Back-to-School Car Shopping: What Vehicles Are Best for Students?

As a new school year approaches, many students will be setting their sights on buying a vehicle to help them navigate their way to campus, as well as visits home if going away to school. But what vehicles are best for students (and parents) who want a vehicle that not only fits the budget, but also is safe and reliable?

Best new cars for back-to-school

If it’s a new car you’re looking to buy, the following five 2018 vehicles have ranked well with U.S.-based Kelley Blue Book for affordability, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for protecting the vehicle’s occupants in a crash, and from Consumer Reports for their overall performance and reliability.

1. Kia Soul
2. Mazda Mazda3
3. Subaru Impreza
4. Toyota Corolla
5. Subaru Crosstrek

There’s something to be said when three agencies separately agree on what makes a car a good choice.

Best used cars for back-to-school

While buying a new vehicle is a nice idea, it’s not always realistic. For most young drivers, it’s likely a used vehicle that will end up parked in the driveway. To help you decide which used vehicles are best, IIHS offers the following four tips to help you narrow down your choices:

1. Less is more
Avoid getting a vehicle with a powerful engine and high horsepower to steer clear of the temptation of testing the limits.

2. Bigger is better
Look to bigger, heavier vehicles, which are typically safer and protect better in a crash.

3. Avoid cars built before 2011
Only buy a vehicle with Electronic Stability Control (ESC). ESC helps a driver maintain control of the vehicle on curves, slippery roads, and when the driver needs to swerve or brake suddenly. ESC has been mandatory in Canada for all cars manufactured since September 2011.

4. Buy a car with a good safety rating
Review the safety ratings of the vehicles that have made your short list. You can see how cars compare at both the IIHS and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

As for specific vehicles, both the IIHS and Consumer Reports independently agree that these cars make the grade and are the best used car choices for students:

Vehicle Model Year(s)
Chevrolet Equinox 2014 or newer
Chevrolet Malibu 2016
Ford Edge 2016 or newer
Ford Fusion 2013 to 2016
Honda Accord 2013 or newer
Honda CR-V 2015 or newer
Hyundai Sonata 2015 or newer
Kia Optima 2012 or newer
Mazda CX-3 2016 or newer
Mazda 6 2014 or newer
Nissan Altima 2015 or newer
Nissan Rogue 2014 and newer
Subaru Forester 2014 or newer
Subaru Legacy 2013 or newer
Subaru Outback 2013 or newer
Toyota Camry 2014 or newer
Toyota Prius v 2015 or newer
Toyota RAV4 2015 or newer
Volvo S60 2012 to 2015, 2016

Get an A+ for saving on your car insurance

Before buying a new (or used) car for back-to-school, compare car insurance quotes to research which vehicle will save you the most in premiums. The cost of car insurance can vary considerably between different makes and models and failing to compare rates before sealing the deal could be costly. Compare auto insurance rates today at


Lesley Green is a writer and editor, and has been writing about insurance and personal finance matters since 2002. She regularly goes to the theatre, loves to travel, curl and, depending on how well she's hitting the ball, occasionally golf. She has yet to meet a vegetable she doesn't like, and has been known to barbecue even in the foulest of weather. Lesley resides in Toronto.

Back-to-School Car Shopping: What Vehicles Are Best for Students?


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