I am moving to Pittsburgh for 5 years. As a student, all public transportation in the entire city (+ shuttles and escorts from any university) are free for me. I also plan to live near the university (short bus ride).

Is it worth it to a buy a car in my situation? I've never lived in the US before and not sure if transportation will be a huge pain? Doing some calculations, the estimate cost for buying and using/maintaining the car for the 5 years are gonna be 15k. This is something I can afford, but would gladly save if it's not gonna massively affect my life quality.

Do you think it's worth it to buy a car in my situation, for non-work/study purposes? I know this will differ from person to another but think of me as the average person in terms of how many events I like to go to etc. Or would using Uber and relying on busses for work a cheaper and still convenient?

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    We cannot know how 'convenient' it would be for you to go without a car. Only someone with intimate knowledge of both your transportation habits and your intended location can answer that. I think the best answer would be 'if transportation is otherwise free, avoid the expense if it doesnt have a meaningful impact on your life'. I recommend you try living without a car, and only buy one if you actually need one. Jul 12, 2016 at 18:28
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    Many (most?) college students don't have a car, especially students at colleges in large cities.
    – stannius
    Jul 12, 2016 at 18:56
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    Depends on the city. In Chicago or New York, a car would be vastly more trouble than it was worth [example: to buy a parking spot in my building in downtown Chicago would be $30k, plus HOA fees associated with ownership of that spot; to drive it many places would then require paying for parking at the destination], whereas in Austin or Los Angeles you'd need to plan carefully to avoid needing your own motor vehicle. (Note "motor vehicle", as opposed to "car" -- in many environments, a scooter can be a better choice). Jul 12, 2016 at 19:14
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    Think carefully about the weather in Pittsburgh for much of the academic year before you conclude that a scooter is the right choice for you. Jul 12, 2016 at 19:45
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    No, buy a bicycle! Worked great for me in Chicago with a similar set-up with public transit. Perfect for going out on the weekend, getting to class, running errands. Terrible for picking up groceries or heading out of the city. Daily grocery/market trips got me what I needed or I would use Uber once a month for a big haul. Still I saved tons of money forgoing parking/insurance/fuel costs. Just make sure to wear a helmet or that savings will be spent on medical care. :P Jul 12, 2016 at 20:31

9 Answers 9


I recommend you wait until you get to Pittsburgh before you decide. Start without a car, and then you can take some time to decide if not having a car is too inconvenient.

In addition to buying and maintaining the car, you might have additional expenses and hassles such as parking. You won't know until you get to Pittsburgh how bad the parking situation is where you live and where you want to drive to.

You can always buy a car later. But if you rush out to buy a car and then decide that you don't need it, you'll have to go through the hassle of selling it.

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    Yes - and if you need a car occasionally, join Zipcar (there are possibly other car sharing services) and get a car - and pay for it - only when you need one. You can certainly put off buying a car while you decide ... and perhaps even indefinitely.
    – davidbak
    Jul 13, 2016 at 22:32
  • Couldn't have made it any better! Its such a nice piece of advice Jul 14, 2016 at 7:15
  • @davidbak is right if you just need a "normal" car for things like big shopping trips. If you want to transport a mountain bike/cello/armchair you may struggle
    – Chris H
    Jul 14, 2016 at 9:56
  • @ChrisH A good point, but some of these car-sharing services have minivans and trucks too.
    – David Z
    Jul 15, 2016 at 15:50
  • Add insurance, registration, inspections, etc. Also, the car will only go down in value. Aug 4, 2016 at 16:59

Having lived in Pittsburgh for a number of years as a college student, I can say that having a car isn't totally necessary. The public transportation is good (but not great), and there is a lot relatively close to the university area. The city's not very large, so taking a taxi / Uber / jitney almost anywhere won't cost much unless you get stuck in rush hour or stadium traffic. The bike infrastructure is also very good, so I highly recommend getting around by bike so long as the weather allows it. In summary, hold off getting a car until after you get there, you may very well find that you're getting along fine without it.

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    +1 for an answer extremely tailored to the OP's question.
    – stannius
    Jul 13, 2016 at 7:27
  • I think Lyft/Uber and ZipCar (a car rental service geared towards students) can easily replace owning a car and save the OP money. Jul 13, 2016 at 15:30
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    As a fellow Pitt alumnus who lived in Oakland for 5 years, I can vouch for this answer. The bus system is reliable (although can get very crowded at rush-hour peak times). Zipcars are available in Oakland, and Uber's and Lyft's footprints are established and growing in the Pittsburgh area. The bicycle suggestion is also great: there are many back roads that give an advantage to bikes, and bike lanes are available on traffic-heavy streets. Another consideration is the liability of a car in Oakland. Street parking can lead to damage from poor parkers and drunken students.
    – BradV
    Jul 13, 2016 at 20:59

If you do not know that you need/want the car for specific reasons, you should not be buying it. This applies to all purchases, actually.

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    This answer should be taught to people from a very young age and continuously throughout their lives.
    – camden_kid
    Jul 13, 2016 at 12:57
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    @camden_kid And Do you really want it ? Wait two days and you'll probably won't want it anymore. :)
    – A.L
    Jul 13, 2016 at 21:23

A car is a significant investment, and since you are asking here, I'm going to assume money IS an object... So...

