Depending on where you end up going to college, having a car may be completely necessary or not allowed at all. Small, residential colleges tend not to let students bring their cars to campus without express permission from the school, and there usually has to be a compelling reason why having a car is necessary. At a large, urban university, though, a car may make your life easier, especially if you have a commute between home and school. Be prepared to pay. Unfortunately, parking rarely comes free.


Can I bring a car to campus?

Yes and no. Generally, freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus, while upperclassmen may get a bit more freedom. This differs between institutions of different sizes. A small liberal arts college may not allow anyone to bring a car to campus because the school is very walkable and off-campus transportation is provided. Students may live close enough to grocery stores and coffee shops off campus that the most they will need is a bike.

A large university may offer more leeway when it comes to bringing a car to campus, but parking is often inconvenient and expensive. Depending on the lot, students at Wayne State University pay anywhere between $222 and $285 each semester for parking. At the University of Texas at Austin, parking permits can cost up to $796 for the year, and spots aren’t always guaranteed.

If you are considering bringing a car to campus, first check out the local public transportation. Schools often have deals with local bus systems that allow students to ride for free, and there may be discounts on subway fares as well, depending on the city. Also, consider the possibility of walking or biking to campus from your home and vice versa. These are free options (and will keep you healthy). If you come to the conclusion that you still want a car, check your school’s policy. You may not be able to bring one until sophomore year, or you may get stuck parking somewhere relatively inconvenient to your classes. Be sure to weigh all the pros and cons.

What if I need a car on campus for medical reasons?

If you have a chronic condition and need to make frequent trips to see a specialist, your campus will likely allow you to bring your car, even if it typically enforces a no-car policy. Talk to your school’s disability office, campus health clinic, or transportation office. The staff at your school will be able to help you get a vehicle on campus. If it’s not possible, staff members will be aware of transportation alternatives and help you find ways to get to your appointments that won’t compromise your health or safety.

Will I be allowed to use my car?

If you have a car on campus, you can use it at your convenience. However, you need to be aware of all the rules and regulations that pertain to having a car parked on campus. You may be fined, ticketed, or towed for parking in the wrong location or within certain times. Ask your school’s transportation office if there are particular rules that apply to you and pay attention to all posted signs.

Where will I park my car?

At small institutions, there are only a few parking lots where students may park their cars, and their locations may be inconvenient. However, you don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. At a large institution, you may get the choice of picking between an assigned parking spot (allows you to park on campus in the same spot each time), a general parking permit (allows you to park on campus if spots are available), or a mix (you can park in a certain lot, but the spots aren’t assigned). Where you can park, then, depends on what you want to pay.

Will I have to pay a fee to have my car?

While it is unlikely you’ll have to pay a fee to simply have your car on campus, you will probably have to pay parking-specific fees. These can range anywhere from nothing to upward of $1,000 each year, depending on where you choose to park (if you’re given a choice).

How should I handle other people wanting to use my car?

Choosing to let other students use your car, whether they are friends or acquaintances, is a personal decision. If you personally own the car, you can make this choice yourself. However, if your parents own or help you pay for the car or pay for your insurance, you will want to make this decision with their input. The simplest answer is to have a policy in which you are the only person allowed to drive your car, period.

You could also choose to only let close friends use the car, but that opens a bit of a can of worms when it comes to deciding who is a close friend and who doesn’t make the cut. If you elect to be the only driver, be aware that people may start asking you for rides. You are not obligated to give them, but it is likely you will be asked. Be sure to prioritize your time when it comes to playing chauffeur to your friends.

How can I take care of my car while I’m away from home?

Cars behave differently in different kinds of weather. In hot summer months, they can be prone to overheating. In the winter, your battery may die. Follow these tips to keep your car in good shape year-round.

  • Become a member of AAA (or a similar organization). These car clubs will provide assistance with flat tires, towing, overheating, and locking your keys in the car, among other things. If you don’t know much about car maintenance but drive frequently, a membership will save you money in the long run and provide peace of mind should something happen. Many insurance companies also offer similar benefits.
  • Replace your wiper blades every six months for optimum performance. If you live in an area where it snows frequently, consider getting wipers specific to winter weather during the cold season. When trying to de-ice your windshield, pop them up and use a scraper before you turn on the windshield wipers. Otherwise, the ice will damage the blades and make them ineffective—or worse, the motor that controls your windshield wipers could burn out.
  • Get an oil change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. This will vary depending on the make and model of your car and the type of oil that you use. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations.
  • Have your tire pressure and tread depth checked and rotate your tires at the same time. Rotating your tires ensures even wear. It should be done each time you get your oil changed. Checking tire tread depth at the same time is important because once your treads get too shallow, it takes your car much longer to stop when you slam on the brakes. This lack of traction is dangerous and indicates that you need new tires. Deeper treads and appropriate air pressure lead to safer (and more gas efficient) driving.
  • Make sure you have plenty of antifreeze before the winter and plenty of wiper fluid and coolant at all times. Antifreeze and coolant maintain your engine temperature and help prevent your car from overheating.
    • If your car overheats, shut off the air conditioner, turn on the heater, and pull over.
    • If your car is smoking, pull over immediately and get out of the car. Do not try to open the hood.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full, particularly in the winter. This keeps water out of the fuel lines and will prevent things from freezing.
  • If you live in an area where it snows, buy and know how to use tire chains. This may save your life in a snowstorm.
  • Consider buying a seatbelt cutter and window breaker. Keep them in the center console or glove compartment in case of an accident in which your seatbelt won’t come off or the doors won’t open. They could save your life.
  • Keep an emergency kit in the car at all times. It should include:
    • Jumper cables
    • Blanket
    • Flares
    • First aid kit
    • Nonperishable food
    • Bottled water
    • Ice scraper
    • Sand (for traction, if necessary)
    • Shovel
    • Tire pressure gauge
    • Flashlight

Having your own vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be able to do your own maintenance, but you should be aware of how your car runs in all sorts of weather and how to maintain your safety while driving. The above tips are general automotive tips, and depending on the type of car you drive, there may be more specific safety measures that you can take. Talk to your dealer or a mechanic for more information.

Page last updated: 11/2017