Buying a car as a college student may seem like a daunting challenge, but like any other challenge, knowledge is power. Arm yourself by investing some time and effort into making the right choice for yourself. We’ll start you off by answering a few common questions first-time car buyers ask.

Which car is right for me?

Many factors should weigh into your car selection. First, think strategically about your needs. Will you be doing extensive traveling in your car or using it primarily to get to and from classes, or to the grocery store? Will a smaller car suffice, or do you need a larger vehicle to haul equipment or accommodate carpool partners? What safety features would you like? How much of a priority is the car’s style?

Research vehicles to narrow your search to those that might fulfill your needs. As you shop, consider vehicles’ accident or driving history reports, safety ratings, mileage, fuel efficiency and maintenance requirements. And before you buy, take the car for a test drive to see how it handles and how comfortable you are behind the wheel.

Should I buy new or used?

Some college students lean toward purchasing a used, or pre-owned, vehicle simply because used cars tend to have a lower price tag than new cars. And while that may be the right choice for some first-time car buyers, others may choose a new vehicle because they don’t want the costs or hassles associated with used-car maintenance and repair. Before you make your own choice, be sure to consider the variety of factors that weigh into the ultimate cost of the car.

Here are some costs to factor in:

  • Fuel efficiency - Small cars are typically known for getting better gas mileage than larger vehicles. See how many miles to the gallon you can expect from each car you consider so you can determine how much gas you’ll need to buy each week or month.
  • Insurance rates - Car insurance premiums vary by vehicle (in addition to a number of other factors). In general, the more a car would cost to replace, the higher its insurance premium. (Also of note is that full-time college students who earn a certain grade-point average may be eligible for a discount on insurance rates.)
  • Warranty provisions - Many new cars are covered bumper-to-bumper for needed repairs for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Used cars tend to have limited warranties, so be sure that you understand which repairs are and are not covered so you can factor these potential costs into your calculations. Related to this is the cost of replacement parts, which can vary widely from vehicle to vehicle.
  • Tire replacement - Check into how much it would cost to replace your tires and, if you are considering a used vehicle, how much life is left in the tires.

Should I lease or buy?

We all know what it means to buy a vehicle, but what happens when you lease? Leases tend to look like a better choice because the monthly payments are typically lower than if you were to buy. In general, leasing may help you afford a newer model. But there are some negatives to leasing: At the end of your lease (often three years), you will be charged for any miles you’ve driven over the mileage limit specified in the terms of the contract. A dealership may also charge you extra if it deems your vehicle has more wear and tear than it considers “normal.” And, of course, your payments haven’t gone to owning the vehicle as they do when you buy.

If you consider leasing, be sure to read the terms of the lease very carefully before agreeing to it.

Should I get an auto loan?

If you’ve made the decision to buy a car, then you should have already examined your budget to see what you can afford. Once you have a better idea of the total cost of your car, you can determine whether you have enough in savings to pay for your car in cash, or whether you need to take out a personal loan so you can make monthly payments toward paying it off.

As a college student, you may not have had the opportunity to build up much of a credit history yet. If this is the case, you may need a cosigner for your loan; a parent or guardian with good credit may be able to get you a better interest rate, too. Find out more about current auto loan rates and the variety of available loan options offered by PNC.