Before jumping the gun, move up the transportation ladder logically.

  • If walking doesn't suffice, try biking.

  • If biking doesn't suffice, try public transit. There will be rainy days anyhow, so you will probably use a combination of both.

  • If public transit doesn't suffice, perhaps a scooter will suffice during the warmer months.

  • Lastly, if you consistently need more room than a scooter can offer, consider a small used vehicle.

If you are not handy or familiar with cars, consider a pre-owned vehicle from a reputable dealer with a good warranty. City driving + extreme temperatures in Pittsburgh + salted roads leads to wear and tear.

Good luck!

  • A student who can spare 3k a year... I'm not so sure that money is an object for OP!
    – AndyT
    Jul 13, 2016 at 14:45
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    Not sure this is the greatest advice in the world. The cost of a bike and scooter would be a big chunk of what a reasonably priced used car would cost. But giving the options that are already available for free a try (walking and public transportation) are a good start. Jul 13, 2016 at 21:20
  • @JustinLardinois: Biking is good exercise. If I recall correctly, the research shows that daily cycling tends to make a person live longer. But you're right about the scooter. Aug 9, 2016 at 6:36
  • @unforgettableid You're not wrong, but is that really relevant on Personal Finance? Aug 9, 2016 at 7:05
  • @JustinLardinois: My comment about biking was off-topic, but still interesting and useful. If you live a longer, healthier life, you can earn more money and spend more money before you croak. You can also spend less on healthcare costs: doctor bills, insurance co-pays, over-the-counter drugs, and the like. Aug 9, 2016 at 15:28

If you plan to use your car once or twice per month (for example only during the weekend), you should also consider car rental. It may cost you less money to rent a car when needed than paying for your own vehicle. Even if you don't use your own vehicle, you'll have to pay insurance, parking, technical maintenance and if you're unlucky, breakdowns. These costs are included when renting a car. Fuel and tolls can be omitted because you have no choice than to pay them, with a rented or personal car.


Of course you should wait until you get there and try out the city before making a choice.

However I want to note that having a car while in college also has more costs associated.

  • friends will want to borrow car. If they do, college kids driving cars they don't own are the worst drivers.

  • friends will ask you to drive them places. This means not only you lose out on gas and general running depreciation but you will also lose out on time.

  • by driving a car all the time you will meet less people and lose the campus experience.

  • when you do meet a girl/guy, there may be an expectation that you will pick them up for outings. Sometimes this is good but more often a general pain.


What most people don't realize, is that While buying a car is an investment, owning a car is expensive. The average commuter pays 50$-100$ a month on a car, and that's not including preventitive maintence, cleaning, and even if they can fix the car themselves.

Then you'll also probably have to get tools, a first aid kit, tire patch kits, a pump, fire starters, etc. for emergency situations. These tools wouldn't be optional, if you've got a blown tire, you NEED to have the means to patch it, or replace it, and be on your way. They're simply part of commuting by car.

And while a bus&sub pass may cost you up to 20$ a month, the car will cost you many times more.

So, for the leisure of anywhere you want to go, is it worth the extra ~50$ a month + startup?


Another factor to consider is the significant regulatory burden in Pennsylvania, which includes at least car insurance, titling, registration which must be "renewed" every year, and "safety" and emissions inspections every year. Both the initial and annual activities require fees. Even if you can afford all these items, they still entail a lot of work and the threat of penalties if not completed to the DMV's liking. Of course there will also be an initial sales tax if you buy the car in PA, and PA currently has the highest gasoline tax of any US state. Warrantless car searches have been authorized in PA since 2014.

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    I'd hardly call Pennsylvania's requirements "extreme", all states have insurance, title, and registration requirements, and while only 11 other states require safety inspections, most states have mandatory emission checks in at least some areas - and for many of those states, the emission checks were mandated by the federal government. A safety & emissions check can be done in about an hour if you make an appointment (or the inspection station is not busy), so it doesn't take a lot of effort - the $50/year annual inspection fee is probably not enough to sway a decision about buying a car.
    – Johnny
    Jul 13, 2016 at 5:10
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    I'd be more concerned about the hundreds of dollars a month to park the car than the $100/yr you'd spend on registration and inspection.
    – RubberDuck
    Jul 13, 2016 at 9:13
  • This is a great answer, and another good reason the OP should abandon the silly idea of buying a car. Total waste of money.
    – Fattie
    Jul 13, 2016 at 16:50
  • @Johnny: You're right. I therefore made an edit to replace the phrase "extreme regulatory burden" with "significant regulatory burden". Aug 9, 2016 at 15:32

As a grad student who lived in Pittsburgh, if you're living close to Pitt or CMU, don't buy a car. Parking is a pain on-campus and downtown. About the only place where it made sense to drive to go out on the weekends was the Southside or Mt Washington and that only trumped taking public transit because I could stay out as late as I wanted. Even with my car, living in the Northside, I still took the bus most of the time to campus due to the headache (and cost) of parking. I only drove if I were planning to go outside the city directly from class.

Given your particular situation, it seems you have less reason to need a vehicle to travel much. And likely, for instances that you would need to get out somewhere, you either could get a rental or ride with a friend who has a car.

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