Car Safety Tips EVERY College Student Should Know

If you’re a college student with a car, go you!

It is SO convenient to be able to drive yourself around. Whether you live on or off campus, cars offer college students the freedom to get groceries, drive to appointments, travel, and more!

I got my little red car as a college sophomore, and Petunia (yes, that’s her name!) has been my loyal companion ever since.

Together, we’ve seen a dozen states, thousands of miles, we’ve sung countless songs, we’ve laughed, we’ve ranted, we’ve cried.

We even rear-ended someone once.


In this blog post, I am talking about car safety tips every college student should know. From bad weather to bad drivers, I’ve got advice for every situation!

Ready, set, go!

  1. Keep up with maintenance
  2. Lock your doors and leave
  3. Keep valuables out of sight
  4. Watch where you park
  5. Prepare for all weather
  6. Follow the law
  7. Stay smart and alert
  8. Keep identification and paperwork in reach

Keep Up With Maintenance

In general, most cars need oil changes between 3000-7000 miles, and it is a good idea to take your car in regularly.

Cars also periodically need new tires, new brake pads, new lights, and a whole host of other tune-ups.

This maintenance can help catch problems before they become big and expensive. A well-kept car is a car that won’t need to be replaced any time soon.

Take it from me. You do NOT want to wait on maintenance.

I once avoided taking Petunia in to check out a funny noise…and then I forgot to schedule an oil change…and it was coming up on time for a new battery…and the tires were kind of old but I didn’t want to deal with it…

Long story short, months later, I finally did take her in, and she needed $1400 of repairs and maintenance.

That’s a LOT of money to spend all at once, especially for a college student. Thankfully, between my husband and I, we were able to spare the expense, but man, did I wish I’d just taken her in regularly.

Find a garage or mechanic that you trust. If you’re unsure or wary about finding someone reliable, ask a professor or other adult who is local to the area about who they trust for their car maintenance.

Lock Your Doors and Leave

It drives me crazy when I see college students get into their cars, put their keys in the ignition…

…and then sit in the drivers seat and play on their phone for 10 minutes before driving away.

This is NOT safe.

Sitting in your car can leave you at risk for crime. Female, non-white, and LGBTQ+ students are more vulnerable than others, but all students can be at risk for theft, assault, and more.

Stay Alert

When walking to your car, especially at night, be aware of the other vehicles and people around you.

In particular, keep an eye out for large vehicles parked close to your drivers’ side door, and watch for cars near yours that have been idling without going anywhere. Pay attention to anyone walking near you.

If you’re at all feeling uncomfortable, walk straight back into the building you came from. Do not return to your vehicle without another person to accompany you.

Even if you feel like you might be over-reacting: Trust. Your. Gut.

The people around you want you to be safe. It is always okay to ask a coworker, classmate, or store employee to walk out to your car with you.

On college campuses, public safety or campus security will often provide walking or driving escorts for students. This is a great resource!

As soon as you get into your car, lock the doors, put your keys in the ignition, and drive away.

Keep Valuables Out of Sight

This one SHOULD seem obvious, but I have to say it anyway.

Car break-ins and thefts are unfortunately a common crime on many college campuses.

But not every thief breaks windows, uses lock-picks, or hotwires the engine to speed off into the night.

In some cases, a thief may simply walk around a parking lot, pulling on door handles until they find one that opens, and then take what’s inside.

Let us not make it THAT easy for them.

If you have expensive or valuable belongings in your car, such as a computer, camera, musical instrument, or ANYTHING that you wouldn’t want to get stolen, do not leave it unattended in your vehicle.

Best option is to always bring your valuables with you when you get out of your car, if it safe to do so.

2nd best option is to tuck valuables and other belongings away, out of sight, hidden, in the trunk of the car or under one of the seats…and then LOCK the car.

Park your car in well-lit areas near other cars. A car thief doesn’t want an audience.

Another way to deter a thief is to keep your car as clean and uncluttered as possible.

An empty car is not nearly as enticing as a car with clothing, phone cords, shopping bags, spare change, snacks, etc. all over the back seat.

And please, please, whatever you do. Do not keep your car keys in your car.


