By on May 31, 2007

The American Automobile Association recently calculated the average cost of driving a car. News flash: your automobile is devouring your children’s college fund to the tune of 52.2 cents per mile. Multiply that number by 15k miles and decades of driving, and automotive ownership costs make Ivy League tuition seem like a bargain. Thankfully, you can lower your cost of ownership (of the car) with three strategies. Each one will put a nice six figure dent back into your savings account, and a big fat smile on your face whenever you turn the key.

The first strategy is conservation: spending as little money as humanly possible. Automotive conservationists aren’t motivated by performance, comfort or snob appeal. All they want to do is get from Point A to Point B while keeping as much money in their pocket as humanly possible. They want to save in the showroom, at the pump, after service and at trade-in time.

Conservationists are, by their nature, small car aficionados. They’re willfully oblivious to the fact that small cars are an SUV’s accidental toe jam. They happily endure cramped quarters, sloth, low status and any of the other so-called downsides of owning a small, “boring” car. They concentrate on their econobox’s purchase price and operating costs.

Conservationists are big fans of Kia, Hyundai, Suzuki, Subaru and, of course, Honda and Toyota. They’re value junkies who scour the value of used cars before they even think about buying a new one.

To become a conservationist, find someone who drives a small, cheap, boring car who can tell you how much they spend on their car per month AND annually. Internet owners’ forums are an invaluable resource. Just register on a site dedicated to an inexpensive small car (“Cheap bastard” ought to do it) and post a thread asking “How much does it cost to run your X?”

The second strategy is endurance.

When most folks think of a car that last forever, they think of an old Volvo or Mercedes. That’s so last century. These days, most every automobile built can crest 100k miles without much trouble. In fact, 150k is the new 100k: the way point that tells an owner that he or she’s found a machine that can go the distance. Which is, let’s face it, one of your cheapest possible ownership options.

Frugal endurers are closet conservationists. They tend to pay cash up front (they consider monthly payments and interest charges an automotive fashion victim’s sin tax) for two-year-old or older cars.

They’re looking for vehicles blessed with [documented] factory-approved maintenance that have passed the “is it a lemon?” threshold. They look for unloved, low-spec models. Depending on their dedication, they’ll happily forgo such basic comforts as air conditioning and power door locks.

As endurers aren’t looking to trade in their wheels (i.e. they plan to run the vehicle into the ground), they couldn’t care less about their purchase’s short-term residuals. It’s all about keeping the car going, to get to those “cheap miles” at the end of the [hopefully] epic ownership period. And that means fastidious maintenance, extended warranties and celebrating the inevitable wear-and-tear.

To benefit from endurers’ sagacity, buy the most reliable car you can and hold it as long as possibly can. Period.

Mule trading is the third money saving strategy.

Mule traders buy from used car auctions. They buy whatever vehicle [they believe] will hold its value in the retail market. Due to a fickle public and sinister depreciation curves, many mule traders skip the way cool late model stuff and go for ‘sleds;’ vehicles that cost $5k or less. They drive em’, fix em’, sell em’, rinse and repeat.

Of course, not all mules are broken down beasts of burden. There are plenty of hot (though inexpensive) used cars available at auction that will protect the mule trader’s money (e.g. the Mini Cooper, Scion Xb, and Honda Fit). After anywhere between six months to 18 months, the traders simply sell the vehicle to a dealer, who uses them as high profit ‘finance fodder.’

The mule trader takes on the depreciation risk on the assumption that today’s hot new car will be tomorrow’s hot used car. The keen-eyed mule trader gets a higher trade-in value for the car, the dealer receives a larger profit off the financed vehicle.  Everyone wins– save for the poor bastard with the hot car and large monthly payment.

Whether you reduce your overall automotive operating costs by conserving cash, fixing costs (endurer) or taking advantage of automotive fashions (mule trader), there’s always an opportunity to save a chunk of change on your motoring expenses. The challenge: determining which mindset best suits your budget, skills and time. As Patek Phillipe’s ads used to say, choose once but choose wisely.

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94 Comments on “Car Buying Tips: Three Ways to Reduce The Cost of Owning a Car...”

  • avatar

    Well, well, we all know this, but, if we lived like this, we wouldn’t be reading your post, we’d be rummaging thru old issues of Consumer Reports to find what car was recommended in 1995.

    Gotta go, the grocery store probably has some stuff past their best before-dates they will give away, and I think I probably have to water and weed my back-yard potato patch, too!

  • avatar

    I put myself in the first group and I am proud of the fact I have 175K and still going on my jalopy. I keep cars 6-10 years on average and could car less about resale since from my hands they go to the yard.

  • avatar


    At most auctions if not all, only dealers are allowed to buy vehicles. Adesa, Manheim do not cater to the general public.

    If you go to an auction, you would realise that “mules” and “donkeys” sell for more money than “thoroughbreds”. The donkey that comes across as a good deal, ends out being more money that the thoroughbred.

    Its fascinating to see how high a mule can reach by bidding it up in $100 increments.

    Are you forgetting the manufacturers and new car dealers that take mules, blend them in a cocktail of financial services, extended warranties, upholstery protection, and turn them out in a 36 month closed end.

    The real fun begins when these mules come back to the barn after their 36 month lease.

    Its a worst mule than when it left, but the manufacturer put the residual of a thoroughbred on the mule.

  • avatar

    As noted in a previous post, all most people care about is reliability and long life.

    Handling? Performance? Driving pleasure?
    Who worries about such things in the middle of a traffic jam on the daily commute.

    In summary: This is why Toyota is the success that it has become.

  • avatar

    Steven: an interesting editorial, but you mention extended warranties as a tool for saving money, and I disagree.

    A few words on extended warranties. They serve two functions: as insurance and as a sales tool. They are insurance in the sense that if your car breaks down, and the breakdown is covered by the warranty (it may not be) and you can prove it is not your fault (you may not be able to) then, the warranty company will pay form some work to be done by a mechanic, often of their choosing.

    The thing about insurance that people don’t realize is that it is a bet between a consumer with limited knowledge and a large company that does this for a living. You are as likely to come out ahead buying insurance as you are playing craps for the first time at a Harrah’s.

    Why do people buy insurance? two reasons: (1) they have to, by law or because their lender forces them to or (2)the insurance covers a loss they cannot sustain. If you can’t handle replacing your house or your earnings, then homeowners and life insurance are something to investigate.

    Waranties are another matter. In my book, if you can’t afford to have your car fixed, you probably shouldn’t be driving it. Buy a cheaper car, and put $50 a month in a special account to pay to keep your car on the road, rather than paying a warranty company. If you are lucky and maintain your vehicle well, that $50 a month is your eventual down payment on the next jalopy.

    The other function of a warranty is as a sales tool. Inevitably, your warranty will turn out to cover only part of the work the mechanic tells you is necessary. “Oh no, we can’t let you drive out of here with your car in such dangerous shape!” It’s a sales tool.

    A long way of saying that buying warranties are for suckers.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    Come on, tell me something I can really use! If we were the kind of folk who just wanted a method of PointA to PointB transport, we wouldn’t be reading this.
    You get what you pay for, (generally, some deals are out there), a monthly payment is the cost of having a reliable, comfortable, enjoyable vehicle.

  • avatar

    Haha! I’m such a CYSLAPPER. Proud owner of a ’97 Camry-with-a-maintenance-fund-bank-account-set-up-for-it!

