Auto Insurance

The Best (and Worst) College Towns to Have a Car

We evaluated college towns around the nation to find out which were the best and worst for keeping a car. Some of our findings include our estimated $6,538 price tag that comes with maintaining a fully insured car at school. Beside price however, there are several other factors to consider when keeping a car on campus.

It’s that time of year again where students across the country load up the car and head back to college. But once you’re settled in, should the car stay on campus with you or return home with your parents?

That may depend on where your college is. Not all college towns are car friendly, so we evaluated college towns around the nation to find out which were the best and worst for keeping a car. Some of our findings include our estimated $6,538 price tag that comes with maintaining a fully insured car at school. Besides price, however, there are several other factors to consider when keeping a car on campus. Is it safe? Is it even convenient?

In this study, we combine those questions to find which college towns are the best and worst for keeping a car.

For our analysis, we looked at 14 different factors, which we then grouped into three greater categories based on price, safety and convenience. The balance of these factors could give us a good approximation on any university's car "culture." While one college may be very affordable, it's possible that a high occurrence of inclement weather or car thefts will make that school less safe for student drivers. A school that has a poor parking situation would also be impacted in the "convenience" section of our rankings.

For the full list of the schools we analyzed, see below.

The best colleges and towns to have your car

1. Harrisonburg, VA

James Madison University


2. Logan, UT

Utah State University


3. Statesboro, Georgia

Georgia Southern University


4. Ames, IA

Iowa State University


5. St. Cloud, MN

Saint Cloud State University

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The best colleges usually excel in one or two of the three main factors, and do relatively well in the third. James Madison University is number one due to the marriage of low-cost car insurance, gas and parking with a student population that drives frequently. Fair weather and only one reported car theft also helped give the school a high safety rating.

The worst colleges and towns to have your car

1. Ann Arbor, MI

University of Michigan


2. Seattle, WA

University of Washington


3. Philadelphia, PA

University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University


4. Milwaukee, WI

Marquette University


5. East Lansing, MI

Michigan State University

The worst colleges to bring your car are ones located in big cities, or as is the case with Michigan, places with tough weather and high car insurance costs. While the University of Michigan is known nationwide for its storied football program and intensive academics, it’s not such a great place to take your car as a student. Bad weather, poor roads and several car thefts make it the least safe college for drivers.

University City in Philadelphia is home to University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, where city parking is quite bad (and expensive) and car insurance costs are the highest in our analysis.

 

