Close-up of five car bumpers in sunny parking lot

7 Tips to Consider if You Want a Car on Campus

Having a car on campus can be a huge convenience for your everyday life, but only if it outweighs potential parking, cost, and safety issues. Follow this advice before making a decision.

College students are riddled with decisions before they head off to college—including whether or not the freedom of having a car on campus is worth it. Bringing your car to campus can be convenient, but the potential headaches could outweigh the benefits. A lot of it depends on how rural or urban your campus is, and the ease of other transportation options. Some campuses are more car-friendly than others, so if you’re considering bringing your car to campus, here are some tips that will make the process as smooth as possible.  

1. Review your insurance policy

Before bringing your car to campus, take a close look at your insurance policy. If your college is located in another state with lower rates, consider whether or not changing your permanent address is worth the hassle. For example, according to a current report from ValuePenguin, "in Michigan, 18-year-old drivers pay $211 more per month for minimum coverage car insurance than 30-year-old drivers." If you’re from Michigan but attending college in Illinois, it could be worthwhile to change your permanent address in order to secure lower auto insurance rates. Call your auto insurance representative to figure out the best course of action. And when in doubt, remember to shop around: you can always switch to another insurance company with better rates if it’s worth it. 

Related: How College Students Can Save Money on Car Insurance

2. Explore your parking options

Some universities have very limited parking, and parking permits are approved for certain students on a space-available basis. Because of the scarcity of parking, some universities advise students not to bring their cars. And in urban environments like New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC, it can be difficult to secure a safe, convenient, and affordable parking spot. Asses the parking situation on your campus first: Are there specific permits for students? How expensive are they? Is it worth looking into private parking lots? Is it more cost-effective to skip the car and take public transportation and rideshares instead? 

3. Apply for a permit

Once you’ve explored your parking options, if you want to apply for a parking permit, do it early. Your campus may still have a parking shortage, so it’s important to apply for a permit as soon as possible to ensure you get a spot. Also, permit costs vary widely depending on which school you attend. For example, the cost of a permit ranges from $495–$552 per year at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois—that may seem steep to you. So when you go to apply early, make sure you’re willing to pay the cost they’re asking for. In the event that you can’t secure a permit for on-campus parking, you can always research private parking options. Websites like Spacer and ParkMe offer monthly parking passes for locations near your campus.  

4. Consider how much you’ll use your car

It’s only worthwhile to bring your car to campus if you plan on driving often. If you think you’ll need it on a daily basis to get to class, a part-time job, or the grocery store, it could be worth having. Plus, if you think you’ll use it to take weekend trips home or to travel during spring and winter breaks, it would definitely be good to have. If you don’t plan on driving often, keep in mind that leaving your car sitting for a long time unused could affect its performance. If the car would get more use at home with someone in your household, it might make more sense to leave it there, especially if you’re studying in an urban environment with decent public transportation you can access like New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco. 

Related: Pros and Cons of Owning a Car in College: On Campus vs. Off Campus

5. Be prepared for people wanting to borrow it

Because less than half of college students bring their cars to campus, friends might ask to borrow your car for everything from an IKEA outing to a weekend trip home. If you lend your car to a friend and they end up in an accident, you could be held liable for damages. Even if your friend would cover the cost of damages, because it’s your car, the accident could increase your insurance rates even though you weren’t the one behind the wheel. Are you okay with the prospect of letting a friend borrow your car knowing you could be financially responsible for an accident? If not, learn to be comfortable with saying no when friends ask to borrow your car. If you think it’ll be difficult to maintain this personal boundary with your friends, consider leaving your car at home.

6. Think about your safety 

Are you attending college somewhere where it’s icy and snowy in the wintertime? You could be putting yourself at a higher risk of having an accident by driving when you don’t need to be. States like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, New York, and Pennsylvania are some of the deadliest for winter driving. In fact, the highest amount of weather-related driving fatalities occur in these five states. Having a car around can make it tempting to drive to and from parties because of convenience, but it’s not always the safest option. If ride-share services are available in your college town, it’s better to leave your car at home and let someone else do the driving for you. 

7. Consider whether you can afford it

A car comes with a decent amount of maintenance. In addition to weekly gas fill-ups, you’ll need to drop money for regular tune-ups like oil changes and tire replacements in addition to your auto insurance. To combat the previously mentioned parking shortage on many college campuses, universities often charge higher premiums for spaces. Factor all of this into your projected budget for the semester to figure out whether it will really be worth it for convenient late-night trips for fast food or not having to walk across campus to your classes.

Related: Is It Smart for You to Buy a Car and Drive in College?

Having a car on campus can be incredibly convenient, especially if you’re attending school somewhere that isn’t easily accessible by public transportation. Make sure to consider all the challenges and follow these steps so the process is smooth, safe, and financially sound.  

Need some extra money so you can bring your car to campus? Use our Scholarship Search tool!

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