  • avatar
    Sid Vicious

    I’m probably one of the greatest Cheap Bastards you’ll ever meet and I read this site religiously. And I’m a car guy. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    Paid $3K for a 1995 Mazda 626 with 120K miles on it 5 years ago this month. It now has 240K miles on it and only normal maintenance in the meantime – tires, brakes, exhaust, timing belts, and I had to put a $120 radiator in it at 190K. 33 MPG at 80 MPH and 35 MPG at 70 MPG. Operating costs (depreciation, fuel, maintenance, insurance) come out to be around 15 cents/mile beating the hell out of the AAA/IRS number.

    As a poster above mentioned – how much fun is your WRX at 5 MPH in a construction zone. Or similarly at 80 MPH in a straight line on I-75. Not to mention getting pelted by stones off of trucks, etc.

    But having a daliy beater taking the bullet day in and day out allows me to enjoy my RX7, Mustang and BMW motorcyle on the weekends.

    And another upside is I have cash in the bank to drop on a just about any new car I want whenever I want. But I hate depreciation….

  • avatar

    Yeah I guess I’m a number 2 guy[I,ve been called worse]
    Any way I figure you buy the car you want new, or gently used.
    Try and get the balance of factory waranty.I agree with the other posters extended warrantys are a scam.They are a way to get you back to the dealer.
    You gotta set up a car repair account and stay on top of maintenance.
    Then you drive em until they are not worth fixing and that can be a hard call to make.
    Note to married guys with two or more cars.Let wifey use the best and most reliable.
    Once a week wash em, do tire preasure check, fluids!look for leaks.
    You can get amazing service out of the modern automobile
    and save tons of money and at the same time drive the car you want.Yeah the number 2 guy is the way to go

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    Most people here, like me, probably want to have their cake and eat it too. The TTAC Top 10 lists didn’t feature a single car that was not fun to drive. With that in mind, most of us who don’t want to sell our first child to own a car do the following:

    1) buy a 1-2 yr old car: depreciation is highest in the 1st yr and second highest in the next yr. Depreciation rates tend to smooth out beginning in yr 3.

    2) focus on cars with high depreciation rates: sort of follows from 1.

    3) drive whatever you buy as long as you can and don’t worry about subsequent depreciation. Cars aren’t appreciating assets in general so the longer you drive the car, the more value you get.

    So where do these rules leave a car lover? Here are some examples:

    Mazdaspeed 6: In my area, you can get a MS6 loaded with virtually no miles (under 100 miles) for as little as $25k. Non-loaded models with low miles (under 10K) are available for low twenties.

    CTS-V: Wait one yr and your $53K rocket can be had with virtually no miles (again under 100 miles) for around $40K. Wait another yr and the car can be had with less than 10K miles for low thirties. Wait for the 2008 CTS to hit the market and watch older versions plummit further.

    VW Phaeton: Probably THE biggest used car luxury bargain of them all.

    You have to be flexible and you have to watch the market, but you can get relatively good value without breaking the bank. Perhaps TTAC next vote should be for the best used car values for piston heads, with a limit that the car can be no more than 3 yrs old. I bet all 3 of the cars I named would be on the list.

  • avatar

    My dad’s a textbook example of a frugal endurer. In his 30 year driving history, he’s owned 5 Volvos and 1 Benz, all purchased used, all with the intention to drive them into the ground (literally…his job takes him on construction sites…he considers the Volvo 240 a Jeep in a sedan suit). His creed: If there’s under 200k on the dash, they’re worth maintaining.

    His driveway currenlty features a ’86 S-Class Benz (the daily driver) and a ’90 Volvo 740 (the beater). I admire the tenacity, both my father’s and the cars’…but after years of being chauffered in fossils, I’m more likely to become a mule trader.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    I am a number 2 guy as well. I bought a 1985 olds and drove it for 17 years. While my friends kept buying a new car every few years and making fun of me for my old beater, I bought condo’s and rented them out. I now own 18 houses and a 65 foot yacht. As BMWs and Mercedes pass me in my 8 year old Crown Vic, or my 9 year old F250, I can’t help but wonder which one of us has a better understanding of the true cost of a car.

  • avatar

    If you can fix stuff yourself it’s helpful. Auto parts (apparently due to severe competition and sourcing in China) are incredibly cheap these days. (Ex: new brake rotors are cheaper than machining your old ones). A lot of stuff I get from Autozone like brake pads has a lifetime guarantee and they’re great with honoring it. Add free labor and you have a formula for real low cost transport. I like Saturn coupes due to the plastic body staying nice, an attractive style, and good handling and gas mileage.

  • avatar

    Here’s another way of looking at it.

    The funding limit on a personal IRA have gone up to $4,000 and will be $5,000 next year.

    $5,000 per year translates to about $400 per month.

    That’s about what I was paying (payment/insurance/registration) for my 2004 Mazda 3.

    Instead, I’m going to drive my 1996 Toyota Tacoma until it falls apart and have my car payment partially fund my retirement.

    And yes, I’m a ‘car guy’. But if the choice is expensive hobby or secure retirement, there is only one option.

  • avatar

    I’m the exact opposite of everything this editorial is about. The rise of Toyota and the mentality of the majority of drivers who view a vehicle as a dishwasher on wheels is why I think that 99 out of 100 people born 10 years from now will have no idea that a car can be a means of enjoyment.

  • avatar

    Preaching to the choir. 18 months ago my ’87 Suburban died (235k miles). I needed a car ASAP and picked up a 2001 Rav4 w/ 54k miles for about $14k. I hope to add at least 150,000 miles to the odometer. I am not sure I will ever be able to justify the cost of a new car.

    So yes, I care about longevity, build quality, etc., but it’d be silly to think that I’d forego comfort. I need A/C (I live in Texas), and how the car fits and feels is important. I passed on some other makes/models (Hondas, Toyotas, and others) because they didn’t feel right, or lacked comparatively minor features.

    I want what I want. Build quality, which nicely translates into safety and reliability) is most important, but that does mean I’ll sacrifice everything on that altar.


  • avatar
    Gerry T

    I always encourage my tenants to buy new cars and big screen TV’s. It ensures they will remain my tenants for years to come.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    We have had considerable success buying quality new cars we can live with for a dozen or more years and that do not require an expensive extended warranty.

    In our experience timely inspections by a local garage, careful attention to fluid changes, correction of minor issues before they become major repairs and a weekly car wash yield peace of mind and cost effective ownership.

    We recently sold our excellent 1995 Toyota Camry with 90,000-miles to a happy purchaser and received 20-percent of its cost new.

  • avatar

    Gerry T for the win here. For anyone but the wealthiest 1%, the car is the second-largest expense after housing in our life. Merciless scrimping on autos is one, often the only, way to have money to spend on housing. You can love driving and still choose to drive a used Corolla if there are other important things in your life.

    I’d love to see more detail on all three of the approaches in your taxonomy of cheapskates, maybe even a step-by-step article-length advice piece for each one. I identify myself as strategy #2, happy to pay a little more cash up front for a late-model used car I can ride for the next 15 years. But I’d love to hear how a mule-trader makes this apparently bad strategy pay off financially.

  • avatar

    You spend a significant percentage of your life in a car. I think that justifies getting something nice and fun. Save money on the shit you don’t need. Why punish yourself with some crappy econobox with no ac? In order of priority, I would say you should splurge on house, food, and car.

  • avatar

    Ditto Steve_S – this article exposes automobile enthusiast blasphemy! May all you “point A to point B’ers” be banished to a lifetime of cavaliers and corollas!

  • avatar

    I’m with Gerry T. While all my friends are dropping $30k on new cars I’m driving an Escort. All the cash I save goes to my rental properties, home, and maxing out my 401(k).

