As a student, big purchases are often few and far between. One purchase, however, that should be the goal of any student is to have their own car. A car gives you much needed independence, as well as allows you to attend classes.

It can be difficult to find a car that suits your needs, as many cheap secondhand cars are damaged, not taken care of or have to be repaired on a regular basis. There are some tips you can follow to be sure to find a secondhand car that runs well and looks as fly as you do.

Define your budget

Be sure that you know exactly how much you have available to spend, whether it is from your own pocket, from your parents or you have taken out a loan from the bank. This will stop you from looking at expensive models, and will allow you to plan realistically for the type of car you will be looking at and ultimately buying.

Think about what you need the car for and factor this into your budget. Many students enjoy going on long road trips over the holidays and need a sturdy car, but if this is not something you will be doing regularly then a smaller town car is a better decision.

Don’t think with your heart

You may have fallen in love with an adorable pink Smart car, but it is most likely not the most practical solution. Another reason why you should think with your head and not with your heart, is because a smitten customer makes for easy pickings. They may be coercing you into buying a model that is less than ideal for your situation, and could need further repairs in years to come.

A student is also a very easy target for unsavoury dealers, so be sure to bring friends or parents with you when looking for cars, to have a second opinion on that teeny-tiny but oh-so-cute car.

Check the body condition

One of the first things to notice about the car is the condition of the exterior. You should examine it carefully, looking for any dents, scratches, holes or signs of rust. If you are buying from a dealer, these will have been fixed and the exterior will look nearly new but if you are buying privately, the owner may not have had the time or the money to fix these issues.

Be sure to question the owner about whether they will be repairing these issues before selling – if not, it is best to move on to another car, as these repairs will end up costing you more in the long run.

Ask for a test drive

Many dealerships are more than happy to let a customer test drive a car. Once you are in the driver’s seat, check the sturdiness of the seat, if it doesn’t slide back and forth easily for adjustments be sure to ask why and if this will be attended to if you decide to buy it.

When you are driving, switch the radio off, so you can listen for any strange noises. The route you take for the test drive should include places where you can stop, accelerate and turn left and right. Also be sure that there is in incline and after the test drive, check for any oil leaking from the car.

Test as much as you can

You should be diligent in checking all aspects of the car. Doing so will stop you from buying a car that may have unseen damages or faults, saving you from having to spend extra money on repairs.

Test the brake discs for uneven wear, check the colour of the oil, check for clean battery terminals, and ensure that the tyres have even wear and are in a good condition. Also test whether the car moves when the handbrake is up. Once you have performed these tests and if the car passes them, you can consider making a purchase.

Ask for the car’s mileage logbook and service records

It is common practice among car dealers to show potential customers these documents, but this is not always true for private sellers. The mileage logbook and service records will give a good idea of the car’s history and how it has been taken care of as well as when and how far the car has travelled.

If you are buying privately, and have decided to purchase the car, you will need to get it tested at a roadworthiness centre.


Buying a car is an exciting time in a student’s life, and a car is an investment that will prepare you for life outside of university. Be sure, however, not to choose the first car you see and do as many tests as possible before making a final decision. Soon enough, you will be driving away in the perfect student car.