Watch Where You Park

Parking is PREMIUM on college campuses, and parking passes are often expensive.

Many college students get creative by parking in alleys, nooks, strangers’ driveways…

While I can’t say I’ve never parked in questionable places, it is something that I would advise you to be careful about.

At the bare minimum:

  • Follow all posted signage, especially relating to accessible parking, fire lanes, and parking near schools, government buildings, and bus stops.
  • Park 5 feet away from any driveway, residential or commercial.
  • Park 10 feet away from a fire hydrant. Always.
  • Do not park on private property without permission.

It is much easier than you’d think to get ticketed or towed, even if this is some place you or your friends have parked hundreds of times before.

If it is important for you to have consistent, convenient parking on campus for health or work-related reasons, it might be worth speaking to your disability resources center (health) or your supervisor (work).

In some cases, you may be able to receive a free or discounted parking pass. It never hurts to ask!

Prepare for ALL circumstances

This one is for my Minnesotan peeps.

When you are clearing snow and ice off your car…clear ALL of your windows, headlights, tail-lights, and roof.


No joke though, when the weather is questionable, a lot of college students can be over-confident in estimating their snow or ice car-handling skills.

When possible, avoid driving in snow or heavy rain.

If you have to drive: leave early, go slower than you think you need to, leave plenty of room to brake at intersections, and always turn your headlights on.

It’s also important to keep a winter emergency kit in your car. My car has a shovel and an ice scraper, as well as a blanket, and a small bag with a first-aid kid, snacks, and handwarmers.

When driving in bad weather, text someone to let them know when you leave, where you are coming from, and where you are going. (Heck, even when driving in good weather, this is a good habit to have)

For non-weather related circumstances, I also keep a tire-pressure gauge, tire-changing tools, and jumper cables in my car.

Follow The Law

The basics of following the law (may vary by state):

  • Every single person in your car needs to be wearing a seatbelt.
  • If there are not enough seatbelts, you have too many people in your car.
  • The person driving your car needs to hold an active driver’s license, and have it on their person.
  • If it involves using a phone for anything other than directions, the driver of the car should not be the person doing it.
  • The substances you choose to put in your body are none of my business. But when you decide to drive, they become my business. Do NOT drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, or use other controlled or illegal substances and drive.
  • Any alcohol in your car should be kept in the trunk of the car.
  • Do not attempt sexual contact while driving or with the driver of your vehicle while the car is in motion.
  • Use your turn signal, have your head lights on, follow local traffic laws and signs, drive a speed that is safe (first) and legal (second), always look before you change lanes.
  • Your car has a license plate, registration tags, and insurance cards. All of these need to be updated as soon as new ones become available. Do not lose them.

Be Smart

Aside from following the law, there are a few other tips I have for being a smart car owner/driver as a college student.

Be careful about who you allow into your car, and who you allow to drive your car.

Do not race people on the road, tail-gate, or otherwise drive like an idiot.

In general, do not post pictures of your car on social media, especially pictures with the make/model and license plate number visible.

In my household, if the car keys are in the car, they are either in my hand, or in the ignition. No other location options until the keys are outside of the vehicle.

Always know where your spare set of car keys are.

Don’t let your car run out of gas.

Don’t have open containers of alcohol in the passenger’s seat.

Do not leave your car running while it is unattended, unless you are able to also lock your car, aka remote start.

Keep Identification and Paperwork Within Reach

Your driver’s license should always be with you when you are driving.

Know where your car’s registration and insurance paperwork is. Keep that paperwork up to date and keep it somewhere in your car (glove box) where you can easily reach it from the driver’s seat.

This is obviously a privileged thing to say. I know that not every student out there who has a car, is safely able to procure a license, car registration, or car insurance. I am not attacking these students, who no doubt are facing a much more difficult reality than I can even imagine.

Got your keys? Full tank of gas? License? Seatbelt? Let’s GO!

Minnesota-based grad student, future RD, educator, content creator, and mac and cheese expert! Natalie is currently a Masters of Public Health student and dietetic intern at the University of Minnesota, and is on-track to becoming a registered dietitian-nutritionist. She earned her bachelor's degree in Dietetics in 2019 from St. Catherine University.

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