    I bought the 96 Escort 3.5 years ago with 110k for $500 with some minor cosmetic issues. It now has 175k and the only non wear item that I’ve replaced has been the alternator. It still gets 30 mpg. If I “need” a truck I borrow or rent.

    My normal strategy is to find a motivated private seller and low ball him. Then I drive the car for a year or so, clean it up nice, sell for the same price that I paid, and repeat. The ‘scort was just such a good deal I’ve kept it a little longer.

    Oh, and I am a car guy. They are not mutually exclusive.

  • avatar

    I think you might have missed a phenotype and I’m not sure what to call it. How about the “Crud Flipper?” The Crud Flipper buys the first driveable car (Crudmobile) that comes along for the absolute minimum possible price (think low $hundreds) and discards (or sells!) it at the first sign of trouble. The Crud Flipper may even have a small stable of Crudmobiles on hand, for backup when the inevitable happens. Minimum registration fees and zero expense on comprehensive and collision help keep costs low.

    I’ve Crud Flipped myself, buying for $850 and selling for $350 after three years.

    There’s another variant of this, too, the Crud Daddy / Crud Kiddy. That’s a parent (Crud Daddy) who believes that serious insurance $$$ can be saved by assigning the child(ren) (Crud Kiddy) to a Crudmobile as primary operators.

    I’m guilty of that, too.

    More often, of course, the genesis of the Crud Daddy (or Crud Kiddy) is simply to retain an old car that the Crud Daddy would otherwise unload for very little.

    Guilty again.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    For what it is worth, here is how I did it.
    I went to the local technical school here in Calgary at night for 3 years. I learned everything I could about how cars work and more importantly about the people who fix them… which in my case was the students in the room with me.

    At the end, I knew how to fix almost anything on a car, and equally that taking a car to a “mechanic” is an option of last resort.

    In the last 30 years, and to this day I do virtually all the work on my cars.

    Secondly, I have subscribed to Consumer Reports for years. Not just cars, but everything I buy is based on their recommendations.

    I have never owned a new car in my life and probably never will.

  • avatar

    Gerry T:

    I didn’t mind Consumer Reports until they had the temerity to remove the Crown Victoria from the “Recommended” list because they felt that the Five Hundred was a better large car.

    Speaking of the Crown Vic, now there’s an excellent choice for a low-cost (besides fuel) option for the cheapskate route alluded to in this article. As I write this today I am going to look at a 92 CV with 152,000 kms and a leather interior with an asking price of $3500 CDN. I wouldn’t anticipate any problems getting another 152,000 kms out of it if I so desired, and parts are cheap and plentiful.

    In a way, I love gas spikes (we recently reached $1.259/L) because it always coughs up a few creampuffs for me to go and mull over.

  • avatar

    My father would most likely fit into the crud-flipper category only he sometimes makes a profit on his crud. He once bought a 72 4-door Chevelle for $200, painted it for $50 by himself, got hit twice in minor accidents for a gain of $600, them sold the car for $500 after three years of bagging on it. This was in the mid 90’s and I found it absolutely mind-boggling. He also has cars that he loves but uses the crud as a day mule.

  • avatar

    Come to think of it, you missed another phenotype – the Avoider. I do happen to know a couple people who use the bus routinely and for all of their commuting and I know a couple people who don’t own cars at all. And I live where mass transit is bad and pedestrian paths are poor to nonexistent. They have a couple different strategies:

    First, some Avoiders are in the subcategory of Bicyclists. Yep, even in winter. All of the people I know in this subcategory of the Avoider actually work at bike shops.

    Second, they try to pick a home to maximize use of public transportation, such as it is.

    Third, they tend to live close to wherever they work.

    With the introduction of services offering “Car by the Hour”, we might see more Avoiders in the near future.

    The Avoider is probably not entirely in keeping with The Spirit of TTAC but worth mentioning, nonetheless.

  • avatar

    Gerry T that was classic. I also have rental properties and yes I have had some tenants drive nicer cars than me. I have a friend who bought a new Nissan Z Car when I asked how much he paid he told me a monthly payment amount. I don’t remember how much it ws but I remember telling him that wasn’t too bad for a 5 year loan, my friend corrected me and told me it was a 7 year loan.

    Steve_S You make the same mistake that many make in assuming that your tastes and your experiences are what others experience and enjoy. I gurantee you that I love driving and I love my car even if you hate my car.

  • avatar

    Sounds like we need to clarify the definition of “car guy”. In my mind I hadnt pictured someone rollin’ in a ‘96 Escort.

  • avatar

    The other advantage of being a used car buyer is that you don’t have to endure the agony of watching your car slowly (or not so slowly) get despoiled. I purchased my first new (non-company car) a couple of years ago and, in 50,000km, have been hit three times (in all three cases the car was parked, and in two cases the people left) and been subjected to numerous indignities, such as people using it as a temporary perch for their groceries. Next time, I am reverting to being a cheap bastard and go find myself a nice used orphan car.

  • avatar
    jd arms

    Cool article. So much to comment on. I wish I could be a conservationist, but I guess I’m too weak. I like nice cars – preferably with neato-keen options too. Plus, many smaller, older cars make me nervous about safety since I have a little kid.

    However, I also view it/rationalize it like this: Most of my coworkers and buddies have some hobby or interest on which they spend their money – fly fishing equipment and Idaho fishing trips, cruises and travel, green fees and expensive putters and drivers, ski/fishing boats, pool tables, the newest audio/visual gadgetry, computers and gaming systems, wine collections, skiing/snowboarding, women and clubs, dining out, putting in a pool with a cool rock fountain, sports/concert tickets.

    I try to limit those purchases; yes, I lack most of the cool material toys most of my friends have and that probably makes me a little boring – but my cars are always maintained, always clean, always nicer than what people expect from someone like me, (also always slightly used and paid for with cash).

    Like a lot of people who read this site, I like cars, so they take a higher priority in my personal finances. I allow for it, and I can still invest monthly. I also read a lot and do gardening – not very cool I admit, but cheap. Luckily, my friends are pretty generous with their toys – and I’m always willing to be the designated driver/beer run guy – I want a reason to drive. It is a win/win deal.

  • avatar

    It all comes down to what you value. For many, I hazard to say most a car is an appliance. It should be comfortable, reliable and safe and if possible cheap.

    For me it’s moderation. I wouldn’t rent a house or lease a car as I see it as a waste of money (perhaps not on a car lease depending on how often you change cars but then I don’t know much about car leasing) but just like some people are willing to spend more on clothing than others it just depends on what you value. Driving to me is a form of entertainment, it’s not a task or a chore (sometimes it can be of course) but it’s fun and personal. It’s why I don’t mind driving 60+ miles a day and why I wouldn’t want a 5 minute commute if you offered it to me.

    A car is an extension of who you are. It is as much of a telltale sign about you as the clothes you choose to wear or your body language. It’s a look into what you value. Case in point, I have a friend at work who I have know for years. By the 10 year old 180k mile Oldsmobile he drives and his manner of dress I could tell from the day I met him that Frugality is his watchword (he just recently got a cell phone this year but only because he could get on to his father’s family plan where it costs $10 a month. He also just traded in his dialup internet but that was due to his wife’s urging I think). While some don’t always fit into first impressions I think I’m fairly spot on when I say the following: A WRX owner is someone who values performance over styling and luxury, a Prius owner is someone who wants to do their part for the environment while letting everyone else they are green, while the TDI Jetta owner wants decent transportation with really good MPG.

