Should You Buy Your College Student a Car or a Bike?

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Congrats! Your student is college-bound. There’s a lot to prepare for. First, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to finance your student’s education. Then you’ll have to take your student to Target or WalMart and buy all the dorm necessities. The college to-do list seems like it’s never-ending.

Another important decision you’ll have to make: will your student have a car while they’re at school? Most likely, your student is pestering you for a vehicle of their own. But you know better. You know that giving your student a car in college is a big financial and parental decision. Wouldn’t it be easier to get your student a bike, instead?

If this is a decision you’re facing right now, be sure to weigh the following factors.

Getting to Class

First and foremost, your student is going to school to get an education. So your student’s transportation should mainly be used to get them to class on time. The appropriate transportation is dependent upon where your student lives in relation to campus.

A bike is the best option if your student is living on campus or nearby campus. If your student lives within walking distance of class, a bike will get your student to class significantly faster. Even if your student doesn’t live within walking distance, your student might surely live within biking distance. Google Maps is a helpful tool in determining bike commutes and the safest routes.

But there’s always a chance your student might live significantly further from class. If that’s the case, a car might be your best option. Your student could always use public transportation or rideshare, but the costs could add up over time. They could also lengthen your student’s commuting time, which takes time away from their studies. And, of course, public transportation or rideshare could be unhelpful if your student is running late to class (it happens to even the best college students). A car might be the most effective solution to ensuring they meet all their deadlines.

Road Trips

Truth is, college is about more than just going to class. It’s also about networking and developing a strong circle of friends with similar interests. College students love going on weekend excursions to places near and far. Having a car helps in those endeavors. But even road trips don’t necessarily require your student to have a car—there are always other modes of travel, and your student could probably hitch a ride with other classmates.

Many parents choose to hold off on giving their student a car during their first year in college. Most first-year students live on campus, which renders a car unnecessary. A car is more helpful when a student moves off-campus, which typically doesn’t happen until year 2 or 3. When a student lives off-campus, they’ll probably have to drive more frequently to campus, to the bank, or to the grocery store.

Here are some other strategies you can employ:

  • Offer your student a car only if your student receives good grades
  • Hold off on a car, but offer your student a brand new vehicle upon graduation so your student will have a nice car to enter the working world (maybe you can look for a 2019 Jetta for sale—Las Vegas, here we come!)
  • Offer your student one of the family-owned vehicles or a used vehicle

Choose whichever strategy jives the best with your parenting style and your student’s needs.


We saved price for last because it’s arguably the most important factor.

A car will cost you and your student a huge amount of money. You’ll have to pay insurance for your student if they’re going to take the vehicle with them to college. You’ll also have to pay regularly for gasoline (unless your student gets a job and can pay for it on their own), and you’ll have to make sure it has proper maintenance done, like oil changes and car washes. College students often neglect these finer details of car ownership.

Another big downside is that most college campuses charge students a massive amount of money for a parking spot—sometimes it’s hundreds of dollars per semester. If your student doesn’t need access to a vehicle, you might find all of these extra costs wholly unnecessary. A bike is cheap to buy and maintain, and it doesn’t cost anything to use. Most campuses have plentiful bike racks so that your student can safely store the bike outside of their dorm—and at no additional price!

Whether you get your student a car or a bike is totally dependent upon your student’s living situation and your financial situation. Most likely, your student won’t need a car for their first year in college. But as they get closer to graduation, and as their life slowly moves off-campus, you might consider helping them transition to a car so they can drive off into adult life.

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