Noooooooooo. Photo from flickr user alicegop

Today’s guest post comes from Jake Holmes, a senior at the University of Michigan where he’s studying French. If you would like to write a guest post, shoot an email to [email protected].

Having a car while in college can provide some serious mobility—the ability to shop off-campus, visit friends at other schools, and to cruise around American Graffiti style. But at some point you have to stop driving and start parking, which is where the problems begin. Parking tickets are annoying and can cut into your beer fund, having your car towed is ridiculously costly, and car thieves can make your life miserable. Here are our top tips to help you avoid these college parking headaches.

Do you need to drive?
Consider first whether it’s even advantageous to drive. On many campuses, navigating stop-and-go traffic and finding a parking space can mean driving takes just as long as walking. Not only are walking or cycling often as quick as driving, but they also serve as great sources of exercise.

Most college campuses offer bus services that are free for students. While you won’t get the health benefits of walking, taking free public transport saves time and money (because you’re not burning gas or paying to park.) It’s also a great idea during colder months, especially for those of us studying in the northern states.

If having a car is a necessity, it needn’t always be your own. For many students who drive just a few miles per month, Zipcar can be an effective solution. The car-sharing service is now available on over 120 campuses nationwide. While there is a monthly membership fee and hourly rate to rent vehicles, Zipcars have their own assigned parking spaces and come with free gas, solving two of the biggest car-related headaches.

Check the small print
Always be sure to double-check the rules when you park because college campuses are notorious for imposing strict parking rules. Often streets that offer free or metered parking during the day prohibit overnight parking by towing in the wee hours of the morning. We have a friend whose car was towed overnight: he parked legally in the evening, but left the car overnight in an area that prohibited parking between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The small print can also be to your benefit. Most parking meters are only enforced between certain times on certain days—typically 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. If you’re parking outside of these times, save your quarters and enjoy the free parking. We frequently see people wasting money for parking meters late at night, so check out exactly when they’re enforced.

Some helpful tips
Once you’ve gotten parallel parking down to a fine art, be smart about parking. First, always take a few seconds to remember where your car is. Your cameraphone is great for this: in a parking structure, snap a picture of the sign indicating which floor and section you parked on. When parking on streets, try to take a picture of the street signs at the nearest intersection. If you can’t take a photo, at least write down the cross streets. This will let you ask directions from locals should you forget where you parked.

Finally, don’t be a victim to crime. It goes without saying that you should always take your keys and lock your car. But it’s also important to remove any incentive for break-ins. This means you should avoid leaving valuables on show: hide your iPod, cellphone, and GPS in the glovebox or take them with you. Also remember to remove the tell-tale windshield suction mount from your GPS device. You should also avoid leaving backpacks or other bags on display as thieves may assume they contain laptops, textbooks, or other valuables.

We can’t promise you’ll always find a spot across the street from your classroom, but our tips certainly provide a good starting point for anyone planning to bring their car to a college campus.