    Carpe diem people. 911 and Katrina have taught me this. Life is precarious and do not put off for tomorrow what you enjoy. Some will squirrel away money hoping to retire at age 45. While I find this noble I for one will exercise moderation and work another 20 years so I can enjoy the fruits of my labor today instead of waiting for a future that may never come.

  • avatar

    26theone – Apparently we do need to clarify the definition of a “car guy.” I thought someone who stays relatively well informed about the auto industry, drives a lot of new cars, does all his own (and others’) repairs and maintenance, modifies and races cars as a hobby, but drives a beater for a daily driver would be considered a “car guy.” Care to enlighten me on what a real “car guy” is?

  • avatar

    A lot of people are assuming that the cost-savers aren’t car people. Sid Vicious hit the nail on the head…for many of us, the cheapo A-B cost-saving car we have is just the daily hack to endure the work commute. Though my Camry is in excellent mechanical condition, it’s missing a couple hubcaps, has dings and dents and scratches, and just generally looks quite horrible – and I don’t care. It’s saving me money and living the “grind” so that I can afford to run an as-yet-unacquired toy on the weekends and evenings!

  • avatar

    Steve_S: Don’t forget that regret later in life is not merely I wish I had done this or experienced that, Regret can also come in the form of “I wish I didn’t shit it all away when I was young”

    It just might be possible that you wish to be financially secure sometime later in your life.

  • avatar

    Steve s I coudn’t agree more with your post.Your vehicle speaks volumes about who you are,and what your about.
    I couldn,t bring myself to drive a Corrola or for that matter a four door Sunfire.
    I also wouldn’t dream of going to work in dirty raggedy clothes.even though I’m a factory worker my blue collar is allways clean and ironed.
    I could search the internet today and find 5 or6 used cars that I
    would consider buying and about 5 hundred I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

  • avatar

    Thats why I speak of moderation. I live in a moderately sized home which I don’t rent, I put in moderate amounts of money into 401k and the children’s education.

    Again it all comes back to what you value. Cars for me are an expense like vacations abroad are for others and so forth and I budget appropriately. As long as you are not at either end of the spectrum as in pissing it all away or hoarding it I think there is a happy middle ground.

  • avatar
    jd arms

    There are as many different types of car people as there are cars. You don’t have to spend tons of money to be a car guy, and you don’t have to be Joe Frugal to be a car guy, and you don’t have to go to the track to be a car guy. In fact, you don’t even need a set of testicles to be a car guy; I know plenty of women who love their cars. To me, you just have to show some interest in cars – my friend who drives a beater Corolla and views it as an appliance – not a car guy. It is easier to define a “non-car-person” than a car person.

    “having the daily beater take the bullet day in day out allows me to enjoy….” Sid Vicious.
    This is an extremely accurate comment, and a strategy I have considered myself for some time. I’m thinking weekday beater, weekend used Lotus Elise.

    Speaking of beaters, a pretty good website is Beater Review. I am in no way affiliated with it, by I recommend it.

  • avatar

    Here are a couple other cost-saving options that I don’t think have been mentioned yet.

    Buying older low-milage cars and buying them privately if possible. Even better, buying them from old people who were anal about maintaining them.

    Looking for used cars that have a history of having something big and expensive fail on them, and buying one where the previous owner already paid to have that repair done. Again, buying privately is the best way to go on this one. It’s a lot easier to verify that the repair was done since the owner will often have the paperwork on hand to prove it.

  • avatar

    My wife bought our VW golf before we met, and got the cheapest she could find. Her argument: little things break, and it was still a nice car even without options. We have crank windows (which I don’t mind), but there’s A/C, autolocks, a nice interiorr, and a great little car overall. Despite its reputation for bad reliability, I’ve just had the change a few cables here and there, as well as the tires.
    The only bad thing (both from a reliability and a hoonery perspectives) is the automatic. I’ve already warned my wife that she’d better learn to drive stick for when we’ll unload the golf (’02, 75,000 miles, and still worth $8k!! Not bad for a car bought for $15k)

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    Kind of leads me to suggest my version of what “The Truth About Cars” is.

    In 1997 you could buy a nice car for $25,000. In the same year you could buy a nice condo in Calgary for about $70,000 with a (healthy) downpayment of $25000.

    In 2007, that $25,000 car is probably worth $2,500. That $70,000 condo is now worth over $300,000. The best part is “car guy’s” monthly rents paid for all my properties.

  • avatar

    Speaking of beaters, a pretty good website is Beater Review. I am in no way affiliated with it, by I recommend it.

    Hey, my 92 Crown Vic is on there! Although, I do have concerns about buying this vehicle, what with all the various power/electric doo-dads that could/did fail.

  • avatar

    jfsvo – Reread your initial post. You said all the cash you save from driving a beater goes into your investments, home and 401ks. Not modding, racing cars, etc.

  • avatar

    You have to be careful with the “depreciation” thing. Buyers will seldom find a “deal” at a new or used car dealership. Individuals have an inflated sense of a vehicle’s worth unless they are “distressed”. Even banks and credit unions hire pros to sell their repos. Many auto auctions are open to public occasionally, but the rules are different. Have any of you had any luck buying through ebay?

  • avatar

    Buy the car you want that meets your needs. Splurge a bit on what you want. But make sure you can afford it. Meticulously maintain it. Regular oil changes and tune-ups and fix as required. Regularly check your tire pressures. Keep your car clean.

    Avoid extended warranties. If you end up having to fix something after the warranty expires, it wasn’t a very good car and avoid buying another one from that manufacturer (hence I am no longer a GM customer due to my Buick).

    Keep your car and USE IT for at least 10 years (get your money’s worth out of it) and repeat.

    All my cars, I’ve kept until they were over 10 years old. Currently, I have a Buick (lemon and will go as soon as hit 10 years), a Pontiac V6 Fiero (owned for 23 years and counting…most reliable car I’ve ever owned inspite of GM dealers attempts to make it otherwise), and a MINI Cooper S (absolutely no issues except the dealer service says they miss me as I only see them once a year for its oil changes).

  • avatar

    Here’s one-buy a car (new) with zero depreciation.

    In August 2005, I bought (new, at full MSRP due to the no-haggle bit) a 2006 Scion xA for 15 grand and change.

    I could now sell the car for 13 grand and change-very good depreciation for a car that’s approaching two years old. And for that, I get to drive a brand new car with air conditioning and power windows and locks and a good stereo and ABS and side airbags for two years for basically two grand plus gas and insurance. The fact that one can still buy the exact same car (2006 Scion xA) at most dealers up until a month ago (there is no 2007 model, so they overbuilt 2006s) helped there a bit.

    Of course, I actually plan on keeping this car for many years, so I’m not actually going to do this.

    Another car where you could pull this trick on (and then some) was the Prius, where, for awhile, the cost of used Priuses was actually more than the cost of a new one, due to the extremely long waiting lists. This no longer applies since Toyota has recently dramaticly boosted production of the Prius.

  • avatar

    26theone – My comment was accurate… I don't put the money I save on transportation into other cars. And it is possible to be a car enthusiast without putting loads of money into them. I was simply responding to your implication that one who drives a beater is automatically less of a "car guy."

  • avatar

    I second the Crown Vic as the ultimate ‘cheap bastard’ car. It gets relatively good mileage (up to 28mpg on the highway with A/C on) comes with tons of standard features, amazing A/C, comfort and excellent reliability. And they are cheap – it’s not uncommon to find an ex-police Crown Vic only a couple years old for well under $8000. And they will last as long as they are maintained – it’s also not uncommon for cab drivers to get up to 500,000 miles out of a Crown Vic with proper maintenance.
    I suppose the ‘cheap bastard’ is ultimately looking for most bang more the least buck, and I think the Crown Vic is that cheap bastard holy grail.

