Auto Insurance

College Students Drive Toyotas and Hondas but Dream of Teslas

College Students Drive Toyotas and Hondas but Dream of Teslas

More than 3 in 4 undergraduates with vehicles admit to at least one dangerous driving behavior that could cost them — some riskier than others.
A student sits behind the wheel of their car.
A student sits behind the wheel of their car. Source: Getty Images

The majority of undergraduate college students (56%) have a vehicle with them while attending school. And while many of these undergrads might dream of Teslas, most drive around campus in Toyotas or Hondas instead.

The latest ValuePenguin survey of more than 1,000 undergraduate students looks at all things vehicles — from what undergrads are driving to how they pay for everything (including car insurance for college students). The survey also analyzes what students would drive if money weren’t an obstacle, their driving behaviors and more.

Key findings

  • College students say their dream car brand is Tesla, but many drive Toyotas (16%) or Hondas (15%). Rounding out the top five most common car brands for college students are Chevrolet (10%), Ford (10%) and Nissan (8%).
  • Amid dreams of Teslas, most college students (79%) drive used cars. And most (60%) say they paid less than $20,000 to purchase theirs.
  • College students with cars are feeling the pinch of rising gas prices. 91% of these students say increased gas prices have impacted them. Mainly, 68% drive less to save money, while 33% struggle to afford gas.
  • Cars have other costs, but parents mostly pay for their college students’ car insurance premiums, with undergrads on the hook for monthly auto loan payments. 61% of college students with cars say their parents (or another family member) pay for their auto insurance premiums in full, while 39% contribute at least some of the cost. On the other hand, 69% of students with auto loans are at least partly responsible for the monthly payment. Of that group, 1 in 3 say their portion of the monthly payment is $300 or more.
  • 77% of college students with cars admit to at least one dangerous driving behavior that could cost them — some more unsafe than others. These potentially risky habits range from seemingly minor activities like letting someone else drive their car (57%) or cramming more people in their vehicle than the number of seats (26%) to seriously dangerous behaviors such as texting while driving (48%) or driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol (both 9%).

College students and cars: Toyotas, Hondas and…Teslas?

More college students drive Toyotas (16%) or Hondas (15%) than other types of vehicles. Here’s a complete look at the brands you might spot coming in and out of college campuses across the U.S.:

The car brands college students currently have
Toyota16%
Honda15%
Chevrolet10%
Ford10%
Nissan8%
Hyundai5%
Jeep5%
Kia4%
Dodge3%
BMW3%
Subaru3%
Mazda3%
Show All Rows

Source: ValuePenguin survey of 582 undergraduate college students with a car at school, conducted in July 2022. Totals don’t add to 100% due to rounding.

If college students could drive any car they wanted, the highest rate of students (15%) would find themselves behind the wheel of a shiny new Tesla. Some other luxury car brands students wish they were driving include BMW and Mercedes-Benz (both 6%).

Here’s a closer look at the top 10 vehicles on the wish lists of undergraduates:

College students' top 10 dream cars
Tesla15%
Honda7%
BMW6%
Mercedes-Benz6%
Toyota6%
Jeep5%
Chevrolet5%
Audi5%
Dodge4%
Ford4%

Source: ValuePenguin survey of 1,032 undergraduate college students, conducted in July 2022. Only the top 10 most common answer choices are shown, so totals won't add to 100%.

Undergrads drive used while dreaming big

Most undergraduate students (56%) have a vehicle they can rely on while attending school. Students attending school in the South are most likely to have a car (66%), while those going to school in the Northeast are least likely (40%). For most of those students with vehicles, their cars were also used (79%) when they acquired them.

Car prices for used and new vehicles have been painfully high in recent months, and consumers feel the financial impact of these changes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index showed a 6.6% year-over-year increase in the cost of used cars and trucks in July 2022. With new vehicles, however, the cost increase was an even greater 10.4%.

According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price consumers paid for new vehicles in July 2022 was a record-breaking $48,182. Used car prices also remain high, with an average cost of $28,219 during the same period.

While most college students drive used vehicles, the ages of their vehicles vary. Nearly half (47%) drive a car 10 years or older. Also, men drive older vehicles than women.

Below are the top highlights of the vehicle models being driven by undergraduate students:

  • 20%: 2009 or older
  • 20%: 2014 to 2016
  • 19%: 2017 to 2019
  • 16%: 2011 to 2013

While only 2% of undergraduates don’t know their vehicle’s model year, 12% of college students don’t know how much their car cost when it was purchased. Among those who know the price of their vehicle, most (31%) drive a car that costs less than $10,000. Another 28% drive a vehicle with a price tag between $10,000 and $19,999. On the other end of the spectrum, just 1% of students have cars with price tags of $50,000 or higher.

Of course, just because a student knows how much their vehicle cost doesn’t mean they purchased it. One quarter (25%) of undergraduate students say their parents bought a car for them, not as a birthday or graduation gift. Meanwhile, 22% of students paid for a vehicle on their own, including 30% in the Northeast.

Here’s a look at how the undergraduates in our survey acquired their vehicles:

How college students got their cars
My parents bought it for me (but not as a birthday or graduation present)25%
I saved up for it and paid for it myself22%
It was a hand-me-down from another family member21%
It was a birthday present14%
I split the cost with my parents (or another family member)10%
It was a graduation present8%

Source: ValuePenguin survey of 582 undergraduate college students with a car at school, conducted in July 2022.

Other car costs for college students: Gas, insurance, loans and more

Having a car on campus can make life more convenient for an undergraduate student. However, a vehicle can also be a big expense.

