Used car buying guide: Best cars for students

Choosing a car that will suit a student is an almost impossible compromise. It has to be cheap to buy and run in addition to being safe and ideally stylish. Above all it should be as cheap as possible to insure. 

When it comes to cover, insurers assess the driver more than the car. But some basics over car choice still apply. The smaller, slower and less desirable the car, the better the risk it is for insurers. We’ve chosen three different models for three different budgets. All offer excellent value for money as well as being safe, sensible, and hopefully reliable buys.

BEST STUDENT CAR FOR UNDER £1000: Seat Arosa

It might be small but it's got lots going for it (Picture © SEAT)

It might be small but it’s got lots going for it (Picture © SEAT)

The tiny SEAT has two big pluses beneath that diminutive three-door body shell. The first is that it’s only got four seats, thereby limiting the number of passengers drivers can carry. The second is that it’s a Volkswagen Lupo in disguise. It shares all the VW’s components meaning that according to reliability charts it scores highly; the German car gets four EuroNCAP stars for safety; and servicing intervals are 10,000 miles. But because the SEAT is less well known than the VW, it’s less popular and therefore second-hand models are cheaper.

SEAT Arosa: Which model to go for
The Arosa came with a choice of four engines. The one-litre petrol is the pick of the bunch. It’ll feel slow on motorways but is fine for stop-start town driving. There’s a choice of two trims with this engine: standard and S. If you can, get an S model as the regular Arosa really is very basic. At least with the S you’ll get an airbag, power steering, alloy wheels and electric windows. Ignore the lower powered of the two 1.4 petrols and the 1.7-litre diesel in early models isn’t great either. This was replaced by a 1.4-litre diesel in later models which is better but more expensive to buy.

SEAT Arosa: What to look out for
There are several areas to pay attention to with the Arosa. The electrics are a known weak point, particularly on later cars, so make sure the electric windows, wipers, lights and indicators all work faultlessly. The suspension is also prone to rattles which will probably mean the bushes need replacing. And ensure the cambelt has been replaced recently as it’s an expensive job.

SEAT Arosa: What you get for under £1000
We found several likely candidates. One was a 1997 R-reg 1.4-litre with 110,000 miles from a dealer. Its cambelt had been recently replaced and it had lots of service history. The downside was it was an automatic but then it was on sale for £795. A further £55 bought a 2001 Y-reg 1.0-litre manual with 75,000 miles on the clock from a private seller.

BEST STUDENT CAR FOR UNDER £3000: Vauxhall Corsa MkIV

Comfortable, safe, practical and readily available (Picture © Vauxhall)

Comfortable, safe, practical and readily available (Picture © Vauxhall)

When looking for a low cost runaround, you can look at less obvious examples such as the Skoda Fabia, or you can look at what’s right under your nose. And chances are there will be multiple Vauxhall Corsas around. For our £3000 we’d be looking at the fourth generation model. And that’s why it features here. This Corsa is still on sale, so for £3000 you’ll be looking at a 2006 or 07 car. Although it’s showing its age now, at the time it was better than its rival Ford Fiesta.

Vauxhall Corsa: Which model to go for
The 84bhp 1.2-litre is more than adequate for most young drivers. It’s not exactly poky but it still pulls well, feels nippy enough around town and is economical. The Corsa majors on comfort and refinement over thrills. The cabin is quiet and the ride is supple enough to cushion out all but the worst potholes. The sporty SXi model has firmer suspension but regular versions handle just as well. Most importantly, all models feel solid and well-built inside and are safe too, recording five EuroNCAP stars – one more than an equivalently priced Fiesta.

Vauxhall Corsa: What to look out for
The Corsa has been recalled twice during its life: once for steering, once for brakes. If you’re buying one, make sure it’s had the work done. Brakes can make a grinding and squealing noise. It sounds dramatic but doesn’t affect performance. The central locking can also suffer from problems, sometimes refusing to unlock.

Vauxhall Corsa: What you get for under £3000
For £2500 we found a tidy looking 1.2i. From 2006, this 56-reg car had two owners from new, covered 89,000 miles and had 12 months MOT. About the only thing not going for it was its SXi trim. For the same money we found a 2007 56-reg 1.2i Club model. This had done 66,000 miles and apart from three external and minor scuffs, looked to be in good nick.

BEST STUDENT CAR FOR UNDER £100 A MONTH: Skoda Citigo

Small but perfectly formed: The best city car around (Picture © Skoda)

Small but perfectly formed: The best city car around (Picture © Skoda)

Car makers are getting ever more innovative with the ways they attract buyers. The result is Personal Contract Purchase deals that allow you to pay a modest deposit and then pay for the car with monthly instalments. With Skoda’s Citigo you can get a class-topping car for as little as £89 a month. With five doors and a range of poky but frugal engines, the Citigo feels spacious inside despite compact exterior dimensions, is well built and remarkably refined considering it’s so small.

Skoda Citigo: Which model to go for
The Citigo comes with a choice of 59 and 74bhp engines. Both engines are more than adequate. We’d save our money and go for the smaller unit in SE trim which has plenty of equipment and is still affordable. Whichever model you pick, Skoda is offering three years of free servicing.

Skoda Citigo: What to look out for
Skoda has built a solid reputation for reliability over the years and the Citigo upholds that. It’s crammed with safety kit which enabled it to earn a five-star rating by EuroNCAP. You have to work the engines hard to get performance out of them but they never become noisy or unrefined.

Skoda Citigo: What you get for under £100 a month
As with other PCP deals, with Skoda’s you pay a modest deposit and monthly fee for an agreed period. When the deal comes to an end, you can then decide to keep the car and pay the balance, put any equity you have in the car towards a new model, or simply hand the car back and walk away. With the Citigo, pick a three-door SE and thanks to Skoda’s 0 per cent APR you’ll pay £75 a month with a £2855 deposit.

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