  • avatar

    My auto expenses for the past 12 years have averaged 3500 per, including traffic violations. That gave me an AE86 and now an S13, so I can’t complain…. well, maybe I can.
    When my 240 dies, what is out there on the horizon for me to plunder and pillage? There are no entry-level, practical RWD sporty cars anymore, and I’m pretty sure nobody cares too.

  • avatar

    One additional way of saving money on your car is to forego the collision insurance – NOT the liability insurance. Invest the savings so you have a fund just in case. Now, I don’t do this with my MB in the first few years, but on an older s-box absolutely. Then again I drive conservatively and am prepared emotionally and financially to pay for my own mistakes, dings and crashes.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    In addition to TWAT and TBAG, do we have a new category for cheap bastards to vote on?
    The TAINT award? This Auto Is Noteworthy Treasure

  • avatar

    I’m a number one. I still have “my first car” – a 1993 Honda Civic DX hatchback – manual everything – save the added A/C option. I got it new the summer I graduated college. I had no “wheels” of my own in college or high school – only the two-wheel type with no motor. I have never found myself wanting: this car has space inside, lotsa space when rear seats are folded down. I had a 1.25″ hitch installed and hauled a U-haul storage trailer with it. Had it repainted a few years ago to silver(more conservative) and installed some OEM Honda alloy wheels. It is still FUN to drive – I actually look forward to it.
    The car has gained in value, sentimental value that is. And I really do not see myself giving it up… Thank goodness my wife likes it!

  • avatar

    Gerry T:

    I understand your point, house, condos, rental properties are an investment and of course it makes more sense to drive an old car and invest that money. That is a frugal and practical thing to do. The problem with that is you make the assumption someone has $25k to put as a down payment for a 10-15 year mortgage on top of a mortgage they already have. You also need to be somewhat savvy as to the market and what you are buying. It’s also not particularly fun. A car is not an investment, it’s an expense just like daily lattes, movies and dinner out are a way of life for many.

    My brother builds homes and he of course thinks I’m wasting money. To him I should have a 4 door truck because it’s useful and can haul the family as well as the normal stuff that come with home ownership. He’s right but a little part of me would die every day I drove it.

    To each their own; just be happy you have renters since if everyone was like you no one would live in your properties.

  • avatar

    For $300, I bought an old base-model, no AC or power steering ’92 Sentra E during grad school (three years ago). Drove it for a year in school and a year after getting a great job as a construction engineer.

    I was miserable. It’s not that I don’t like cheap cars – I previously had a Tercel of the same age (with AC and an infinitely better manual steering rack) that I didn’t love but didn’t hate, and I would’ve been very happy with a Civic of that age. But the Sentra was physically a pain to drive.

    So, even though it was still running great, I went nuts and spent $15,000 on a slightly used Miata (curiously it’s been my most problematic car, maybe because I expect everything to work). Yes, I could’ve been a lot more frugal than that but my gods, I was saving my way to clinical depression.

  • avatar
    Jeff in Canada

    Testify Steve S!
    Live for today, with out preventing tomorrow. Simply, do everything you want to today, just don’t go bankrupt doing it!
    I have friends that are polar opposites of me, and think it’s ridiculous how much money someone can spend on cars. I love leasing. I see the monthly payment as the priviledge to drive a great car, that is safe, efficient, and an extension of myself. Not an appliance that performs a task for me. Quality of life is worth something to me. Why bust our asses to make a good living and not enjoy it.
    While I don’t disagree with investing, or real estate, it’s all about priorities. I’m more of a car nut than a stock broker, so thats where my focus is.

  • avatar

    I’m an endurance guy. My Saturn with 165k miles on it is testimony to that. When the Saturn dies (probably around the 250k mark), I’ll get a 4-year-old Corolla with 60k miles for $9,000. That car is good for another 10yr/200k miles. 4.5 cents/mile for the car, 7.5 cents/mile for gas, figure another nickel for maintenance, and you have 17 cents/mile. Oh, and yes, I’ll be paying for it in cash.

    My father-in-law is an extreme mule-trader, though. He’ll get his cars as bank repos on the cheap, usually around $1500, and has the know-how to keep them on the road for years.

  • avatar

    Recently my co-workers were discussing who was more of a car guy:

    Our boss claims he loves cars. He owns a few luxury/sports cars but never pops the hood and trades in at least one every year.

    On the other hand, my office-mate is the person you describe. He drives a 14-year econo-box that runs like new, because he knows it inside and out, does all his own maintenance and hasn’t been inside pro’s shop since his warranty expired.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    excellent point! I will admit to you and everyone else reading this, that the last 3 years I owned my 85 Olds Cutlass, I parked with the fancy cars at the farthest spot from the door. In my case it wasn’t to protect the car, it was because I was embarrased to be seen in it!

  • avatar
    jd arms


    I think they are both car guys, but in the way that the Yankees and the Royals are both baseball teams. I assume your boss has the money to spend on cars, so he spends it. He could choose to spend it on model trains or shoes, but he likes cars. He is a car guy…with a huge budget.

    I am also assuming your co-worker probably does not have as much money like the boss. He has to make sure what he has works, and works well, and it sounds like he enjoys it.

    Both are car guys. Which is more of a car guy? Impossible to answer.

    I think both GerryT and Steve S both have good points. A blend of both strategies is what I find best. I suppose I could save my money for a few years and buy a house or condo and rent it out, and then after a few years, refinance and buy another and then another – for another 20 years until I retire, and then I would be able to buy any car I want. However, if I “get carried off by a twister”, where will I be then? It is the classic “delayed vs instant” gratification quandary. Personally, I invest a proportional amount of money into mutual funds quarterly (which are diversified) and also save for the next car, which I intend to finance as little as possible, if at all. Now I suppose I could go out tonight and purchase/finance a new BMW 335 – I only am going to live once – but then my long-term financial goals would be compromised – as would a lot of other things once my wife saw a new Bimmer in the driveway. So I’ll settle for a slightly used G35 in a couple of years, continue building a modest portfolio, and skip the stupid stuff: the starbucks, the high-def, big-screen televisions, the $125 round of golf.

  • avatar

    Some of my friends spend their money on wine, golf, computers, HDTVs, $300 shirts, bars & clubs, etc. I have no such toys or habits.

    I spent my college years on foot, my grad school years on bikes, and the early years of work on buses.

    It’s pay-back time now! If i’m going to spend most of my time on my ass stuck in an office, then my ass time in my cars better be good. I see no problems with spending some of my hard-earned money on nice cars. I’ve got to live a little.

    I agree that buying 1-2 year old cars is better than new 9I’ll do that from now on). I aslo agree that wasting money on expensive car payments while renting and forgoing retirement is stupid. But after a home, maxed 401 and retirement, no credit card debts, and sufficient saving for college funds and rainy days, it ain’t too bad to splurg a little on a few wheels.

    While I enjoy working on cars, sometimes it’s better to pay others to do it given the costs/benefits of my own time. Spending 3 years to learn how to fix cars is simply not the best way to save when those years can be spent on graduate schools to double or triple your earnings.

    I also agree that $30k can really go toward a down payment, but that will also entail an additional monthly mortgage for the next 20-30 years. Not every “car guy” wants to be a landlord.

