The Truth About Cars » beater The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 26 Jul 2014 14:51:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » beater Hammer Time: Not All Cheap Cars Are Beaters Mon, 26 May 2014 10:00:27 +0000 2001-honda-insight-rear

One dollar of depreciation in four years.

Fifty-five miles per gallon.

Forty-eight thousand miles.

I may have very well owned the cheapest car in America a few years ago. Back in 2009, I bought a 2001 Honda Insight with 145,000 miles for all of $4001 at an auction. After four years and with 193,000 miles, I sold it last year for exactly $4000.

That’s all well and good, but let’s face it folks. I’m in the car business. Plus, a first generation Honda Insight is pretty much a cheat when it comes to cheap cars. It was designed with stingy bastards like me in mind who use the edge of the technological envelope instead of individual ingenuity and improvisation.

That Insight was a cheap car… but definitely not a beater. Why? Too much money and too few stories about personal travels and other unique mayhem. To me, a beater is a concept that has far more to do with the owners than the actual car.

Three qualities define the beater.

Personalization: Murilee’s 1992 Honda Civic may outlast the Crown Vic dinosaurs that find their way to government auctions and taxicab companies.  But his 1965 Chevrolet Impala was a rolling embodiment of the glories that come from a beater that has true inner beauty. He made that car whole in every sense of the word.

Parsimony: Beaters must always remain cheap when it comes to cosmetics. A 1983 Lincoln Mark VI that drools out liquids on a daily basis and has duct tape on every seat and door is more of a beater than a Metro bought new and maintained with someone’s obsessive compulsive disorder.

Stories: Rolling sewing machines that spend their days droning around on traffic-laden roads are not what beaters are about. To me at least, I want the really out there stuff. The Volvo wagon whose ten foot headliner meticulously chronicled the unique exploits of two young female lovers who traveled the country. The other Volvo wagon that was bought cheap and proceeded to financially emasculate one of our writers. The other, other Volvo wagon that was rescued from the crusher and brought back to the loving hands of a brick enthusiast.

An ability to outlast other cars to the point where it contradicts all known levels of applied physics should be spiritually welded with the stories that inevitably come with a good personalized car.

So what about your story? Did you one day find a lonely old 1980′s Subaru wagon that was used as an official beer car for your local hash events?   Did an old family car help you more fully understand the pharmacological events that come with attending Grateful Dead concerts? Heck, did you take a Renault LeCar in the woods and chase wild animals with it?

We all have our moments of high weirdness with a beater. So feel free to share yours.


]]> 35
New or Used? : This Musician Wants An Escort (Wagon) Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:30:28 +0000 Escort

I’m a working musician from NYC. I have a conundrum.

Since 1998 I’ve owned a 1989 BMW E30 ‘vert, which has served me well as a touring artist — it just hit 160k, most of those miles mine. However, all those miles have come at a price, between 40k timing belt changes and other occasional maintenance items, I wind up putting roughly $1500 into it every two to four years.

But I’ve always loved it, and it never let me down, until recently.

It’s hit that point where everything is wearing out at the same time – seat backs (not easy or cheap to replace correctly), seatbelts, shocks, minor trunk rust, fuel filler neck, and it needs new tires and rotors–though it is still mostly intact and in lovely condition mechanically and otherwise and drives great.

I’ve been worried about having my DD be a 26-year-old car without airbags that could theoretically be pummeled by a lowly Civic or equivalent, and while it still kicks ass on B-roads, every time I drive it on interstates I feel utterly vulnerable in a way I never used to.(Other cars have gotten so heavy and big!)

But right now I simply need a car, and the BMW is safely garaged as it’s not roadworthy for the aforementioned reasons. I live paycheck to paycheck. So I need to make the best use of what little money I have to remedy the situation.

