Whether or not it is worth taking a car to university often depends on where in the country you are going to study.
If you are going to a university in London or another major city, for example, driving will probably prove an expensive and frustrating option in comparison to using the huge public transport network. But if you are heading to a university in a more rural area, or one where you’ll be living some distance from campus, a car could prove very useful indeed.
Things to think about…
How much will you use it?
If you are going to be living off campus and will struggle to get to your lectures without driving, you are likely to get a lot of use out of your car. But if you are living on campus and are within easy reach of a town centre, you may find you only use your car to travel to and from home – a journey that can often be done as cheaply and easily by train (especially with a student railcard).
What is the parking situation?
Parking can be a nightmare if you live in city centre shared accommodation, or if you are heading to a university hall of residence that does not offer designated parking spaces. While parking permits for some university campuses are free, others can also cost several hundred pounds a year. So check up on the parking situation at the university you are going to be attending, as well as at or around your accommodation.
Can you afford it?
When you add up the cost of insurance, road tax, parking and petrol, you may find that a car is a luxury you simply cannot afford as a student. If affordability is an option, it makes sense to use your first student loan (or put some aside if necessary) to cover both your insurance for the year and your annual road tax. That way, you avoid running out of money to pay for these compulsory items later in the year.
Insurance dos and don’ts
DO change your address
Your student insurance policy must be registered to the address you spend the most time at – in other words, your university accommodation. If you already have car insurance registered at your family home, you must therefore call your insurer and change the address before driving off to uni. It may well make the policy more expensive, and there could be a £25 admin fee, but failing to mention the change of address could invalidate any future claims.
DON’T be tempted to lie about being the main driver
Trying to save money by asking a parent or older sibling to claim to be the main driver on your policy – a tactic know as “fronting” – is a very bad idea. Not only does it mean that any claims you have to make may well be rejected, it is also illegal and could lead to you facing criminal charges for driving without insurance.
DO look for other ways to cut your costs
Car insurance for younger drivers can be very expensive. But there are lots of legal ways to keep costs down. You can, for example, reduce the amount you spend on insurance by choosing a car with a small engine, or by limiting yourself to lower mileage – and then sticking to it! Telematics or ‘black box’ policies that reward safer drivers with lower premiums can also be a good option for students who only generally drive short distances in the day, for example. And keeping your car in a secure car park (or if possible a locked garage) rather than on the road can help you get a discount on your insurance.
One alternative to taking a car to university is to join a car-sharing club when you get there. Students at the University of Reading, for example, can join the University of Reading Car Club, which gives students access to pay-as-you-go, Hertz rental vehicles that can be hired on campus for £5.50 an hour. You will generally need a clean licence and to be at least 19 to join clubs of this kind.
Top tip! If you leave your car at home, it still needs to be insured, even if no-one is using it, and even if it is parked-up on a drive or in a garage. So if your policy comes up for renewal, shop around and get the best deal you can, or apply to DVLA for a Statutory Off Road Notice (SORN).