    In short, it’s important to prioritize. For example, I would want to make sure that my soon-to-be-born kid is set with a home, college fund, my own life insurance, etc. But, once those priorities are set, I wouldn’t want to deny my baby a ride in daddy’s fast cars. And to deny him or her a chance to ride in a Sparco baby seat is simply child abuse! See, priorities.

  • avatar

    About the only one that I follow is always paying cash.

    My wife, likes paying cash and is currently driving a car she bought nearly 11 years ago when it was one year old. She dreams about other cars, but when we get down to it, she doesn’t want to give up her ’95 Cobra Mustang, which has held its value pretty well since that intial owner took a huge hit. Obviously she doesn’t go looking for the car that has the lowest operation costs particularly at today’s gas prices. However, compared to the cost of trading in on a new car, the small repair bills from time to time are quite sensible. As long as the engine and transmission are in good shape, I don’t see her getting a new car.

  • avatar

    Not to mention, a lot of us spend 10% of our waking lives driving a car. That time deserves a good chunk of our money!

  • avatar

    according to Jeff in Canada:

    “…a monthly payment is the cost of having a reliable, enjoyable, comfortable vehicle.”

    Wrong on all three counts. I drive a 1990 Mazda Miata. It is fun, reliable and in excellent condition. I paid cash for it, and not having a car payment allows you to save up money for car repairs. This idea that you must have a car payment is a lie that has been pedaled by the car companies.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    A few comments…

    The Fit is hardly a penalty box. Its inexpensive, yes, but not Cheap. My sister got one and I’d be deleriously happy with it myself. Yeah, the engine is “hamstermobile” category, but the handling and everything else is spot on, and if I want to go FAST, thats what I have my motorcycles for…

    And you also forgot the “Buy NEW and drive it into the ground”. Buying new means you do take the depreciation hit, but you know the history of the car you bought from new.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    It is Thursday night and my wife and I are about to leave for the airport to fly our island home with a 120 foot dock for our 65 foot yacht… for the weekend.

    To those of you who have said “I want my reward now”, or have suggested that spending years to learn how to fix cars is a waste of time, I have spent the last 25 years arguing with you. (BTW, I have an MBA). If it weren’t for your need for instant gratification, my wife and I wouldn’t be getting on a jet every Thursday night.

    To those of you who have said your priority is a
    better life in the future, rest assured that barring “getting carried off by a twister” you will have the future you are working towards. I am 47, and if I could do it growing up in a single parent household with 5 kids, most certainly you can.

  • avatar

    Gerry T isn’t just the savviest guy in TTAC-land, he’s the most creative. TAINT is a winner!

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    My friends have bimmers and audies. They have lots of stories to tell. I drive Hondas I have cars, but not stories.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Wow, I go to a couple of auctions and the first thing I see when I get to the Editorials section is this article…. with a heckuva lot of comments to boot.

    The ‘best’ long-term strategy is to find one car you like, learn how to work on it, and mule trade whenever possible.

    One enthusiast here mentioned that Adesa and Manheim are the only places you can go to buy a ‘good’ vehicle at auction. In most states there are at least a few auctions that cater to the dealers AND the general public. I also advocate going to private parties because when it comes to most used cars, you’re not really buying a car so much as the ‘driver’ who previously owned it.

    Case in point, I usually buy my wife three types of vehicles. Late 90’s Volvo wagons, Subaru Outbacks, and Chrysler minivans. In each case I focus primarily on those vehicles that have a good track record. It doesn’t necesarily have to be dealer maintained. But I look very closely at the quality of the replaceable components that are usually in easy sight (tires, spark plug wires, fluids, oil filter, etc.). If a person buys cheap replacement parts, they will TEND to be less diligent on maintenance than another owner who uses OEM or other high quality components.

    I also tend to disavow vehicles that have already been purchased through low end used car dealers. We have a saying in the auction business that a vehicle can be ‘cheaped out’ to the point where it will be a chronic problem for the dealer, and potentially to the individual who buys it. A lot of these vehicles end up at public auctions for obvious reasons.

    I would like to offer a couple of pieces of clarity…

    I do not believe that the public should buy vehicles at public auctions unless they know…

    1) How to maintain their cars, and
    2) They are patient enough to learn the tricks that are used in the auction business.

    In my experiences auctioning vehicles around the country, I’ve found that fewer than 2% of the public are capable of doing these two things. The majority of the used car dealers can’t do it either which is why the attrition rate in that profession is so high.

    Okay, a few side notes…

    Frank & Robert put an incredible amount of energy into making this site as entertaining as possible. However in this particular instance I never read the final edit. It may have been my fault due to my schedule. If it’s okay, I would like to offer my apologies and a few good tidbits for the readers.

    1) Extended warranties are generally a bad idea. When it comes to the conservers, endurers, and mule traders, this di-vestment scheme should be put in the proverbial trash.

    2) There are two types of mule traders. The wholesale trader and the retail trader. The wholesale trader is exactly as described. They buy em’, fix em’ and sell em’.

    Retail traders are a completely different animal. Retail traders actually buy a new, or near new car, and 90+% of the time they get it from a dealer. After anywhere from 6 to 18 months, they’ll trade it into the dealer for another hot model.

    The Honda Fit, Scion Xb, and Mini Cooper have been the most recent examples of this. But so have the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Mazda Miata, Pontiac Solstice, Toyota Prius and virtually any other vehicle that has become immensely unpopular at a given point in time.

    The retail trader obviously takes on a depreciation risk. But they also drive a much nicer car on average and don’t have to worry as much about maintenance. You would be surprised how many dealers and auctioneers emulate the activities of the retail trader when it comes to their daily ride.

    3) The key difference between the endurer and the conserver is that Endurer’s are brand loyal, while conservers are cost loyal.

    BOTH can be enthusaists… or not.

    There are endurers who frequent enthusaist sites in the pursuit of fixing a problem that only a fellow endurer can appreciate. Spend some time at the brickboard and you’ll find plenty of em’

    Then again, there are also endurers who simply take their car to a shop of choice and just keep on driving it. The stereotype of the college professor who drives an old Honda, VW or Mercedes is still very much alive today. These folks are endurers because their money, time, and interest is elsewhere.

    Conserver’s can obviously have an Endurer bent given the right vehicle. Any fuel efficient vehicle over the past 20 years can qualify. However most conservers that I’ve known look at their commute as an expense. They try to keep these costs low… but they can also be enthusiasts as well.

    Many of these folks will have a motorcycle, a Miata, a Vespa or even a classic car in their garage. The interesting thing about conservers is that they orientate towards smaller vehicles in general.

    4) Conservers only care about warranties if they’re buying a new or late model vehicle. The majority of them usually buy ’sleds’ due to the lower long-term depreciation costs.

    I’m reading…

    “They’re warranty junkies who scour the value of used cars before they even think about buying a new one.”

    If you change ‘warranty’ to ‘value’, you’re absolutely correct. Conservers are fixated on the value side of the equation.

  • avatar

    For now, I’m an avoider. I’d love to have a car, but the cost of insurance would be rather prohibitive. As it is, I have the TTC, and a project motorcycle.

    That being said, being a car guy doesn’t mean you have to spend huge amounts of money. Obviously, there are sacrifies to make, but it’s still possible to get something reasonably cheap, reasonably reliable, and reasonably fun. I had an old Escort for about a year, and although it was gutless, it was otherwise a pretty fun little car, and rather solid (my roommate has an Escort of similar vintage with 325k kms on it, and it still runs fine).