The full list of colleges and towns

College Town
University(s)
Affordability Ranking
Safety Ranking
Convenience Ranking
Total Ranking "Harrisonburg
VA"
James Madison University
10
23
10
1 "Logan
UT"
Utah State University
38
1
7
2 "Statesboro
GA"
Georgia Southern University
39
14
2
3 "Ames
IA"
Iowa State University
5
35
25
4 "St. Cloud
MN"
St. Cloud State University
25
23
17
5 "Charleston
IL"
Eastern Illinois University
27
17
27
6 "Provo
UT"
Brigham Young University
28
3
43
7 "Flagstaff
AZ"
Northern Arizona University
37
8
33
8 "Vermillion
SD"
University of South Dakota
8
54
18
9 "Auburn
AL"
Auburn University
9
66
6
10 "Tuscaloosa
AL"
University of Alabama
11
56
15
11 "Laramie
WY"
University of Wyoming
29
39
22
12 "San Luis Obispo
CA"
California Polytechnic State University: San Luis Obispo
42
7
45
13 "Grand Forks
ND"
University of North Dakota
46
49
1
14 "Tuskegee
AL"
Tuskegee University
20
64
13
15 "Manhattan
KS"
Kansas State University
21
62
15
16 "Pullman
WA"
Washington State University: Pullman
7
27
65
17 "Normal
IL"
Illinois State University
36
38
30
18 "Blacksburg
VA"
Virginia Tech
15
61
29
19 "Stillwater
OK"
Oklahoma State University
58
28
20
20 "Cullowhee
NC"
Western Carolina University
2
81
32
21 "Goleta
CA"
Univeristy of California: Santa Barbara
44
2
69
22 "Boone
NC"
Appalachian State University
1
91
25
23 "Waco
TX"
Baylor University: Waco
84
30
3
24 "Lawrence
KS"
University of Kansas
30
47
41
25 "Salt Lake City
UT"
University of Utah
35
5
82
26 "Richmond
VA"
Virginia Commonwealth University
56
29
39
27 "Chattanooga
TN"
University of Tennessee: Chattanooga
16
53
59
28 "Lubbock
TX"
Texas Tech University: Lubbock
94
25
9
29 "Kutztown
PA"
Kutztown University
22
69
38
30 "Chapel Hill
NC"
University of North Carolina: Chapel Hill
4
48
79
31 "Fort Collins
CO"
Colorado State University: Fort Collins
55
16
64
32 "Duluth
MN"
University of Minnesota: Duluth
43
45
50
33 "Nashville
TN"
Vanderbilt University
31
60
47
34 "Gambier
OH"
Kenyon College
14
59
67
35 "Peoria
IL"
Bradley University
51
43
48
36 "Iowa City
IA"
University of Iowa
6
84
54
37 "San Marcos
TX"
Texas State University
91
37
16
38 "Mount Pleasant
MI"
Central Michigan University
98
40
8
39 "Norfolk
VA"
Old Dominion University
57
51
40
40 "Oxford
OH"
Miami University
13
83
53
41 "Cedarville
OH"
Cedarville University
12
88
49
42 "West Lafayette
IN"
Purdue University
32
87
31
43 "Carbondale
IL"
Southern Illinois University: Carbondale
70
44
38
44 "Whitewater
WI"
University of Wisconsin: Whitewater
18
80
55
45 "Stanford
CA"
Stanford University
53
7
93
46 "Davis
CA"
University of California: Davis
49
10
94
47 "Wichita
KS"
Wichita State University
65
57
35
48 "College Station
TX"
Texas A&M University
88
50
19
49 "Bloomington
IN"
Indiana University
19
68
72
50 "Tucson
AZ"
University of Arizona
76
15
68
51 "Tempe
AZ"
Arizona State University
86
11
63
52 "Tallahassee
FL"
Florida State University: Tallahassee
80
75
5
53 "Springfield
MO"
Missouri State University
71
64
26
54 "Clemson
SC"
Clemson University
50
101
12
55 "Winston Salem
NC"
Wake Forest University
3
73
87
56 "Clarion
PA"
Clarion University
54
90
21
57 "Columbia
SC"
University of South Carolina: Columbia
72
89
4
58 "Eugene
OR"
University of Oregon
33
70
62
59 "Kalamazoo
MI"
Western Michigan University
102
52
12
60 "Dayton
OH"
University of Dayton
23
98
53
61 "Santa Cruz
CA"
Univeristy of California: Santa Cruz
61
9
104
62 "Charlottesville
VA"
University of Virginia
24
66
84
63 "Irvine
CA"
University of California: Irvine
67
12
95
64 "Denton
TX"
University of North Texas
95
36
44
65 "Cincinnati
OH"
University of Cincinnati
41
78
58
66 "Colorado Springs
CO"
Colorado College
79
21
77
67 "Akron
OH"
University of Akron
26
102
51
68 "Geneseo
NY"
State University of New York College: Geneseo
48
66
66
69 "Colorado Springs
CO"
United States Air Force Academy
63
31
90
70 "Los Angeles
CA"
University of Southern California
83
4
100
71 "Boulder
CO"
University of Colorado: Boulder
59
32
97
72 "Omaha
NE"
University of Nebraska: Omaha
66
77
46
73 "West Point
NY"
United States Military Academy
89
26
74
74 "Ithaca
NY"
Ithaca College
52
55
83
75 "Huntington
WV"
Marshall University
60
74
57
76 "Berkeley
CA"
University of California: Berkely
68
18
105
77 "Urbana
IL"
University of Illinois: Urbana
62
42
88
78 "Atlanta
GA"
Georgia State University
81
24
89
79 "Alfred
NY"
Alfred University
45
71
78
80 "Columbus
OH"
The Ohio State University
40
97
60
81 "Lexington
KY"
University of Kentucky
34
104
61
82 "Annapolis
MD"
United States Navy Academy
73
41
85
83 "Morgantown
WV"
West Virginia University
64
94
42
84 "Purchase
NY"
State University of New York College: Purchase
90
13
98
85 "St. Louis
MO"
Washington University
96
33
75
86 "Denver
CO"
University of Colorado: Denver
85
20
99
87 "Madison
WI"
University of Wisconsin: Madison
17
93
102
88 "Gainesville
FL"
University of Florida
74
82
56
89 "University Park
PA"
Pennsylvania State University: University Park
47
95
71
90 "College Park
MD"
University of Maryland: College Park
93
34
86
91 "Austin
TX"
University of Texas: Austin
97
47
70
92 "Allendale
MI"
Grand Valley State University
99
92
23
93 "Baton Rouge
LA"
Louisiana State University: Baton Rouge
87
99
28
94 "Greenvale
NY"
New York Institute of Technology & Long Island University
104
19
91
95 "California
PA"
California University of Pennsylvania
69
77
76
96 "Minneapolis
MN"
University of Minnesota: Twin Cities
78
59
92
97 "Houghton
MI"
Michigan Technological University
103
97
35
98 "Syracuse
NY"
Syracuse University
75
80
80
99 "Pittsburgh
PA"
University of Pittsburgh/ Carnegie Mellon University
77
87
73
100 "East Lansing
MI"
Michigan State University
100
103
36
101 "Milwaukee
WI"
Marquette University
92
85
96
102 "Philadelphia
PA"
University of Pennsylvania/ Drexel University
105
72
103
103 "Seattle
WA"
University of Washington
82
100
101
104 "Ann Arbor
MI"
University of Michigan: Ann Arbor
101
105
81
105

