It’s no secret that students are short of money. I graduated just last year from the University of Brighton with a business degree, so the memories of scrounging for the next night out and relying on super noodles are only too fresh in my mind. One thing I did manage to afford, though, was a car. It was something extremely important to me as I was holding down a part-time job, had to regularly visit my parents out-of-town, and obviously had to get to my lectures from a remote student house located in a random estate on the outskirts of the city.

My dad has been in the motor trade for most of his adult life, so I’ve picked up a few tips from him along the way on things to look out for when buying a car, what you need to spend to get something quality, how to insure it for reasonable money, and how to keep it running on a shoestring. Here are some tips for finding the right car, and keeping it on the road.

Pick the right car

If you haven’t bought the car yet, it’s time to think very carefully about what to buy. It can be extremely tempting to look for something flash or powerful, but this is a complete false economy. You won’t be driving into town at night to go out at night, and you’ll most likely be stuck in traffic when trying to get to your lectures.

A small car can be a lot of fun too. To enjoy a car you have to push it to the limit. When you’re in a small, underpowered car this is a lot easier than in something fast which can become dangerous when taking it to the edge. Obviously small cars with small engines are also cheaper to insure, have a lower road tax band, and are far less thirsty at the pumps. Try not to stray past a 1.4 litre engine if you want the lowest running costs.

Here is my pick of the three best cars for students:

  • Vauxhall Corsa – Fun to drive and frugal, the Corsa was my first car and really did me proud.
  • Fiat Punto – The sporty styling is appealing, but the car is still a good buy for cheap running costs.
  • Ford Fiesta – This classic small car is cheap to insure, and even cheaper to run!

Specialist insurance providers

Insurance is a killer for young drivers, and going to the main providers can shock you. Some insurers are a lot better than others for young drivers, and although some of them are found on insurance comparison websites, two that I have experience with are Endsleigh and Adrian Flux.

Endsleigh specialise in students and have great rates for cover. They were over £150 cheaper than anything else I could find while at university, so it’s worth getting a quote from them directly before you opt for anyone else. Adrian Flux is a specialist provider for powerful and modified cars, so if you are young and happen to be running a car with a few modifications that insurers are shying away from then try these guys out.

Pick the right cover

Don’t forget that when you get insured you can either go for the full comprehensive cover or just opt for a third-party, fire and theft option. This will not protect your car in an accident, but if your car isn’t worth much it is a good way to save on the premium. I think that any car with a value under £2000 is better off with third-party cover. Just try not to write your car off anytime soon!

There are other options other than buying

If you have steady income from a job while at university and want to run a slightly nicer car then the outlay for a brand new car is not always an option. There are car leasing opportunities available from companies such as Nationwide Vehicle Contracts for reasonable prices. You can lease a brand new car from as little as £120 a month with VAT, which includes road tax too. You can pick the car and have it delivered brand new before sending it back after a fixed period of two, three or four years. This means you’ll always be driving a new car that looks nice, drives well and is safe.

Other options such as Car Club can allow you access to a car if you only drive very infrequently. This sort of scheme is popping up more around the UK now and can be found in most major cities.

Maintain the car

Make sure you maintain your car if you are running something a bit older, as it is obviously more likely to have a breakdown. Regular servicing, oil checks and tyre health checks are advised to keep your car in the best condition on the road. It may sound cheesy, but take care of your car and it will take care of you.

Parts can be extremely expensive from main dealers, but broker yards often have parts from written-off vehicles that are in perfect condition but a lot cheaper. Make sure you look around for second-hand parts if something goes wrong, and don’t just take the first price a mechanic gives you.

Ask your passengers for petrol money

Don’t let your mates be cheeky and catch free lifts with you all the time. If you take your housemates shopping, or to class, then ask for some money. It’s not fair that you pick up the entire petrol bill. Other solutions could be to just ask for cheeky drinks when you’re out at the pub.

If you’re going away with friends on a longer journey, then you might want to pool together to pay for a tank of petrol since longer journeys can cost a lot. Set the ground rules and what money you expect of people before you leave so there is no discrepancy.

Student discount may still apply

Student discount is a life-saver and many insurance companies, car accessories providers and garages offer a small discount to students. It’s always worth asking as you might be surprised at who offers a discount.

Remember that as a student you are an expert at saving money and making the pennies count. Running a car should be no different, so always keep an eye out for deals, offers and discounts around the motor industry. The worst case scenario – you stick to the bus!

Ryan Jones works for Nationwide Vehicle Contracts.