    I mean, sure, it’d be nice to blow $30k on a really nice car, but I doubt it’d be 30 times more fun to drive than a decent $1000 beater.

  • avatar

    As if I wasn’t depressed enough.

    This article (and the responses), remind me of the story about the smoker. A non-smoker confronts a smoker and trying to use logic, says to him, “Do you realize how much money you spend on cigarettes? If you didn’t smoke, you could buy a mansion!”

    The smoker takes a drag, looks at the non-smoker and replies, “You don’t smoke. Where’s your mansion?”

    Yeah, cars cost money and yes, you can minimize the cost and use that money for other things. But to come across as holier than thou because by driving a beater you have money to spend on a yacht? Come on….

    It’s nice to invest for the future and to buy property, I do that myself. However as some have stated, you can make sacrifices in other areas in order to indulge in your car vice.

    I mean, I’m not really a yacht kind of guy.

  • avatar

    And something else;

    I break my freakin’ ass working as does my wife. We put in a LOT of time at work so our leisure time is very valuable. I want some satisfaction for the hard work as well as some peace of mind. When I choose to buy a car, these factors are as important as how much I spend and how the car performs.

    Those of you that perform your own maintenance, good for you. However, don’t assume that we all have the time. I can make as much as $100 an hour, it is financially frugal to have my local guy change my oil and filter for $30 dollars. It’s even better when the car doesn’t need any service because it is fairly new. But even if I did have the time, that time would be better spent on pursuits higher than doing a tune up.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    “I mean, I’m not really a yacht kind of guy.”


    You would be surprised how many dealers and auctioneers in this business are multi-millionaires with little more than a grade school education.

    I also know more than a few MBA’s in this business that subsist and struggle to no fault of their own. A hard working and decent person is exactly that. Unless they have keys to a Lamborghini.. in which case they’re my new best friend.

    Now for my own Jimmy Swaggert moment. If anyone here thinks that my observations have anything to do with financial salvation, they can feel free to mail their $9999 ‘donation’ to…

    The Lee Iacocca Fan Club (& Non-Profit Church)
    1989 Dodge Dynasty Lane
    Las Vegas, Nevada 21034

    Note: Please don’t send us pictures of a Dodge Dynasty with a trombone case red interior. That is unless Bob Lutz is underneath it.

  • avatar

    My intent isn’t to disparage anybody, only to point out that we have as many different indulgences that cost money, as we have people here.

  • avatar

    You know, if you have a retirement plan, and you are paying cash, you can justify the luxury of about any car you buy. Just so long as you realize its a luxury, and see it as the way you want to spend your money. People who really don’t have a clue on retirement, borrow money (I exempt young people who may be better off borrowing for a new economy car than buying used), or just don’t realize what they are getting into are the only ones making a bad move.

    People who over rationalize the car purchase are likely the ones to really regret it later. What you want, and need, are two seperate things.

    People who enjoy the challenge of getting the most value out of cars are the real winners. They are saving money while having fun. Still, if you have the extra cash, and want to throw it at something you love that is good too.

  • avatar

    PS. In defense of Gerry T, if he actually was building a real estate portfolio over the years in Calgary, Alberta, he very likely is that wealthy. I lived there recently, and that real estate market went insane over the past few years. Anyone who owned a even a couple rental homes is now likely a millionaire. Anyone who doubled down on their holdings is likely a multi-millionaire, and I met a bunch of them.

    Gratz, Gerry T.

    PPS This doesn’t mean that real estate will work for you like it did for him, but it’s never been a bad way to go over the long haul. It helps to own in an area where the government is stealing from everyone by prohibiting land use, and taxing for “affordable housing” for the very poorest (who are actually also being cheated, though they think they are getting a deal).

  • avatar

    >>>foobar: “…the car is the second-largest expense after housing in our life.”

    Close, but actually third.

    Numbers one and two may switch places depending on your circumstances- housing and government.

    For a lot of people, government is the number one expense, year in, year out, forever. When you pay for your government it is called taxes.

    Car expenses are way down there.

    Just to put things in perspective.

  • avatar

    Oh, great discussion! I am jumping in a little late, but I have to say I am one of those people who want the cake and to eat it too. It is actually possible if you make some right choices and sacrifices.

    Here in europe, the cost of ownership is much more than in the USA. With 7-8$ a gallon gas, high labor rates for repairs and a near 20% sales tax, the cost per kilometer, or mile is way up. But I moved here from the US 12 years ago in part for the food, and another part for the driving experience. The USA, suburbia + strip mall environment took all joy out of driving. Who wants to get stuck in traffic on the same route day in and day out, even with Corinthian leather and Bose sound?

    Here, I bike to work or take the train. I bought a 2000 Alfa Romeo 147 selespeed in 2002 payed in cash and only put 70,000 km on the dial. Most of those km were quality, weekend trips to the beach or blasts up curvy mountain passes. However the amount I save biking to work is quite notable. I’ll keep it for as long as it treats me well.

  • avatar

    I wish I had the ambition and will power to conserve and get into real estate. It’s what my brother does, of course he doesn’t have a family so it’s easier for him. I know he will be hugely wealthy some day by building and selling homes. The real big money has always been real estate. I’ll keep hoping for lotto as my early retirement.

    To each their own, while I can’t fathom driving a 10 year old car with 200k on the odo, but as long as you are happy I say more power to you.

  • avatar

    “I think the Crown Vic is that cheap bastard holy grail.”

    Unless you do much local or stop and go driving, where the fuel economy plunges on those things. Sure the Crown Vic/Mercury Marquis gets reasonable fuel economy on a long highway cruise, but that drops like a rock in local conditions.

  • avatar

    It’s still not that bad (maybe 18-21mpg), and for what you may pay for it, it certainly is a lot of car for little money. Besides, real cheap bastards would take public transit or car pool if they had to do a lot of stop and go driving.

  • avatar

    Maybe I should mothball (or store in suspension at the local cryolab) my 2006 Mazda ala strategy#1.

    Perhaps I should work strategy #2 though…I could wrap the seats in clear sofa-cover-plastic, spray the entire body with RhinoLiner to prevent rust and chips, and drill in my backyard and declare it an oil reserve to cut costs.

    Or better yet play strategy # 3 and sell it with a “Dealer Markup”to some stranded motorist on his honeymoon (and sell his bride a ketchup popsicle too!)…take the proceeds and buy a fleet of newly raised Yugos saved from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as “mules”. I may even have enough left over to buy my patchouli christmas tree air fresheners in bulk too…because, you know, Im a “car guy”

    Sometimes frugality is just a different form of greed…and most dont wear it well.

    Ronin is dead solid perfect on this topic.

  • avatar

    the cheap bastard frugal holy grail is actually…

    Japanese: Nissan sentra R13 (1990-1994) 40mpg highway, with AC and power steering, You should be paying around 1500 bucks for a nice one. I had one for 6 years now, only done oil changes, and change 2 tires in 70000 miles. 7 cent a mile unbeatable. They also enjoy lower insurance rates than any other ricer out there (particularly civic and corollas that are twice as expensive!!!).

    Now the other holy grail German:
    Diesel Benzes from the early 80. Classy, timeless style, road manners that would put to shame many modern cars, 30mpg (possible to run on french fry oil, free!!), trivial to work on. Lowest insurance rates of any car on the road. and should i mention that they are expected to go 500k miles with just a timing chain change!!! and hell its a Benz!!!! I have 3 of them and i am running at about 22-29 cent a mile including insurance.