Rising gas prices, for one, have had a meaningful impact on the finances of many undergraduate students.

  • 68% admit to driving less often to save money on gas
  • 33% say they’re struggling to afford gas
  • 9% say higher gas prices haven’t affected them
  • 5% say they’re thinking about selling their car because gas is so expensive

Car insurance is another cost that comes with owning a vehicle. More than 6 in 10 (62%) of these undergrads have full-coverage insurance. Yet a troubling 17% of college students don’t know whether they have a full-coverage or minimum-coverage policy.

"Understanding your insurance sounds boring, but it’s important," says Nick VinZant, ValuePenguin auto insurance expert. "If you fail to understand your coverage, you might be underinsured and risk missing out on perks and cost-saving programs."

Ask your agent questions to ensure you have enough collision coverage so that you’re covered in case the other person isn’t, VinZant says, and enough liability and medical coverage. You might also be able to find discounts like ones for good grades, a clean driving record, low mileage or rental cars buried in the fine print.

Younger drivers pay more than older drivers for car insurance coverage. Yet when it comes to this expense, most college students aren’t covering the cost of car insurance on their own:

  • 61% of students say their parents or another family member pay their auto insurance
  • 16% of students split the cost of auto insurance with their parents or someone else
  • 23% pay their auto insurance premiums

For those looking to save money, it costs about 62% less for an 18-year-old to be on their parents' car insurance policy than to take out one of their own. However, some parents may eventually want or need to take a college student off their auto insurance policy.

Continuing the theme of different costs, most undergraduates (64%) don’t owe an auto loan on their vehicle. And even those who have an auto loan might not pay it on their own:

  • 19% of undergrads pay the monthly payment on their auto loan
  • 11% have parents or another family member who pay the monthly payment on their auto loan for them
  • 6% split the cost of their monthly auto loan with a parent or family member

Undergraduates living at home with their families while attending college are less likely to pay their monthly auto loan payments (13%). Yet those same students are more likely not to have auto loans (71%). Men are also more likely (57%) to pay their monthly auto loan payments than women (51%).

For students who have a car at school and also owe money to a lender for a car loan, monthly payment amounts vary:

  • 31% pay $100 to $199
  • 29% pay $200 to $299
  • 20% pay $300 to $399
  • 13% pay $400 or more

Nearly 7 in 10 students (69%) also have access to a program that offers roadside assistance through their insurance company or a third-party service.

"Member programs like AAA can give you peace of mind and discounts on everything from travel to auto repairs," VinZant says.

AAA and similar programs may offer roadside assistance where a professional will change your tire, tow your car or bring you gas. There can also be special discounts on hotels, rental cars, cruises, auto insurance and auto repairs.

How much do students pay to park at school?

Many colleges charge students additional fees to park on campus. In fact, only 37% of undergrads report they park for free. Here’s a look at the cost that other students have to pay yearly to park their vehicles at school:

  • 34%: Less than $200
  • 18%: $200 to $399
  • 7%: $400 to $599
  • 3%: $600 to $799
  • 1%: $800 to $999
  • 1%: $1,000 or more

In general, students say they feel safe parking on campus, with 36% answering "definitely" and 56% saying they feel safe "for the most part." Yet not everyone agrees. When thinking about where they typically park their vehicle at school, 1% of students definitely don’t feel safe, while 7% don’t feel safe for the most part.

Nearly a quarter of students (23%) say they’d be willing to pay more if it meant parking somewhere safer. And 11% say they already pay more money for parking in what they feel is a safer parking spot. At the same time, 21% don’t want to spend more money, even though they don’t park in the safest spot.

Driving behaviors, from seemingly minor to seriously dangerous

College students are no strangers to risky behaviors behind the wheel. Here’s a look at some of the driving behaviors undergraduates say apply to them, whether minor or dangerous:

  • 57% have let someone else drive their car
  • 48% have texted while driving
  • 26% have driven more people in their car than they have seats
  • 24% have been in a car accident
  • 18% have gotten a speeding ticket
  • 18% have gotten a parking ticket
  • 9% have driven while under the influence of alcohol
  • 9% have driven while under the influence of drugs

"Dangerous driving isn’t just dangerous to yourself and the people you share the road with — it’s also very expensive," VinZant says. (More on this soon.)

3 driving tips for college students

If you’re planning to drive a vehicle while in college, the following tips could help you stay safer on the road and perhaps save a bit of money.

1. Slow down and don’t drive while impaired

Traffic fatalities increased by 12% in the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. And speeding is involved in 22% of fatal accidents, while alcohol is involved in 14%.

On average, car insurance increases by 21% after a speeding ticket, 46% after an accident with injuries and 72% after a DUI. That’s on top of any fines, repair costs or potential jail time.

2. Take a defensive driving course

A defensive driving course can significantly enhance your driving skills and help you learn how to protect yourself behind the wheel. You might also be able to save money on your auto insurance via a discount.

3. Don’t drive distracted

Mobile phones or similar devices can be a constant distraction when driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,142 people died in 2020 in motor vehicle crashes that involved distracted drivers.

Technology can help with this problem, whether that’s hands-free products or settings on your smartphone that disable notifications. You can also stash your phone in the glove compartment or on the back seat to avoid temptation altogether.

Methodology

ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,032 U.S. undergraduate college students from July 18 to 26, 2022. The survey was administered using a nonprobability-based sample, and quotas were used to ensure the sample base represented the overall population. All responses were reviewed by researchers for quality control.