10 Best Affordable Cars for College Students

college girl student carBefore buying a new car, learn more about sensible vehicles for today’s college student. Students can save money by purchasing cars with low sticker prices, low associated insurance premiums, and minimal operating expenses.

College students can estimate costs for maintaining and driving cars by projecting the total amounts of fuel, car insurance, and other fees and expenses associated with owning a car.

To help with this important buying decision, we’ve compiled a list of 10 economical vehicles with the lowest combined sticker price, and the best miles per gallon. Students shopping for new cars should consider miscellaneous costs associated with owning a car. Miscellaneous costs vary depending upon a number of factors, including the type of car purchased, and where the student resides.

These miscellaneous costs might include: citations, emissions inspections, finance charges, gas, insurance, maintenance, parking, safety inspections, taxes, tags, and traffic citations.

Using information from Car and Driver, we’ve listed ten affordable, fun, and reliable cars for today’s college student.

Top 10 Cars for College Students

1. Nissan Versa

  • MSRP: $10,710
  • EPA Mileage: 29 MPG

nissan versa

Economics majors love the Nissan Versa sedan, whose bare-bones styling and modest amenities make it an economical choice for today’s college student. The sedan has 14″ wheels and a 1.6 liter engine.

According to Nissan’s website, the Versa Hatchback offers more than you would expect from its small cost, including AM/FM/CD audio system, auxiliary audio input jack, power windows and door locks, dual power body-color outside mirrors, rear intermittent windshield wiper with washer, and Vehicle Dynamic Control with Traction Control System.

The Versa offers a modest sticker price, a 3-year/36,000-mile limited vehicle coverage warranty, and a 5-year/60,000-mile limited powertrain coverage warranty, making this a smart choice for the financially conscious college student.

2. Hyundai Accent

  • MSRP: $10,690
  • EPA Mileage: 31 MPG

hyundai accent

The Hyundai Accent stands solidly in the number two spot on our list of least expensive vehicles for today’s cost-conscious college student. Described by Car and Driver as “delightful,” the Accent has a sticker price of less than $11,000 brand new, and boasts affordability, sleek styling, a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty that minimizes unexpected expenses.

3. Smart ForTwo

  • MSRP: $12,635
  • EPA Mileage: 36 MPG

smart fortwo

The tiny Smart car rests in the number three spot on our list of the most cost-effective vehicles for college students. This tiny ride may appear more at home on a bike path than the highway, but the price tag, and the estimated miles per gallon, makes this car an excellent choice for the cash-strapped college student. Smart cars have a 2-year/24,000-mile limited warranty.

4. Chevrolet Aveo

  • MSRP: $12,685
  • EPA Mileage: 30 MPG

chevrolet aveo

The Chevrolet Aveo is the only American car on our list, and the fourth most economical vehicle for college students. American auto enthusiasts may want to consider the Chevy Aveo, which comes equipped with a 3-year/36,000-mile limited vehicle coverage warranty, and a 5-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain coverage warranty.

5. Kia Rio

  • MSRP: 12,390
  • EPA Mileage: 31 MPG

kia rio

The Kia Rio ranked high in a Car and Driver comparison test of economy cars, with the test driver rating the vehicle “cute and fun to drive.” At number five on our list of affordable vehicles, the Rio comes with a 5-year/60,000 mile limited basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

6. Toyota Yaris

  • MSRP: $13,355
  • EPA Mileage: 32 MPG

toyota yaris

The tiny Toyota Yaris is number six on our list of the best vehicles for the modern college student. If you want style and reliability, look no further than the Yaris. This small production vehicle couples beautiful styling with affordability, low ownership costs, a 3-year/36,000 basic warranty, and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain coverage warranty. The Yaris offers the peace of mind that comes from owning a Toyota, one of the most reliable car manufacturers in the world.

7. Kia Soul

  • MSRP: $13,995
  • EPA Mileage: 28 MPG

kia soul

At number seven on our list is the Kia Soul, the boxy small vehicle by the Korean auto maker. This affordable new car offers a menu of customization options which include stripe packages, custom wheels, body-kits, a 5-year/60,000 mile limited basic warranty, and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Kia offers a number of limited edition models reminiscent of the Toyota Scion line of vehicles, including special paint jobs and unique interior trims.

8. Suzuki SX4

  • MSRP: $14,094
  • EPA Mileage: 26 MPG


The Suzuki SX4 comes in at number eight on our list of the ten most cost-effective cars for modern college students. With its sleek modeling and choice of trim packages, including a hatchback or a 4-door, the SX4 offers a decent 9 second, 0-60 mph time. Suzukis have a 3-year/36,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty, and a 7-year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.

9. Hyundai Elantra

  • MSRP: $14,865
  • EPA Mileage: 28 MPG

hyundai elantra

The manual transmission model of the Hyundai Elantra is the ninth most cost-effective vehicle on our list. Coupling sleek styling with fuel efficiency, and a conservative sticker price of around $15,000 brand new, Hyundai also offers an industry-leading five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty on the purchase of any new vehicle.

