Before their sons or daughters drive two, three or four hours home from college for Thanksgiving and winter break, parents like to have peace of mind that the car they helped them purchase can safely handle cold temperatures and bad weather.
It is certainly worrisome and inconvenient for parents to get a call from their college student just before the festive holiday season and hear, “Mom, my car won’t start. How am I going to get home?”
These are the thoughts, some car sales people say, that run through the minds of customers during the summer months when purchasing a car for college-age students heading back to school in late August and early September.
“Parents want the reliability when they are sending their kids off to college,” said Matt Prohaska, sales and leasing consultant at Van Chevrolet, 100 NW Vivion Road, Kansas City.
“Right now, used car value is so high that they see the advantage of buying new for a few dollars more and getting a warranty and a car that is used by them only. Plus, it is easier to get financing with a new car. All of these perks make it a new-car buyers’ market right now.”
Two of the popular cars from the Chevrolet brand for college-age students are the Sonic and the Spark subcompacts, Prohaska said. The Spark starts at $12,170 and the Sonic at $14,245.
“The Sonic and the Spark are both vehicles that Chevrolet has tried to gear toward the Millennials,” Prohaska said. “What they are looking for was a car with connectivity, so they are equipped with the Bluetooth, USB port and auxiliary plugs. They are smaller vehicles that are inexpensive and just have a cool look to them. They have been very popular.”
According to Kelley Blue Book, the two most popular back-to-school cars for students are the Honda Fit and the Kia Soul. Both cars start between $15,000 and $16,000.
One of the selling points for the compact Kia Soul is a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. Another quality that makes the car popular for all ages is its roominess, said sales person Siamack Zahabi at Jack Miller Kia, 2900 Burlington, North Kansas City.
“Everybody likes it,” Zahabi said. “It is comfortable to get in and out of it. There is plenty of room in the back, too. It has good gas mileage for when you drive back and forth from school, and it is a safe car.”
The Sonic, Spark, Soul and Fit all get 35 to 40 miles per gallon. Gas mileage, price and newness are what make the Fit subcompact appealing, said Ryan Maher, dealer manager at Legends Honda, 10050 Parallel Parkway, Kansas City, Kan.
“Anytime you can get a brand new car for under $20,000 with a warranty, that is appealing to anyone in college who doesn’t want unexpected expenses,” Maher said.
“It is neat-looking car. It’s a small, sporty-looking hatchback that college-age kids tend to like, and it still has space. The 2015 was the first with the new body style, which is popular. The previous body style was around for several years, but it wasn’t as popular. A lot of people come in looking for the Fit.”
As for the high school student, a used car is probably the route parents will go.
“There is a good market to find a pre-owned car, especially one that is certified, but we are finding more folks are coming up to the new side because they like the full warranty, the lower price of the Spark and Sonic as an alternative,” Prohaska said.
Usually when it comes to a used car, Zahabi hears two figures.
“First thing, everybody comes up and asks for a $5,000 car. If somebody comes up and asks for a bigger car, they always want to be on a $200 payment,” Zahabi said.
“All the cars here have been checked by the service department; new tires are put on it. We check every part of the engine and put some warranty on it.”
Many of the dealerships in Kansas City have a wide selection of pre-owned, certified cars. They have incentive to make sure the cars are reliable: They want the return business.
“That is the plan,” said Andy Foster, general manager at Gladstone Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram, at 5610 N. Oak Trafficway. “We want to make them one of our customers and keep them for a long time.”
Foster said the Dodge Dart and Jeeps are popular with college students. Foster said they probably sell more vehicles to recent college graduates in the spring.
Some dealerships offer discounts and rebates for recent college graduates in May.
Prohaska said that August and September were the best months selling cars to college-bound students. “They are getting ready to go to school,” he said. “We do get a lot of them in April and May because they are getting them as graduation presents as well.”
There is one other option for college students to consider. Leasing a car for two or three years might be something to consider, said Karl Kramer, communication director at McCarthy Auto Group.
“If you are looking for an inexpensive payment on a new car, leasing would offer the best option to always being in warranty,” he said. “Most have maintenance funded so it leaves more money for pizza or books or whatever else. After a 24-month lease, you turn the car in. You don’t have any hanging debt after that period, but you had reliable transportation.
“Leasing has always been a good option. It has a stigma that, ‘It is not right for me,’ but more times than not, looking at a lease is always a valuable thing to do because at the end of the day, you don’t pay for the whole car. You pay for the part of the car that you are going to use for 24 months or 36 months.”
It all comes down to purchasing a car that is reliable, taking a college student from Kansas City to Columbia or Manhattan and back home safely with no or very few problems.
“A lot of what we hear is, ‘They are going to be driving back and forth and they have a several-hour drive so we don’t want our kids out on the road breaking down,’” Maher said of what he hears from parents. “‘We want a car out there with roadside assistance and has a warranty and don’t have to worry about it being cold and not starting or being alone on campus and not starting.’”