Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

An orange 2023 Honda Civic Si is shown driving on a road.

The Perfect Used Car for Your Graduate

When your high school graduate begins planning for their next stage of life, it can be a highly emotional time. They’re growing up, possibly moving away, and you want to make sure that they can take care of themselves and make good decisions. A few of those decisions, however, can still be made by you, especially if their graduation gift is a car that will get them through the next four years, whatever they decide to do. But how do you make the best choice for them? If you’ve looked at used cars, then you know there are a wealth of possibilities. How are you ever going to narrow them down so that you can give your graduate a parting gift?

Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a stressful or frustrating experience. You and your graduate can make a decision together, or you can surprise them after you narrow down what’s most important, taking into account the type of vehicles your graduate is used to driving, what their financial situation will be like, and how much time they’ll be spending in the car. Are they commuting or living on campus? Do they have a job off-campus? Where is the campus located? Are there unique geographical features, weather patterns, or roads that might influence what type of vehicle you end up buying?

What to Consider

As with any decision, you’ll need to determine the most important factors and then let those lead you to your final decision. Are you looking for a fuel-efficient vehicle for a student that might have to deliver pizzas on the weekend and drive to school every morning? Are you looking for something with plenty of safety features for a student that will be attending a college in the mountains or in a bustling metropolis? Thinking through these details will allow you to narrow down your choices and provide a blueprint for the type of car you want to give your graduate.

Things to consider include the aforementioned fuel efficiency and safety features, but you may also want to consider the cost of the vehicle, maintenance, and insurance, vehicle ratings from such groups as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the overall ‘cool’ factor, which may only matter to your graduate. Still, if you present them with a vehicle they don’t think is ‘cool,’ they’ll be less likely to drive and more likely to hitch a ride with someone. A practical yet good-looking vehicle with plenty of safety features, fuel efficiency, and low maintenance costs is the ticket, and there are some solid standards that tick off all the boxes.

A silver 2021 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring is shown driving on a road near a building.

The Honda Civic

While it may not register on the ‘super cool’ list of cars your graduate might have written down, it isn’t an ugly vehicle and can, in fact, pull off a semi-sporty look while also maintaining its practicality. Honda Civics are known for their inexpensive maintenance (typically a few hundred dollars lower than the national average), fuel efficiency (around 30 MPG in the city and 42 MPG on the highway for newer models), and good looks, but they also come with plenty of safety features, even older models.

The 2014 Honda Civic, for example, comes with stability control, a security system that prevents any would-be car thief from driving off, and some are even equipped with optional features like lane departure warning. When you buy used, there’s a greater chance you’ll be able to find a higher trim level with additional features for a good price, ensuring that your graduate has all the most important features. This will also up the ‘cool’ factor, which goes a long way toward ensuring that your graduate will happily drive this car around instead of getting rides with a friend you may not be familiar with. Who knows, maybe your graduate will even be the designated driver of their friend group.

A burgandy 2023 Subaru Outback is shown driving on a road after visiting a used cars dealership.

The Subaru Outback

Not only is the Outback an easy and pleasant vehicle to drive, it’s incredibly practical, with plenty of room for your graduate’s moving boxes, dorm furniture, and road trip snacks. A 2016 Subaru Outback, for instance, has 35.5 cubic feet of storage space, which beats out some newer SUVs. If the seats are folded down, that number jumps to nearly 75 cubic feet, ensuring that your graduate doesn’t have to leave anything important behind. Depending on the trim level, it can also come equipped with safety features like blind spot detection and lane departure prevention, ensuring that your graduate and anyone near them is safe while on the road. Maintenance is also lower than the national average, which means your graduate won’t have to rack up credit card debt to take care of it.

It’s also a great vehicle for driving long distances, so if your graduate is looking forward to spring break with a few friends or wants to come home for a long visit, this is the vehicle you’ll want to take a look at. It has plenty of space for passengers and their cargo. It might be a safe, practical vehicle, but it’s also fun.

A red 2022 Toyota Corolla SE is shown driving on a road at night.

The Toyota Corolla

The sportiest vehicle of the bunch, the Toyota Corolla is also long-lasting. When it is maintained properly, it can last over 300,000 miles, meaning your graduate may not have to look for another vehicle for the next eight to ten years, a boon for those who might decide to attend graduate school. With an average fuel economy rating of 30 MPG in the city and 40 MPG on the highway, the 2018 Toyota Corolla is quite practical as well.

It is smaller than the other two vehicles on this list, but if your graduate is attending a local school or won’t be taking much with them, this is the perfect campus car, able to get where your graduate needs to go in a timely manner and it looks good while doing so. Maintenance fees tend to be incredibly low, and safety features include things like standard lane departure warning, enhanced vehicle stability control, smart stop technology, and more, all being part of the Toyota Safety Sense package. If you’re looking for a car that’s fun to drive but has elevated safety features and won’t cost your graduate too much to keep up, then the Corolla deserves your attention.

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Graduate

Along with your support and encouragement, the greatest gift you can give your graduate is a vehicle that will transport them back and forth to college over the next four years. They’ll be able to attend classes, find a job, bring friends home to visit, and begin exploring the world. The Honda Civic, Subaru Outback, and Toyota Corolla are excellent choices for your graduate, as they will be able to maintain them at a lower cost, pay less money for fuel, and be secure while driving due to the multitude of safety features. You are giving them the gift of being able to move forward, which is vital if they are going to grow, learn, and find their path in life. You were a good parent, and with a quality used car as a parting gift, your graduate will be able to take that leap and begin their own journey into adulthood, knowing that you have their back and that they’re always welcome to come back home.