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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Life in the Fast Lane: Driving at Dartmouth

One writer talks to students about what it’s like to own a car on campus.

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It can be tempting to escape Hanover at times — to flee a difficult midterm, a messy breakup or the prospect of spending another Friday night in the same sticky fraternity basement. Yet Dartmouth’s rural location means that it can take several hours to travel to a larger town or city. Though there are options for leaving Hanover — such as riding the Dartmouth Coach to Boston or New York or renting a ZipCar — these can be costly or inconvenient. If those options don’t work, students can be left feeling trapped in the “Dartmouth bubble.” 

Instead, to gain more freedom, some students bring their cars to campus. 

Laci Pendergraff ’24 said she has kept her car at Dartmouth for multiple terms, primarily because she finds that it gives her more flexibility to travel on the weekends. 

“I have gone on trips to Burlington, Vermont and Boston,” she said. “I’ve been to the beach in Ogunquit, Maine quite a bit.”

According to the Dartmouth Student Affairs website, students who bring a vehicle to campus must register it with Transportation Services. The designated parking lot for undergraduate students is A-Lot, which is located past the Alumni Gym on East Wheelock Street. Parking permits for the lot are $77.25 per term. 

However, many students are frustrated with A-Lot because of its location. The lot is approximately one mile away from Baker-Berry library, the de facto center of campus. Pendergraff said that A-Lot’s location has been the biggest drawback to having her car on campus.

“It’s not really feasible to have a car during the winter term,” Pendergraff said. “I don’t want to walk a mile there in the cold.” 

Pendergraff added that A-Lot’s design — an open parking area as opposed to a garage — means that cars are  “not protected from the elements.” This, Pendergraff said, can lead to wear and tear on students’ cars, especially since Hanover can experience extreme weather conditions in all seasons — according to the Western Regional Climate Center, Hanover experiences on average up to 70 inches of snow a year. 

Other than A-Lot, students also have the option to park their cars in parking lots owned by Greek houses or outside of their “off-campus” living spaces. While there is no registration fee through the College for these spots, they can still be pricey. Some fraternities hold blind auctions, which encourage students to submit high bids that can easily reach more than $500, whereas other organizations, such as Panarchy, advertise their spots with a set price. Panarchy publicized that they were selling their parking spots for $200 per term, according to an email they sent out at the end of the 2024 winter term. 

Although Dartmouth does not permit first-year students to bring vehicles to campus, Cate Pittman ’27 said she has access to a car because she shares one with her sister Allison, a junior who lives off-campus.

“A-Lot is really far away, [but] my sister’s off-campus house is much more convenient, so that’s nice,” Pittman said.

Another challenge some students face is getting their car to Hanover, especially when they live far away. Some students, however, find a way to make the trip an enjoyable experience — crafting it into a quintessential coming-of-age road trip, Pittman said.

Pittman said her sister, for instance, drove their car from Menlo Park, California to Dartmouth — a 48-hour trip in total.  

“My sister made a whole road trip out of it,” Pittman said. “She spent a week going to national parks and seeing her friends across the country.”

Like Pittman, Cooper Hartshorn ’27 shares a car with his sister Amelia, who is a junior. They drove their car to campus in the fall from Bozeman, Montana, which Hartshorn described as a “very scenic” but long trip – four days in total. However, he added that he and his sister would take advantage of their long drive by stopping every few hours to explore and even hike some trails along the route. 

Pendergraff also drove her car from her hometown in Oklahoma. The drive takes around 26 hours, which she split across two days. 

“The first time I brought [my car] up was sophomore fall,” she said. “Two of my best friends from Dartmouth flew home with me, and then we drove up together.”

In addition to frigid walks to A-Lot and getting the car to campus, some students struggle to manage repairs, both big and small, for their cars. Hartshorn said he and his sister have experienced their fair share of car trouble. 

“In the fall, we had to replace the starter, which was kind of problematic,” Hartshorn said. “It's pretty expensive, but after [the starter was replaced], I thought [the car was] fixed.” 

However, a few weeks later — as Hartshorn attempted to return to campus from a weekend away in Sunapee, N.H. — the car failed to start. 

“We started panicking because we had to get back,” Hartshorn said. “We were trying to flag anyone down on the road.” 

After attempting to jumpstart the car with a portable battery with no success, Hartshorn called a tow truck that eventually helped the two start their car.

When the siblings returned to campus, Hartshorn said they took the car to a mechanic and assumed the problem was fixed. However, when his sister tried to drive a friend to the train station during the winter term, Hartshorn said the car failed to start again. At that point, Hartshorn said he and his sister knew the car was essentially dead. 

And after all this fuss, having a car doesn’t always mean having the time to drive it. Pendergraff said that having a car is nice in theory, but she does not get to drive it as much as she would like. 

“I would say for the most part, having a car here is more inconvenient than convenient,” Pendergraff said. “I had my car for pleasure, and you think you’re going to get to drive it quite a bit, and you just don’t.”

It’s no secret that having a car on campus can be more trouble than it’s worth. That trip out of town that you insisted you needed to take might result in a flat tire or an accident. You can’t leave for winterim without praying that your car battery doesn’t die after being deserted in A-Lot for more than a month. One minute you’re having a great day, and the next you’re frantically calling auto shops in the Upper Valley between classes to see who can fit you in to replace your starter. 

However, despite all of his car’s issues, Hartshorn expressed appreciation for the times he was able to use it. 

“I was the transportation secretary for [the club soccer team] and would bring gear to the field [with the car] every single day,” Hartshorn said. “I went on a couple hikes, mostly Gile. And I went to the Skiway a couple of times. In the fall, it was amazing … I’m very fortunate to have a car here. ”