Source: ValuePenguin.com

The best (and worst) colleges and towns to have your car, by category

We take a closer look at the three main categories to see which college towns ranked the highest and lowest in each.

Affordability

The first group of factors we looked at was price. How much will it take to keep a car at school? The first variable is car insurance. We made the assumption students would opt for full coverage in the state in which they go to school. The price reflects the average for both 20-year-old male and female drivers. Other cost factors included the price of a year's worth of gas, the average cost of repairs in the state and the cost of a parking permit at the school.

Most affordable

Rank
Town
University
Total price
1Boone, NCAppalachian State$3,278
2Cullowhee, NCWestern Carolina$3,312
3Winston-Salem, NCWake Forest$3,347
4Chapel Hill, NCUNC-Chapel Hill$3,420
5Ames, IAIowa State$4,524

Least affordable

Rank
Town
University
Total price
1Philadelphia, PAUPenn/ Drexel$12,394
2Greenvale, NYNYIT/ LIU$10,348
3Houghton, MIMichigan Tech$9,938
4Kalamazoo, MIWestern Michigan$9,172
5Ann Arbor, MIU of Michigan$9,155

Safety

The next factor we looked at was safety. Within this group, we looked at data showing how each town and state stacked up against factors such as the prevalence of impaired driving, thefts, fatalities and poor road conditions due to inclement weather. Generally, northern and midwestern schools scored worse due to the higher weight we assigned to the poor weather metric. On the other hand, sunny southwestern schools performed better. Schools from Utah, however, got a boost in our rankings due to a smaller number of teen fatalities and drunk drivers.