The way I see it, I have three options:

1) Spend $2k on repairing my baby and DD it, Irv Gordon-style, till I or it crumble

2) Take a neighbor’s 1998 Escort wagon that I’ve been offered for free–it is rusty and a bit long in the tooth but more or less reliable, (but again, I’m a little worried about its safety compared to new cars, even though it has airbags and is engineered for the 1997 side impact protection regs)–and repair it as a DD (needs a new muffler and other small repairs-worried it might need a head gasket as those engines blow ‘em, though it seems fine now), and then insure the E30 through Hagerty and restore it slowly as a project.

3) Try to find another used car for around the same $2k that is a simple appliance and much much safer than either the Escort or my E30, and insure the E30 through Hagerty. I could also sell the E30, but I don’t feel ethical selling it in its current condition…plus it’s got many memories, and feels more like an heirloom at this point…sigh…)

I do love driving that darn thing, and it’s never really let me down. But I don’t know what the best use of my limited money is here, and if I’m just being paranoid about using my E30 or the Escort as a DD. Or even if I can get any car for $2k that isn’t a garbage heap. (I’m also 6’2″, so that too is a consideration.)

Thoughts? Recommendations?

Steve Says:

Start by getting the Escort looked at by an independent mechanic. If it’s worth keeping for a while, then it’s time for you to have one less heirloom in your life. 

Yes, I loved those old E30s too. I remember one road trip where I was stoned out of my gourd, and my best friend just happened to be driving a forest green 1991 BMW 318i convertible through California’s Highway 1. We eventually made our way east to Reno where we blew our remaining cash on blackjack and cheap booze.

It was money well spent, as was your BMW. But once the party was over, we knew it was time to move on.

So move on donate your car to an enthusiast who has more money to deal with all the problems you mentioned. If all you have is surface rust, and that BMW is structurally sound, it may be worth selling for around $2000.  Just make sure you disclose everything to the buyer first. You want a buyer who will pay a premium for honesty, and those folks are out there. 

Escorts of this generation do have one notable weakness, and that is valve seat failure.  They also tend to like mid-grade fuel. Even the non-Zetec engine, which is the version your friend owns. My wife and I had a 1997 Ford Escort LX for four years during my early years in the auction business, and other than having to put higher octane fuel to avoid pinging issues, the Escort was completely trouble free. It also had a decent safety record for that time.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 (<— nice video)

I only sold it because we were expecting a second kid. Even today my wife prefers to drive compact vehicles like that Escort.

So what would I do?  I would sell the BMW so long as the frame isn’t rusted out, and bum rides for a short while. I would then get the Escort inspected and have the repair costs assessed before committing to it. If it doesn’t work out, you’re only out $100.

Finally, if the Escort is worth more dead than alive, I would opt for a similar, older, unpopular vehicle that has cosmetic issues, but has been mechanically well kept. You’re a musician… so aim for something with lots of records (bad, bad pun… I know) and get the vehicle independently inspected before you buy it.

Save up. Weigh your options. Don’t be afraid to say no to both vehicles if it comes down to it.

One more thing. Nobody knows how to drive a stick anymore. I now have five of them at my lot, and a sixth at a nearby auction. So if you’re still in the market for one, let me know. Please!

Steve can always be contacted directly at . 



]]> 28
Hammer Time: $100 Worth Of Charity… And Fun? Fri, 31 Jan 2014 14:00:48 +0000 exp1

By the time you read this, I will have bought the last $100 car sold at a public auction… that actually runs!

This 1994 Ford Explorer XL has just under 94,000 miles and has been sitting at a local water department for a couple of years now. The exterior is nothing special, but the interior is surprisingly intact and well kept.

Which begs the question, what the hell should I do with this thing?


There are a couple of ideas I have that may be worth the effort, or maybe not.

The first is to donate the Explorer to a local food bank called Helping Hands.  A local non-profit here in rural Georgia that feeds a lot more people in my county than you would imagine. It would be a nice noble gesture, and what helps out even more,  is that I also have a second Explorer.


