honest, for the majority of people, knowing what goes on under the bonnet is a mystery, or extremely boring, so don’t feel too bad if you wouldn’t know one end of a spark plug from the other. However, buying a car can be fraught with problems – choose the wrong one and you’ll regret it for at least the length of time that you own it, but get the right one ... it will be a joy to own. If you find yourself in the position of not knowing anything technical about cars, try and seek advice, either from a friend with experience or even through social media – most vehicles have groups associated with them, and the members are (usually) only too happy to share their experience. Whatever your interest in cars, the sad fact is that they have become an almost essential part of modern life, not so much a luxury as a necessity, even more so if you’re a student living away from home. There are thousands of cars to be had for not a lot of money, the trick is understanding what makes it cheap – is it just an unpopular car or a reliability nightmare waiting to happen? My final thought would be that whatever car you go for, a decent breakdown policy will give you and your loved ones a certain degree of peace of mind should they find themselves broken down – thankfully a rarity in this day and age.