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The most versatile cars for college-bound students


If you’ve been on a recent college tour with your teenage son or daughter, chances are that the guide or admissions counselor made it a point to tell you that it’s possible to navigate campus and the surrounding community without a car.

Maybe it’s because the dorms, academic buildings and shopping centers are all within walking or biking distance. Or perhaps the university has its own shuttle service that takes students to and from the downtown area.

But unless you want to personally drop off and pick up your child every holiday break or have him or her Uber to a part-time job or internship, having a car on campus just makes sense.

While there’s nothing like buying your child a brand-new vehicle for a high school graduation gift, the reality is that a purchase of that magnitude isn’t financially feasible for everyone.

And that old beater that just crossed the 150,000-mile plateau probably won’t cut it if moving out of state.

However, that’s not to say that you can’t get a reliable, used model that meets the needs of today’s students for under $10,000.

2003-13 Mazda 3

Sure, there are compact cars on the market that’re less expensive and have a lower cost of ownership than the Mazda 3.

But you’d be hard-pressed to find a vehicle that has a nimble, yet engaging, driving experience that rivals Mazda’s signature coupe and hatchback, which were both introduced in 2003 as a replacement to the Protégé.

The 155-hp SKYACTIV four-cylinder that most are equipped with means that your child will have sufficient power to safely merge into traffic, but not enough to tempt him or her to speed down the highway.

While the first and second-generation models won’t have the same tech or safety features as the newer models, which start at $19,000, you can typically buy one that’s less than seven years old for about $7,000 – meaning that you can get plenty of “zoom zoom” for not a lot of dough.

2009-13 Kia Soul

It may have garnered an undesirable reputation because of those cheesy hamster commercials from the crossover’s early years, but the Kia Soul is the most versatile car for those who desire space to easily haul enough dorm essentials to last an entire school year.

The trunk has plenty of room, enough to fit four large suitcases, and the rear bench seat can be folded flat to accommodate larger items.
And, despite its old-school, boxy shape, this vehicle comes standard with curtain-side and front airbags, which helped it receive a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The sticker price on a new Soul is $16,200, and low-mileage ones that are a few years old are only a little less. But if you’re willing to drive something that has 80,000 or more miles, you can get one for around $6,500.

2001-14 Ford Focus

After hearing that the Ford Motor Company will slowly phase out its entire car lineup, except for the iconic Mustang, you may be hesitant to want to purchase a vehicle that will no longer be produced.

However, if the discontinuation of the Ranger taught us anything, it’s that buyers are willing to pay a lot for something that’s no longer sold new.

A third-generation Focus has the sleek styling that Millennials want, with the 40-mpg highway that make it perfect for the student who’s venturing far from home.

The four-door sedan may not be as roomy as other comparables but, what it lacks, the hatchback makes up in storage and flexibility.

While a base 2018 Focus retails for $18,000, a low mileage, four-year-old hatchback SE will only set you back $9,000, meaning that there’s plenty of money left over for tuition.

If you want to make sure that the mechanical and/or safety components of your child’s vehicle work properly before he or she leaves for college, contact Andy’s Auto Service at 412-478-9304 to schedule an appointment.