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  • Consider the expenses of having a car on campus, such as insurance, fuel, maintenance, parking, and more.
  • Bringing a car to college can be convenient for your child and might mean frequent visits home.
  • Evaluate the alternatives to car use, including public transit, cycling, carpooling with friends, and carshare services.

Are you debating whether your student should take a car to college? It makes sense for trips to the grocery store and visits back home, but cars can be expensive to keep and maintain. College is already a time when your parental wallet is getting a workout. To help you decide if you should send your student off to college with their own set of wheels, consider some of the following drawbacks and benefits of bringing a car to campus.

The drawbacks

Before you buy one of those big red bows to put on a new car for your child, it's important to add up the costs.

If you need to purchase a car, the cost itself might be prohibitive. With high average new car prices, you may decide to buy used if you get a good deal. Keep in mind you'll likely pay more in maintenance for an older car.

According to Insurance.com, an 18-year-old driver pays an average of over $5,000 a year for insurance. In addition, consider other major expenses like fuel, maintenance, licenses, taxes, and registration. And don’t forget about parking costs. If your child’s college allows students to park on campus, the fees can be hefty depending on the school's location.

With the costs of college likely putting a strain on everyone's budget, the expense of a car could become more than you and your child can handle.

There are also other potential drawbacks of sending your child off with a car:

  • Accidents
  • Speeding and parking tickets
  • Theft
  • Damage

The benefits

Cars might be expensive, but there are conveniences to having one at school. Campus stores often charge a premium for dorm-room staples like chips, popcorn, candy, and cereal bars, so having a car could help save your child money on snacks and groceries. A car may also lead to savings on bus, plane, or train tickets to go home on the weekends or holidays, which could likewise translate into more frequent visits. Having a car might even help your child land a part-time job off-campus or allow them to explore their new community more fully, both resulting in a fuller college experience.

And then there are the ways that a car could keep them safe. With a vehicle on hand, you'll take comfort knowing your child won't get stuck waiting alone late at night for a ride or walking home when there's no other option.

The alternatives

Depending on where your child is attending school, they might be able to take advantage of bus or subway systems, removing the need for a car altogether. Even if their college town lacks solid public transit infrastructure, they might find a bike or skateboard makes it easy to get around and allows them to avoid traffic or sometimes painful searches for parking.

If your child has a friend bringing a car or becomes friends with someone who has a car, they can also likely get many of the same benefits of owning a car for the cost of a few dollars in gas money. When it comes to holidays and weekends at home, they could carpool with friends or students who live in the same area. Most colleges have online message boards to help students find shared rides. If that doesn't pan out, taking a bus, train, or plane home for the holidays can still be affordable, sometimes even cheaper, depending on the distance and availability of deals.

There are also a number of carshare services that maintain cars on college campuses for students to easily rent by the hour or day for short trips. These are membership-based services that allow students the use of cars conveniently located on campus and around town for reasonable rates.

The rules

Some schools discourage students from bringing their cars with them to college, some don't allow it, and others make parking on campus expensive as a deterrent. At some schools, the limited on-campus parking spots are often reserved for commuting students, so freshmen who live on campus may not be allowed to have a car. Many schools are actively encouraging alternatives to car use by creating bike lanes and new walking paths. Others offer free or discounted access to transit services to reduce car traffic on campus.

The bottom line

While you might think that owning a car will make life easier for your college student, it could also add stress to both your lives because of the high expense and safety concerns.

And while allowing your child to bring a car to school may encourage your dream of regular weekend visits, college is a busy time. There are classes to attend, exams to study for, papers to write, extracurricular activities to participate in, and friends to see. Frequent visits home could be distracting, so you may only see your child during the holidays or when they run out of clean clothes—and change for the laundry machine—even if they do have a car.

So, before your child brings a car to college, take a moment to carefully weigh the pros and cons. It might be that the shiny Schwinn in the shop down the street begins to look more appealing.


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