A guide to driving to university: the pros and cons of taking a car, and licence and insurance rules explained

Answering students’ most common questions around taking a car to university, plus advice on how to avoid unnecessary expense and stress

Students around the UK are getting ready to head off to university in coming weeks.

As well as all the major concerns about accommodation, lectures and where to find the nearest student union, many will be considering their best transport options. For some, walking, cycling or public transport is the best solution but others will want or need to take a car.

Even with a car, heading away from home to an unfamiliar city can be pretty daunting so we’ve looked at some of the most common questions around taking a car to university and spoken to car finance specialists Moneybarn to come up with some simple advice to make driving to uni as stress-free as possible.

Is it worth taking a car to university?

This depends on your circumstances. Having a car at your disposal is certainly more convenient. It means you can get around where and when you want and will make things like shopping trips and visits home easier. However, you’ll pay for that convenience in terms of insurance, fuel and maintenance costs. Parking and security could also be an issue depending on where you’re staying and there’s always a risk that you’ll become a taxi service for your friends.

Do I need to change the address on my licence?

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It’s a common misconception that you need to change the address on your driving licence when you go to university. While you have to inform the DVLA of any permanent change of address, you don’t need to update it for a temporary move, such as living away from home while at university. The same goes for your car’s V5C registration document.

Do I need to tell my insurer?

You’ll need to tell your insurer if your address changes

Yes, while the DVLA doesn’t need to know about a temporary change of address you do have to inform your insurer as a change in where the car is kept can affect your policy. Before you take your car to university, make sure you’ve got cover in place that reflects who will use the car and how, as well as where it will be kept. Failing to keep your policy information up to date could see it rendered void and leave you without cover.

Budget properly

Starting university means keeping a close eye on your finances and changes such as a switch in address can bring a big change in insurance costs, so check it won’t stretch your spending too far. It’s also a good idea to work your monthly fuel costs. Calculate the distance between your accommodation and your university, plus any other trips you’ll make regularly, so you can work out a rough estimate of how much you’ll spend on fuel each month.

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If you’re the only member of your university household with a car, you may end up becoming the designated driver for trips to lectures or the shops. If this is the case, consider asking for a contribution to the cost of fuel. You can’t charge people for giving them a lift but they can help out with the fuel cost, making it easier to manage your budget.

Check the parking situation

It’s vital you do this before heading to university. Some student accommodation sites have dedicated parking but you may need to register your vehicle to use it. If you’re living in a residential area or somewhere without off-street parking check availability nearby and find out whether you will need a parking permit. Remember to factor any parking costs into your budget.

The same goes for parking around lecture halls and other university buildings. Check whether the university has parking or whether you need to use council-run or private car parks. Find out whether you need a parking permit and familiarise yourself with the local parking rates. You may be able to get a discount for student parking rates, but you’ll need to register your vehicle, so ensure you have the relevant passes/documentation.

Do a trial run

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Before lectures start, work out the best routes between your accommodation and the university and do a trial run to familiarise yourself with the roads and how long it takes. When your university schedule is confirmed, check if your lectures or seminars coincide with any rush hours, so you know when to leave extra time for your journey. Calculate the distance between the university and your family home too - you never know when you will need this in an emergency.

Look after your car

With everything involved in student life it’s easy to forget to look after your car but a few simple checks will keep it in good condition, keep you safe and potentially save you money. Check fluid levels including oil, coolant, brake fluid and screenwash regularly and ensure your lights all work. Tyres need to be at the correct pressure for safety and to give the best fuel economy, so check them as well and look for any signs of damage. Catching and fixing small problems before they develop into major faults can save you money in the long run.

Remember the rules of the road

Remember that it’s illegal to use a handheld phone while driving

The independence that comes with having your own car and heading off to uni can be a heady mix but it’s important to still stay safe and withing the law.

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Some of the most common driving offences include speeding, using your mobile phone whilst driving, and using a vehicle with defective tyres, so make sure you understand the laws around these.

And with the temptations of Freshers Week, it’s vital to remember the drink-driving limits and ensure you stay safe and legal. . You should never get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking, and be sure to allow enough time for alcohol to have left your system before using your car the next day. Even if you feel fine, you can still fail a breathalyser if too much alcohol remains in your system. If you are going to drink the night before, make sure you adjust your plans the following day.