Safest

Rank
Town
University
Score
1Logan, UTUtah State62
2Goleta, CAUC Santa Barbara75
3Provo, UTBrigham Young76
4Los Angeles, CAUSC78
5Salt Lake City, UTU of Utah79

Least safe

Rank
Town
University
Score
1Ann Arbor, MIU of Michigan291
2Lexington, KYU of Kentucky281
3East Lansing, MIMichigan State278
4Akron, OHU of Akron277
5Clemson, SCClemson276

Convenience

The last category our analysis considered was "convenience." Many schools come from a city or have a campus where it is not necessary to drive. Other schools have such bad parking situations that it may not be feasible to use a car. To measure this, we looked at the percentage of the student population that actually commutes, the average commute time, the quality of on-campus parking and the quality of roads.

Schools like UC Berkeley have low percentages of students who use cars but still have bad parking situations, leading to their low convenience rankings.

Most convenient

Rank
Town
University
Score
1Grand Forks, NDU of North Dakota60
2Statesboro, GAGeorgia Southern84
3Waco, TXBaylor89
4Columbia, SCU of South Carolina90
5Tallahassee, FLFlorida State90.2

Least convenient

Rank
Town
University
Score
1Berkeley, CAUC Berkeley360
2Santa Cruz, CAUC Santa Cruz344
3Philadelphia, PAUPenn/ Drexel University337
4Madison, WIU of Wisconsin332
5Seattle, WAU of Washington331

Methodology

In this study, we evaluated 14 discrete quantifiable factors that were most closely related to students' consideration of driving at school. We divided them into three qualitative ones, and used the conjoined rankings to form one "master" ranking of the best college towns to have a car. Below we break down how we approached each factor.

What constitutes a college town?

For this study, we looked only at "true" college towns. To find "true" college towns, we looked at census data and found ZIP codes where more than 50% of the population was enrolled in college, as well as populations where more than 20% of the population was between the ages of 20 and 24. These parameters allowed us to narrow down the list of college towns to the 105 we list in the study above.

Affordability factor

Our affordability factor was made up of the cumulative cost brought on by car insurance, gas prices, the average cost of repairs and operating costs caused by poor road conditions.

The cost of car insurance was found by getting rates from several companies in the ZIP codes associated with each of the college towns. If there were multiple ZIP codes, the ones with the highest densities of college students were chosen. We found rates for 20-year-old male and female drivers with clean driving records, driving 2011 Toyota Camrys. We made the assumption that students would opt for full coverage and that they would not stay on their parents' plans.

Gas prices were taken from GasBuddy. To get a cumulative price, we made the assumption of a student getting 20 gallons per week for 36 weeks (about a nine-month school year).

Average cost of repairs were taken from CarMD.com.

The cost of parking at each school was taken from Niche’s parking rankings.

Data for operating costs due to bad roads was taken from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2013 study. Data is reported at the state level.

Safety factor

Safety was ranked by analyzing the following metrics for each college town:

We looked data from at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System to determine the number of young-driver deaths per 100,000 people. On the state level, we found the number of fatal accidents for drivers between the ages 18 and 24 in 2014.

The number of car thefts on each campus were determined by analyzing 2012 data from Uniform Crime Reporting.

Based on data compiled from the National Centers of Environmental Information, we found the number of days of rain or snow (more than 0.1 inches) that each town experienced.

We also considered the percentage of the adult population in each state that has admitted to driving drunk based on a 2012 study by the CDC.

Convenience factor

Our convenience factor measured how useful and easy it would be to have a car at school. The final ranking took the following metrics into consideration:

Data regarding the ease of parking at each school was taken once more from Niche’s parking rankings.

We took a look at an Economic Census from American Community Survey at factfinder.census.gov to determine the percentage of students who commute and the average commute time. We looked at the ZIP codes associated with each town as well as the percentage of the population that commutes via car. A lower commute time and a higher number of students who commute each contributed to a better ranking.

Finally, road conditions are tracked at the state level rather than the city level, so the percentage of roads in poor condition in each state was taken from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2013 study.