10. Kia Forte

  • MSRP: $14,390
  • EPA Mileage: 29 MPG

kia forte

The Kia Forte finds itself in the tenth spot on our list of the most fuel-efficient vehicles for college students. An added bonus: Kia, like Hyundai, offers an industry-leading 5-year/60,000 mile limited basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Final Word

Factor in all the associated miscellaneous costs and fees associated with purchasing a vehicle before buying a car. The fees and costs can easily add up to thousands of dollars on top of the purchase price. Used models of the above-listed vehicles can reduce the costs of ownership even more, but keep in mind that used cars may have additional expenses related to car maintenance.

Are you a cash-strapped college student? What is your car of choice, and how has it worked out for you so far?

  • Jon | Free Money Wisdom

    I drove a 1995 Geo Prizm. Beast of a car but I didn’t get any ladies haha.

  • Jon | Free Money Wisdom

    I drove a 1995 Geo Prizm. Beast of a car but I didn’t get any ladies haha.

  • http://www.savings.com/blog/blog.html Amy Saves

    what about honda civics? that was my first car.

  • Amanda

    Go Ford baby! My car’s got 187000mi and I get 30MPG. It’s a 99 Ford Escort. The ones they made after 2000 arent’ so good. I bought mine used and reconstructed from a mechanic I know. After a year, my check engine light came on and it ended up being something in the EGR system really minor. I would recomend buying a used car out of pocket to minimize monthly expenses. No college student wants to be working just pay their monthly car payment, insurence, and gas.

  • Alexvajiac

    u are just listing the cheapest new cars in america, doesn’t mean that they are the best cars for students. they cost about the same as a used mercedes, which 99% of college students would rather buy instead of these cars.

  • Nissans rule

    Your information on the Versa is incorrect… For 2012 all Versa come standard with ABS, A/C and a AM/FM/CD radio. What a great value story!

  • Pat S

    Thanks for the input, everyone.
    @ Nissans Rule: I made the changes you pointed out. Thanks!
    @ Alex: You are right, I focused on new vehicles. Maybe I’ll consider another article on used.

  • Rsauer_43

    when a country like india can p[roduce a car that gets over 40 niles per gal of gas and sells for around $2,000.00 i wonder why the us auto industry can’t??????

    • Sphillips48

      because the people required to make cars in the U.S. make much more than the people in India. Technically we are paying for labor. Also cars made in India aren’t very reliable.

      • hello123rks

        Cars in India produce More than 50 miles per gallon. It’s not that they r not reliable. It’s because our labour is cheap. Most of the parts are from Germany or other top automobile counties.

  • http://twitter.com/mtewes7 Matt Tewes

    It’s not for everyone, but I’ve had a motorcycle for three years in college and have loved it. Cheap in gas, inexpensive to insure, and everything you need can usually fit in a backpack. The only real issue is getting all your stuff to school at the beginning of the year and home at the end. Overall though I would highly recommend it.

  • Mitch Johnson

    These are perfect college kid cars. Why, they’re so economical, I bought one for each of my six kids! /s

  • Adin Brubaker

    I don’t think whoever compiled this list considered safety. Those smart cars are death traps. Sure the tritium safety cage keeps the CAR together… whilst diverting all the energy from the crash into the DRIVER’s BODY. Whereas if you crash a large sedan, for example, at least there is a lot of car to absorb some of the energy. I am a college student and I drive a used Chevy Impala I got for around 6k. I can comfortably transport people, the gas mileage is pretty good (except when you’re driving in the city), and a good American V6 will last forever! Also, big cars get a bad rap for being “Grandma Cars”. My car doesn’t turn corners very fast but it accelerates just fine and is a BULLET on the highway. Don’t get your college kid a glorified soda can on wheels, get them a strong American car that is comfortable and reasonably fast but doesn’t lend itself to some of the stupid things I see other college students do in their tiny “fun” cars. And if your kid gets into an accident anyway then they are less likely to be hurt.

  • Alan Wake

    These are not affordable cars.

  • neverlikedthepolice

    Worst College Car List i have ever read. You do realize that most college kids are broke using student loans and you want them to buy a 10,000 dollar car???? Not every kid has mommy and daddy buying them a brand new car which i can bet 100 percent is the case for you. Plus the cars you picked have horrible safety ratings. Im pretty sure you should change the name of this list from 10 best affordable cars for college students to, top 10 cars that save gas and can kill your kid while they are off at college. Please whoever reads this list don’t take this persons advice. *Smacks head on desk wondering what is wrong with this guy.*

  • Mao101

    Im getting my first car.although its used is in great conditions and all i had to pay was less than 2,000 ???

    Wtf is wrong with america or whatever prividledge person who wrote this???

  • Brandon

    Take a look at the IIHS Safest vehicles for teens/college students. The vehicles on the list are very economical (all under 20k) and safe. A late model used car is a good deal in terms of safety and reliability. Any of the cars on this list would not keep their occupants safe in the event of a severe head on crash with a larger vehicle. The IIHS rules out small cars for safety reasons so none of the cars on the list are cheap econo-boxes. Some used luxury cars are included.