A 1993 model, that happens to run perfectly fine as well. Although it has a few (cough! cough!) cosmetic issues that I covered up with the finest duct tape, thumbtacks, and staple guns that are in my storage shed.


So hypothetically, I could give both to the charity so that food runs could be made on a weekly basis. Or I could just retail both, donate the proceeds, and let volunteers continue to use their own vehicles.

It all sounds like a good and easy thought for a rare snowy north Georgia afternoon. But then, I had this strange thought in my head that just wouldn’t quit.

“How far could I make a $100 car work if I kept on retailing the proceeds, and wrote about it?”


What if I reconditioned both vehicles a bit, re-sold them during tax season, buy another vehicle or two, rinsed, repeated, and kept trying to pay it forward until the end of the year?

Maybe the $515 I have invested at the moment in these two (along with the duct tape) can turn into $5000? Or more?

Maybe I may just end up with two cars that are junkyard fodder? Financially these two running vehicles would yield more from the local recycling center than what I already paid for them. So the risk here isn’t that much.


There have been mumblings about getting a fun car for a while now here at TTAC. At the moment, I have a 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood stretch limo that was apparently used by a strip joint in Miami way back in the Clinton Era, and I have, well, these two Explorers. I have about $3200 in the Cadillac, and until my kids have degrees and that rare good job, I need to keep that money working for me. But these two Explorers I can definitely spare, and invest a bit of my time and resources.

So what should I do? Buy? Sell? Hold? Donate? Offer Firestone a golden opportunity to associate themselves with Explorers in a good way? I’m always open to suggestions, and volunteers.

]]> 53
Piston Slap: Bennie Bucks on the Winter Beater? Wed, 27 Nov 2013 13:16:41 +0000

TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes:


I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission issues after seven years (and roughly 80K) of ownership. I’ve let her sit most of the summer save starting her up and driving her around the parking lot every 7-12 days but I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable investment of Bennie bucks. This evening I was offered an ’00 Subaru Outback/auto/186K to replace it for $2500 inc four new cheap tires and inspection.

The prospects of an actual [built in Japan] Japanese wagon are intriguing, the Subaru is 7/10 in terms of condition with some dings and several rust spots, it had no issue starting up and is throwing no codes. The catch is I have zero documentation on the car (was a recent trade) and personally I am leery of all AWD systems regardless of make and model, especially without documentation/receipts. Panning over the engine bay I noticed a newer alternator and a battery stickered 3/12 (with old acid all over the cradle) so somebody (sort of) attempted to take care of the car. Oil was a down 1/4 a quart, coolant was dirty but not caked on or anything, but the kicker was the trans fluid is getting to be brown. I figure whomever recently owned this attempted to take care of it to some degree, but neglected all of the fluid changes, which leads to me to suspect none of the Subie specific maint (diff fluid, sensors, etc) has been done either by this owner (and who knows about the head gaskets). I have two days to make up my mind on the Subie before he sends it to auction.

(NOTE: because of my time delay in publishing, this car is already bought or auctioned off – SM)

So I figure my choices are as such:

  1. Spend $1200-1400 to install a used transmission in my Saturn and risk more expensive stuff breaking down the line.
  2. Spend $2500 and buy the Subaru, which for my purposes will probably get me through at least this winter without fireworks, but risk later expensive Subie specific repairs, or total loss if something big breaks.
  3. Not spend any money, junk my Saturn, and just drive one of my other two cars in the winter that I currently baby to some degree.

Sajeev answers:

Well…I guess it kinda depends on your other two vehicles.