  • avatar

    With respect to doing your own work. I do mine in part because I enjoy it. Heck, today I was helping a friend with his car just for fun. That said, I also save significant money by doing my own work. Shops around here charge from $90-$110 per “book rate” hour, and if you know what you are doing very few things take book time. I would have to earn an incremental $150 / hour to pay the taxes on my income and have enough left to pay the shop. Some people have the option to work incremental hours for that kind of money, right now I don’t.

    For quick things like oil and filter changes, I can do the job in my home shop in less time than it would take me to wait in line and have a shop do it, and I don’t strip out oil drain plugs or use scarry cheap filters like happens at many of the quick lube places.

    Personally I have long driven cars which cost “less than I can afford”. My current daily driver is an ’06 Acura TSX, hardly a beater. I wrote a check to buy it. Haven’t had a car loan in about 15 years. I could afford to spend more, but I don’t because it would be wasteful. I could also be driving cheaper wheels, but I don’t because I don’t want to.

    Perhaps a good benchmark upper limit on the price of a car a person should purchase is whatever price they are willing and able to write a check for. Last year I bought a 13 year old used Volvo 240 to be our daughter’s first car and I spent another chunk of cash buying lots of parts for it to make sure everything is in tip-top condition. Making the old Volvo run right is a pleasure all in itself and I enjoy using her car as much as I do my modern Acura. Different experiences, but each with it’s own charm.

    The most powerful financial advice anyone ever gave me is to live slightly below your means, no matter what those means are. The freedom of action created by doing so is amazing.

  • avatar

    I should explain,

    I enjoy working on cars. I’ve spent many an hour rebuilding motors, redoing suspensions, etc., but I don’t think that doing all your own maintenance is necessarily a way to cut the ownership cost of a car.

    Let’s use the example of the oil change. When I’m working close to where my guy is, he comes over and takes my car or van, changes the oil and filter, and brings it back while I continue with my work. The same is true for tune-ups and some major emergency situations. I get to continue with my work and especially with my van, I don’t lose the use of the vehicle for more than a few hours. This arrangement works fantastic for me.

    What I object to is the absolutes that are bandied about here as the ideal strategy for lower ownership costs.

    Even the strategy that calls for paying for a car in cash is flawed in that you’re not accounting for the loss of earnings that cash could be producing in an appreciating asset. When taking out a loan to pay for a depreciating asset like a car, you’re paying today’s value with tommorrow’s cheaper dollars devalued by inflation.

    Again my point is that there are many ways to lower the cost of a car and that there isn’t one strategy for all.

  • avatar

    I also want to make a point that on a website called The Truth About Cars that is geared toward the automotive enthusiast, even the type of beater should be addressing that enthusiasm and love of cars.

    I remember a long ago article in Car and Driver where they took a beater, rear wheel drive Toyota Corolla and modified it as an enthusiast would by using parts from a junk yard and hand made in the shop. While it might not be as easy to do today, this is the kind of thinking that truly lowers the cost of owning a car while still addressing the enthusiasm of owning a car.

  • avatar

    Even the strategy that calls for paying for a car in cash is flawed in that you’re not accounting for the loss of earnings that cash could be producing in an appreciating asset.

    No need to lecture me on the time value of money. I didn’t work my way from financially underwater college student to where I am today without being well aware of it.

    The number of people who could comfortably pay cash for their car but choose not to and instead actually invest that money in something with a higher certain financial return than is the return of avoiding a cost are few and far between. Money saved is by nature after-taxes money while money earned is subject to income and social security taxes.

    The vast majority of car buyers who take out a car loan do so in order to drive a more expensive vehicle than they could otherwise purchase. I bet this covers well over 95% of the car loans made. Buying only what you can pay cash for isn’t the best answer for everyone everytime, but it is an outstanding rule of thumb.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    ‘Rule of thumb’

    That’s exactly what TTAC is endorsing.

    nino, a contributor can say that a Saturn Ion is the best compact vehicle in North America. That person may sincerely believe it. But for 90+% of the folks out there it’s simply not the the truth.

    New and late model vehicles have depreciation curves that are MUCH larger than older vehicles. Buying an older car that has been well maintained and conservatively driven is invariably a better choice if the goal is saving money.

    As for maintenance costs, you are in a very unique situation. The same with me. I can pretty much get anything I need within a regular maintenance regimen done without it costing me anything due to the work that I do. Heck, last night a BMW dealer sent a mechanic to fix a gear handle on a 12 year old 5-series wagon for me. It’s wonderful, but for most folks it’s not a reality.

    I would hazard to say that the majority of buyers are capable of performing their own basic maintenance. Oil changes, tune-up’s, checking the fulids and replacing brakes are generally not very hard to do and save folks thousands of dollars. Learning how to perform this basic mainteance will also make the owners more aware of problems earlier in the game as well.

    When it comes to ownership costs, all of these points are a rule of thumb. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have someone come and do your dirty work, it’s usually much cheaper to do your own.

    As for investments… that BMW is headed to a very happy new owner in Oklahoma.

  • avatar


    Your comment about living below your means reminded me of a great quote from David Copperfield on the importance of this:

    Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.

    Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1849

  • avatar

    I really must commend TTAC for running this sort of article. You will never see it in the conventional automotive press. The traditional press exists first and foremost as a place for advertisers to entice consumers to spend more money than they otherwise would. I believe it was in the classic marketing textbook Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Ries & Trout that I came across the estimate that without modern advertising the economy would be about 1/2 the size it is. Put another way, people are spending about twice as much money as their self-directed needs and wants would lead them to because they have been conditioned to want more. Getting the saliva flowing and the pockets opened up is what your normal car magazine or website is all about. TTAC is clearly something different.

  • avatar

    Well, well, we all know this, but, if we lived like this, we wouldn’t be reading your post, we’d be rummaging thru old issues of Consumer Reports to find what car was recommended in 1995.

    that’s basically what I did back in ’86. I checked old issues of Consumer Reports, and bought a ’77 toyota Corolla (from one of the then future Iraq weapons inspectors, but that’s another story) for $450. Drove it from 91k to 161k over 8 yrs, then sold it for $200. Paid around $10k for EVERYTHING down to parking tickets. I did save some money by tuning it myself. And later on, I had a mechanic that got me cheap parts from junk yards.

    My next car, a 93 saturn, was new. I followed that in 2004 with a ’99 Accord that I got from an auto auction buyer who my traffic lawyer recommended, for $5500, with 67k on it. The Honda now has 127k on it.

  • avatar

    Come to think of it, you missed another phenotype – the Avoider. I do happen to know a couple people who use the bus routinely and for all of their commuting and I know a couple people who don’t own cars at all. And I live where mass transit is bad and pedestrian paths are poor to nonexistent. They have a couple different strategies:

    I did that until my early 30s. Rode a bicycle everywhere, even in (Wash DC) winter. (I avoided mass transit.) Finally getting a car was wonderfully liberating.

  • avatar
    Gerry T

    Hi. Gerry T here. We just got back from the Gulf Islands. Great discussion! So what about the TAINT awards?

    I am voting the Crown Vic the ultimate Cheap Bastard car. However I must give a nod to the F150/250. Now theres a vehicle you can take your best gal to the dump with to watch the sunrise and all the birds while the coffee steams up the windshield.

  • avatar

    What about used Saabs?

    No one here has mentioned them. I have heard of quite a few people who drive these up to 250k. Safe, relatively fuel efficient, fun to drive and extremely discounted afyer a year or so.

  • avatar

    just wondering, whenever i’m driving and i see a car on the service lane it’s usually an old car. I need some reliability, a warranty, a/c lol and the pussymagnet lol “Borat”

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