Five of the best used cars for students: best affordable models for cheap tax, insurance and fuel economy

Our top picks of sub-£5,000 cars with manageable running costs - from the most fuel efficient to those that are tax-free

As we reach the end of the summer students around the country are preparing to head off to university.

Whether it’s freshers heading off for their first taste of uni life or returning students, being able to get there and get around is vital - whether it’s to attend lectures, got to shops or visit friends. While many can use public transport, it’s not the ideal solution for others, who need the flexibility and accessibility of their own car.

Of course, most students are on a tight budget so while something brand new and shiny would be the dream, something a little more affordable is the reality. So we’ve spoken to Nick Zapolski, founder of car buying service, to pick out used cars that won’t break the bank.

The cars were chosen not for kerb appeal but because they offer best running costs in terms of tax, insurance and fuel economy and can all be bought for less than £5,000.

Students and young drivers should focus on smaller, less powerful cars to help keep costs down
Students and young drivers should focus on smaller, less powerful cars to help keep costs down
Students and young drivers should focus on smaller, less powerful cars to help keep costs down

Nick comments: “This might not be a popular opinion among 17-21 year olds, but the reality is that first cars need to be small and not very powerful. Insurance costs can be prohibitive for young people, and with the price of fuel at all time highs, bigger engines are out of the question.

“Little cars have many advantages, and the lack of power might help some parents sleep easier at night. Our list names five cars that are well worth looking at if you’re thinking of buying a first car, so check them out!”

Citroen C1

Citroen C1
Citroen C1
Citroen C1

This French city car may be small, but it still packs in plenty of appeal for buyers looking for something cheap to buy and run. Part of a platform-sharing exercise with Peugeot and Toyota (see below), its distinctive styling includes fun, split level headlights and a whole range of colour and trim options. Key to C1’s appeal to younger drivers are the fact it sits in insurance group 1 and returns up to 61 miles to the gallon.

Toyota Aygo

As mentioned above, the C1 was one of a trio of badge-engineered city cars launched in 2005. The Aygo was Toyota’s version of that model and, like the Citroen, it’s cute, compact, and easy to drive, as well as cheap to run. It’s also available in a large range of striking colour combinations, giving it some personality. The only downside is that it’s in insurance group 3, but it makes up for that with a good economy of 61mpg and cheap tax. Find the right spec (pre-2017 with less than 100g/km CO2) and you won’t pay anything.

Hyundai i10

It’s perhaps less stylish than some of its compact competitors, but the smallest Hyundai is still a worthy contender for many of the same reasons. Launched in 2007, the Hyundai is reliable, cheap to run, and comfortable to drive. All versions are relatively well specified and for £5,000 you’ve got a wide choice of first and second generation models, some of which also boast zero road tax.

Skoda Citigo

Like the Toyota and Citroen, the Citigo was launched in 2011 as part of a shared vehicle project between Skoda, VW and Seat. It’s available as a three or five-door hatchback and has the same sharp looks and funky interior as the Seat Mii and VW Up but a generally lower price. It falls into insurance group 2, but boasts a whopping 64mpg official economy - that’s the best of any of the cars on our list. Despite its compact footprint, the Citigo is surprisingly roomy inside, with plenty of space for two adults in the back. Most pre-2017 Citigos cost £20 a year to tax, although a few engine/trim combinations bring that down to zero.

Kia Picanto

The second generation Picanto has the second best fuel economy in our list at 62mpg, and also falls into insurance group 2, helping keep running costs down at a time when the cost of living is rising. It also falls into the £0-£20 tax bracket for most pre-2017 models and thanks to Kia’s legendary generosity all versions come with great levels of equipment. Find a later model (2015-onwards) and it’ll still have some of the manufacturer’s seven-year warranty cover as well.