The Student Car: Freedom or Burden
Guest post by Brianna Henderson
Moving away from home for university offers a new level of freedom as you navigate student life and adult responsibilities for the first time. And if you’ve passed your driving test just before heading to college, that sense of freedom is even more pronounced. Having a car means you can drive wherever you want―whether that’s a drive-thru McDonald’s or a trip back home―and find new job opportunities. But considering the expense, is it worthwhile buying a car for your time at university in the first place? Here are the key factors to bear in mind.
Evaluate the cost of driving
Buying your first car is expensive. However, it is possible to make this cheaper by applying for a student car finance plan with the help of a guarantor, who is someone that will pay your monthly loan costs if you find yourself unable to afford them. This is typically a parent, guardian, or another family member. Getting a student car finance plan typically starts with a ‘soft search’ of your credit history, which is required for any form of credit or loan. The loan provider will then work with you and your chosen guarantor in order to get the best possible deal.
Having a guarantor boosts your chances of getting a loan and may even give you a better interest rate, which is ideal for you as a student looking to cut costs. But, if a guarantor is not an option for you, having a job will boost your chances of securing car finance as a student. Lenders need to make informed decisions on who they lend to, so showing evidence that you have a steady income and a degree of responsibility will work in your favour.
As a younger driver, you may also have a harder time applying for insurance. The average cost of a policy for an 18-year-old is £1,109, but this is just the first of your overheads—you also need to pay for car tax, maintenance costs and, most frequently, fuel. Fuel is notoriously expensive but there are ways around racking up gargantuan bills. For example, supermarkets can reward you in points towards your shopping after filling up your car. Reducing your fuel consumption by simply driving carefully can also go some way towards helping save money on petrol.
While the costs may seem extreme, remember that you don’t have to use your car every day, so your outgoings may not be as high as you expect. Driving as a student may also be more cost-efficient in the long term, as frequent trains home can often cost a fortune.
Assess how you’ll get from A to B
Where you’ve decided to go to university may determine how necessary owning a car will be. If you’re outside a major city or in the middle of the countryside where public transport is less frequent, having a car to get around becomes more essential. However, if you’re attending a city university with excellent transport links, it becomes less necessary. It also depends on whether you live on or off-campus. If everything you need for your degree is right on your doorstep, a car may be an unnecessary luxury that eats into your monthly budget.
Although most city bus services run relatively regularly, relying on them to get around is likely to restrict where you can go and when. Use the freedom of the road to explore beyond your student town by visiting local hotspots and attractions to help you unwind. You might also appreciate the ability to travel home for weekends, holidays, or when you run out of clean clothes. Consider where your hometown is and how often you would plan to travel home. If it’s likely you’ll head home often, a car might be a more sensible option than booking weeks in advance to try and beat rising rail fares.
Consider day-to-day convenience
You can no longer rely on the kitchen of mum and dad at university, you’ll be responsible for your own food shopping. Having a car will make your weekly shop more convenient. Without it, you’ll either be stuck walking home with heavy shopping bags that can split or using a local bus—both of which eat up precious time when there are essays to write and parties to attend.
Then there’s the small task of moving in and moving out of your first student property. With boxes full of belongings, you don’t want to be worrying about how you’re going to get all your things to your new place. Packing the car and transporting everything in one journey is much more appealing than multiple train journeys or paying for expensive van rentals. You may also find you need to pick up some new furniture for your room, something which is much easier with a car. And at the end of your semester, when the time comes to move back home, your car will be even more of a godsend.