As you head off to college, you might be debating whether or not to bring your car to campus. On one hand, a car can make it easier to run errands and travel to and from school. But on the other, the costs that go into fuel, maintenance and parking might be a major drag on your budget.
And transportation costs add up — College Board estimates transport costs at between $1,000 and $1,800 per year for undergraduates. So before driving off to campus, ask yourself these five questions to decide if bringing your car to campus is worth the expense:
1. Will you end up spending more than you save?
2. What’s the layout of your campus like?
3. How are the public transportation options?
4. What’s the parking situation on campus?
5. Do you want to deal with the responsibility?
As a college student, you’re dealing with tuition, fees, room and board, among other expenses. With all that financial pressure, you need to consider whether bringing your car to campus will help or hurt your budget.
A car could save you money if it means you’re spending less on other types of transportation, such as buses or ride-sharing services. Plus, it could allow you to run errands or move furniture without worrying about delivery service fees.
But as mentioned earlier, you’ll have to pay for fuel, insurance, maintenance and other costs of car ownership.
“The costs can really add up,” said Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful. “Gas is an obvious one, but parking permits can be costly too. On top of that are maintenance costs.”
Besides the expense of keeping your car in good shape, you’ll likely also need to pay for on-campus parking, which could be pricey if spots are limited.
“These types of monthly vehicle expenses can be a killer when you’re on a tight budget,” said Matt Matheson, founder of Method To Your Money. “Getting rid of your car is definitely something to seriously consider.”
Although having a car could save you money in some areas, the costs could outweigh the benefits.
Although car ownership costs money, you might be willing to foot the expense if it brings a lot of convenience to your life. If your campus is big, or you’re a commuter student, you might need a car to get to class on time.
“If the campus is very spread out and getting around will be difficult, a car might make things a lot more convenient,” said Matheson.
Then again, the typical college campus is often a pedestrian-friendly one, where it’s easy to walk between buildings and dorms.
“When you’re living on campus, your life is in a bit of a bubble. You go to class, you go back to your student accommodation, and occasionally you’ll go out into the ‘real world,’” said Yaz Purnell, founder of personal finance website The Wallet Moth. “Most places you’ll visit regularly will be within walking distance.”
Even if your campus is unusually spread out, your college might offer a free shuttle service to get you where you need to go. Look into alternative options for transportation before assuming you need a car to travel between classes.
Still, while you could probably walk everywhere on campus, you might appreciate a car for destinations further away, maybe including visits home.
“You’ll probably want to go home at different times in the year, and having a car with you can potentially make that a whole lot easier,” Matheson said.
But if your campus has convenient public transportation options, you might not need your car, even if you sometimes have to make longer journeys.
“If you’re going to school in a large city, your college probably has amazing public transit,” said Matheson. “Even some smaller college towns may have great set-ups for getting around.”
So before bringing your own car, find out about shuttles, buses, subways and trains.
“Be sure to do some research on what the transit is like, and ask your college’s student association to give you the lowdown,” Matheson suggested. “If the transit is good, a car may not be necessary.”
Parking is another important consideration when deciding whether to bring your car to college with you. Some schools will have free spots, but most will require you to buy a permit.
Schools with limited parking might hold a lottery for permits or only allow upperclassmen to bring their cars — some colleges may even prohibit you completely from bringing a car.
Not only can the costs of parking permits add up, but finding space to put your car could also be difficult. You might discover the student parking lot is far from your home or classes, or it might be tough to find spots at all.
Check out the situation — along with any parking rules — before you arrive, so you can decide whether bringing your car would be more of a hassle than it’s worth.
Finally, it’s important to think about whether you want to deal with the responsibility of car ownership. From taking care of regular oil changes and insurance payments to digging your car out of a snowbank (depending on where you’re attending school), you might not want to shoulder this responsibility on top of classes and everything else you’ve got going on.
Plus, you might find yourself becoming the go-to person for rides, which may or may not be a role you want to assume.
“You end up being the designated driver for every event and night out,” Purnell warned. “Even if some of your well-intentioned friends give you a little towards [paying for gas], you’ll still be at a loss, not to mention missing out on some of the fun your friends are having.”
And if you’re also testing the boundaries of how many parties you can attend or how many all-nighters you can pull, you’ll need to be careful about getting behind the wheel. With everything you’ve got going on at college, you might find that a car is one responsibility too many.
Weigh the costs and benefits of bringing your car to college
Having a car on campus could mean the freedom to travel around town and beyond, all on your own terms. But this can also come with high costs, not to mention the added challenges of parking and permits.
Make sure to do your research before bringing your wheels to campus. You might discover that walking, biking or public transportation are a lot more convenient and cost-effective than having your own vehicle.