10 Used Cars Under $30,000 Perfect for College Students

Send 'em in style with a reliable and affordable ride.

Acura RDX, Ford Edge, BMW X3, and Chrysler PacificaAcura | Ford | BMW | Chrysler

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Your college-bound student has a lot on their plate, and likely low on their priority list is worrying about the automobile that will get them around campus, or back home for a resupply trip.

Here's a wide-ranging guide to some safe and spacious used vehicles ideal for a college student, all available for less than $30,000. The price ranges referenced for each model come from the respective vehicle’s Kelley Blue Book dealer value. That said, buying from a private party could save you even more money, but you may have difficulty financing a vehicle purchased in a private sale.

Editor's note: For consistency, Capital One sought out used vehicle price ranges using a Southern California ZIP code. Southern California is the country's largest used-car market, and the price ranges were accurate at the time of publication.

2018 Acura RDXAcura

2018 Acura RDX - $23,000 - $26,000

There's Honda reliability and quality underneath the surface of this upscale, but affordable luxury compact SUV. The front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive RDX provides 279 horsepower, but is able to get up to 23 mpg combined, with as much as 28 MPG on the highway. Better yet, the 61.3 cubic feet of storage makes for a classy way to pack up cargo for the dorm. A Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also speaks to the Acura RDX's value for your college-bound progeny.

2018 BMW X3BMW

2018 BMW X3 - $25,000 - $29,000

While brand-new Bimmers may be standard issue for Ivy League kids, your family can provide your student with some more affordable, all-season credibility in a used BMW X3. With sporty handling and confidence-inspiring all-wheel drive as an option, the X3 gets the best of the larger BMW SUV family, and also provides an appealing 25 mpg combined, with its 248-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Small enough to park easily (at 185.9 inches, overall) but big enough for the long drive to college, the 2018 X3 provides 62.7 cubic feet of seats-down storage.

Chrysler PacificaChrysler

2019 Chrysler Pacifica - $20,000 - $23,000

For students seeking the ultimate in parent-approved, NHTSA 5-Star safety-rated hauling ability — maybe a couch, or up to eight occupants headed to homecoming — Chrysler's modern take on the minivan is as easy to drive as it is to adapt into a rolling cargo container. The Stow 'n Go seating folds away entirely into the floor, producing a colossal 140.5 cubic feet of house-moving room. Search hard enough and you might even find a plug-in hybrid version, which adds 32 miles of electric range. The regular model, with a 287-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, is rated at 22 mpg combined.

2020 Ford EdgeFord

2020 Ford Edge - $22,000 - $24,000

A three-row Explorer could be a bit bigger than a first-year college student might need, so the smaller 2020 Ford Edge could be a better match. The Edge comes with a 250-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged engine producing 24 mpg combined. There's also an all-wheel-drive variant, adding some extra road-gripping abilities. Ford loaded the Edge with safety features, including blind-spot monitoring and pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic emergency braking. Cargo room is also better than average at 73.4 cubic feet behind the first row.

2020 Honda AccordHonda

2020 Honda Accord - $24,000 - $27,000

Honda's best-selling family sedan boasts numerous positives for your college student, especially with the model's reputation for reliability as well as safety: it earned a 5-star overall NHTSA rating. Significantly different from Accords you may remember from the past, the 10th-generation 2020 model is a sporty-looking and fun-to-drive automobile, with either a 192-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder or a 252-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The smaller configuration provides as much as 33 mpg combined. There's even a hybrid model rated at 48 combined mpg. And the trunk provides 16.7 cubic feet of room for books and groceries.

2019 Hyundai TucsonHyundai

2019 Hyundai Tucson - $18,000 - $22,000

The 2019 edition of Hyundai's compact Tucson SUV fills in a lot of the right boxes with a comprehensive array of options included even in its affordable base model: lane-keep assist and forward collision warning, a 7-inch infotainment screen and a rear-view camera. It's right in line with many other SUVs of its size, offering 61.9 cubic feet of seat-dropped storage, but the comfortable interior will help out on longer trips. The mileage is also a positive, with as much as 26 mpg combined from the 161-horsepower 2.0-liter engine option.

2019 Mazda CX-5Mazda

2019 Mazda CX-5 - $21,000 - $24,000

Mazda's compact SUV offers the best of both worlds, with handling and performance that rival European luxury offerings, but at a price competitive with mainstream brands.On top of that, the CX-5 also includes simplified cabin controls and it boasts an impressive 28 mpg combined from its 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine. Unlike your standard SUV, driving the CX-5 feels more car-like, with hints of the Miata's sportiness in its ride. It offers 59.6 cubic feet of storage, a little on the smaller side, but still plenty. A bit of digging might also land your student the somewhat exotic 2019-model-year diesel-powered version, which hit 29 combined mpg.

2020 Nissan RogueNissan

2020 Nissan Rogue - $21,000 - $25,000

You'll save a lot by heading a couple years back in the Nissan Rogue card catalog and signing out 2020's 170-horsepower compact SUV for the semester, or longer. If you find an SV Premium model, that Rogue is equipped with a 360-degree camera, heated front seats and rear-automatic emergency braking. Rogue's mileage is also right on the money, with 29 mpg combined from its standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine — and about 420 miles of range from a single tank — though the continuously variable automatic transmission makes for slightly slower starts. Your student will have a full 70 cubic feet of room for loading furniture and boxes if they need to find a place off campus.

2019 Subaru ForesterSubaru

2019 Subaru Forester - $22,000 - $26,000

Safety and versatility are the hallmarks of Subaru's boxier SUV choice, which has gone from being a niche vehicle in snowy climes to a popular and college-friendly option. The safety of standard all-wheel drive ticks off a box for parents, and students will enjoy the gas mileage of the Forester's 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 29 mpg combined. Better yet, the upright shape means up to 76.1 cubic feet of apartment cargo, or camping room while heading off for a spring break road trip.

2017 Toyota Prius VToyota

2017 Toyota Prius V - $20,000 - $23,000

Any student with an interest in economics and engineering will feel right at home with the Prius hybrid family's largest variant, the 134-horsepower Prius V. Sporting 41 mpg combined, this Toyota is also notable for its 67.3 cubic-foot storage capacity. The Prius V shares its smaller cousins' hybrid technology, and while it isn't the fastest vehicle on the block — maybe mom appreciates that — it was an early example of the roomier direction new hybrids and EVs are now taking.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.