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Top cars for college students

By Posted : 08/31/2010

I love my carPrice is an obvious factor when you're buying a car in college, but don't overlook vehicle safety in your drive to save money.

Safety features help you avoid crashes and reduce risk of injury if you get in an accident, and they save you money on car insurance.

Here are some guidelines:

Bigger is safer, up to a point

No amount of design features can cancel the laws of physics, which is why size and weight of a car are key safety factors.

"But that doesn't mean you have to buy a tank," says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

A mid-sized car provides much better protection in a crash than a tiny compact car, Rader says, but after vehicles reach a certain size, the returns on safety diminish.

Compare models

You might want a small car, though, particularly if you go to college in an urban area and need to zip back and forth to campus easily through traffic, get good gas mileage and fit into tight parking spots.

All new cars--including small ones--have to meet federal safety standards, but some models are still safer than others.

"There's a big difference in how small cars do in the ratings," Rader says.

Once you've decided the type and size of car you want, compare Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ratings online. Search by vehicle category, make or model, and check out the institute's top safety picks.

Used vs. new

New cars have more advanced safety features than older cars. All new SUVs today, for instance, are equipped with electronic stability control to prevent them from rolling over. Rader says he would avoid any used SUV that does not have electronic stability control.

With any used car you're buying, look for one with side air bags, especially if you're considering a small car, Rader says.

Once you've narrowed your choices to a few makes and models, get car insurance quotes on those vehicles to learn which is cheapest to cover.

Barbara Marquand is a writer with more than twenty years of reporting experience for newspapers, magazines and Web sites. She writes frequently about insurance and other business topics.

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