10 Best Used Cars for College Students

Updated on March 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • Small cars are a practical and affordable choice for college students, offering maneuverability and cost-effectiveness.
  • The Kia Soul (2012) is a compact yet spacious option, and the Honda Fit (2013) provides ample cargo space with its “Magic Seat.”
  • Hybrid options include the fuel-efficient Toyota Prius (2009) and the stylish and tech-savvy Mazda 3 (2014).
  • Midsize choices encompass the fuel-efficient Honda Accord Hybrid (2014) and the Subaru Impreza (2013) known for its all-wheel-drive capability.

Many international students studying in the U.S. need a car. Whether for shopping or for commuting to campus, it just makes everything easier. But not everyone can afford a new car. Used cars are cheaper, but make sure to research the cost of insurance. Used car rates can also sometimes be higher than new.

Below we’ve listed 10 great, reliable used cars for college students.

Best Used Small Cars for College Students

Small cars are easier to maneuver, easier to park, and more affordable. If you don’t need much storage, or you are on a budget, a small car is the way to go.

Kia Soul (2012)

With its unique, box-like frame, the first thing anyone is going to notice about the Kia Soul is the way it looks. But Kia’s design isn’t just about looking cool. The Soul is both compact on the outside and surprisingly roomy on the inside. It’s a great car for squeezing into tight campus parking spaces, while still having the space to carry the contents of your dorm. The central downside is poor fuel economy for a car its size.

Honda Fit (2013)

The best thing about the Fit may be its so-called “Magic Seat.” Its rear seat folds down completely, giving you even more storage space than the already roomy Kia Soul. If you are looking for a small car with a lot of cargo room, the Fit is hard to beat.

You should be able to pick up a used one for $8,500 to $18,000. Hondas are famously reliable cars, so you won’t have to worry about maintenance costs or your vehicle breaking down unexpectedly.

Toyota Prius (2009)

Interested in the gas mileage and environmentally-friendly design of a hybrid? If you can’t quite afford the newer models, a used Prius is an excellent choice. Priuses have a reputation for reliability, so a used one should be a good investment. But check out the warranty on the battery pack before purchasing. While these last a long time, replacing one can be expensive.

Later models have a little more room in the interior. If you are particularly tall, you may find the 2009 a bit cramped.

Mazda 3 (2014)

While not as unique looking as the Soul, the Mazda 3 is still a stylish car with crisper handling than many of its rivals. However, style and handling come at the price of fuel efficiency. Earlier Mazda’s were worse, but the 2014 model still only gets an average of 33 miles to the gallon. The Mazda 3 also comes with an impressive amount of tech in the cabin.

Best Used Midsize Cars for College Students

Midsize cars are a good balance between the cost and footprint of a small car and the space storage of an SUV.

Honda Accord Hybrid (2014)

If you liked the “green” qualities and fuel economy of the Prius, but need a little more room, a Honda Accord Hybrid is a good choice. The Accord is reliable and spacious, and it features advanced safety features. The MSRP on a new one is $25,100, but a used 2014 model should only set you back around $17,000.

Subaru Impreza (2013)

Places like the Great Lakes region or upstate New York have great universities. But they also have some serious winters. If you are planning to study in one of those places, you might look seriously at the Subaru Impreza. It’s one of the cheapest cars available that still features all-wheel drive, to get you over icy or snow-covered roads.

But if you are going to school in a milder climate, you may be unimpressed with the Impreza’s poor sound system and only average fuel efficiency.

Acura TSX (2008)

For the student who wants to travel in comfort, the first-generation Acura TSX is the way to go. A luxury sedan, the TSX comes with a host of interior features, including heated leather seats, a touchscreen navigation system, Bluetooth, and smartphone hookups. Cars of this size aren’t always the smoothest drive, but reviewers were very enthusiastic about the 2008 TSX’s handling.

Best Used SUVs for College Students

While they are not the cheapest or most fuel-efficient cars, SUVs excel in safety, interior space, and horsepower. If you are going to have a lot of passengers or are interested in camping, hiking, or other outdoor activities, an SUV makes an excellent choice.

Hyundai Tucson (2015)

With the Tucson, Hyundai went for a smoother and more stylish look than a typical SUV, which tends to have a rugged or utilitarian aesthetic. At the same time, it has the ride height, engine strength, and storage space you would expect from a car of this class. It’s pretty affordable too. You should be able to pick up a 2015 Tucson for $16,000 to $19,000.

Honda CR-V (2006)

The CR-V is a great car for anyone interested in doing a lot of camping or hiking. The CR-V comes with a built-in picnic table that pulls out from the back of the vehicle, with a cargo well that doubles as a cooler. Perfect for a day trip out to the country.

Reviews praised the CR-V for its gas mileage and note that the car holds its resale value remarkably well. Downsides include slightly unusual controls. The 2006 also doesn’t come with a built-in speaker system, so if you love to listen to music in the car, this might not be the vehicle for you.

Toyota RAV4 (2016)

The RAV4 is a popular SUV with best-in-class cargo space and crash safety ratings. A used one will set you back between $20,000 to $24,000. But if you do buy one used, make note of one thing. Toyota has ordered a safety recall on the brake actuator for certain 2016 models. Make sure to talk to your dealer about this recall before you buy.

A used car doesn’t have to be a heap of junk. If you follow the advice above, you will save with low monthly car payments and have a safe, reliable vehicle. Take care of it with regular maintenance and you’ll have a car to last you through college and beyond!

Read More

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join over 100,000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn more about finance, immigration, and more!
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

Check your loan offer in minutes

Apply for a loan with 100+ partners with one application. It takes only 2 mins and doesn’t impact your credit score.

*checking your rate doesn’t impact your credit score

Get the Checklist