#2 is not a sure thing: with zero service history and tired fluids, expecting this Subaru to work all winter is a rather huge leap of faith.  Perhaps if it was something more robust (truck) with less unique parts that are painfully hard to reach, perhaps if it wasn’t a vehicle known for its fragility (bad head gaskets) especially when neglected/abused…

Install a junkyard transmission in the Saturn, coming from a yard that offers a warranty.  Or research to see if a local shop rebuilds these units with quality parts and labor (not always easy to find) for a fair price.  Why?  Because it’s almost always easier to keep the problems you know, not the gigantic rolling question mark that could be even more of a horrid money pit.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

]]> 64
Krugerrands For Clunkers Wed, 10 Apr 2013 15:31:01 +0000

This essay on Delicious Tacos, about the life and death of an $800 Mercedes-Benz diesel sedan, drove home one of the unfortunate realities of living in a snowy climate: it’s nearly impossible to find anything for $800 that hasn’t been completely consumed by oxidization.

For those who don’t have to deal with road salt, there are lots of vehicle choices available. Former EIC Niedermeyer told me that his first car was purchased for a few hundred dollars in cash. My friend Jake, who lives in Florida, was able to buy a very nice 1996 F-250 Powerstroke for about $3,000 – the same truck would cost at least 50 percent more up where I live, and would have some kind of rust that needed repairing.

An $800 budget is a tough budget to adhere to, but $1,600, or the price of one gold Krugerrand bought at a precious metals dealer, gives you a bit more breathing room. By comparison, the $5,000 budget set forth by Thomas seems opulent. In my area, Kijiji, not craigslist, is the go-to for buying or selling a car, and a quick search yielded a couple interesting prospects.

The first is an Infiniti G20. I’ve always had a soft spot for these cars, even though plenty of people disliked them. I don’t know where my affinity stems from, but I’ll blame it on too much exposure to early 1990′s Car and Driver, Motorweek and the fact that my neighbor had one with swapped-in Nissan Primera badges, before the “JDM” craze ever even hit. The white example has about 157,000 miles on it and is apparently mechanically sound, but has some cosmetic issues. For $900, I have enough left over to get a cheapo re-spray of the hood.

For those that are feeling brave, we have a true Steve Lang Mileage Champion – a 1995 BMW 525i wagon. With a stick shift. And 267,000 miles on the odometer. Apparently it runs well but needs “exhaust, brakes and body work [sic]” to pass our wonderful emissions and safety inspections. Now that I have access to a shop, the exhaust and brakes could be knocked off in reasonable time, depending on their severity. I’m not sure what kind of bodywork is needed, but I’m not optimistic. Nevertheless, something pathological has compelled me to email the guy and ask about it.

Granted, none of those cars are even worth as much as one krugerrand, which would seem to take away the whole novelty of paying in gold bullion. Luckily, the Royal Canadian Mint has a solution, with their half ounce gold coins. Or I could always pay with 4 Bitcoins.

If you live in a nice climate where the cars are free of salt, let’s see what you can come up with for less than the cost of a gold coin. If you live in a crappy climate and find something cool, post it up anyways.

]]> 36
Monday Mileage Champion: Volkswagen Wins! Mon, 01 Apr 2013 19:35:10 +0000

Take a look at this piece of…

272,522 miles. No fooling. This 1996 Volkswagen Passat 5-speed sedan has traveled a distance nearly equal to 11 times the circumference of planet Earth.

It also visited the dealership well over 50 times during that time period as well. Which is just barely good enough for…

38th place.

Now granted that is number 38 out of 6,894 cars that were traded into a large dealer body for this week alone. 38th place also happens to be the highest finish for any non-TDI Volkswagen for all of 2013 thus far.

So obviously this car belongs in a museum. A Ripleys museum. Right next to the one and only Daewoo that made it to 100,000 miles.

On a more serious note, VW is soundly beating GM at this point. So long as you look at one and only one GM model, the Pontiac Grand Prix.

For this week VW managed to garner 8 trade-ins with over 180k miles while the notoriously plastic fantastic Pontiac Grand Prix managed a mere six vehicles. Of course there were 39 Grand Prixs and 178 Volkswagens in the trade-in mix this time around. But the German people’s car needed to find a victory somewhere in our quality index, and there it is.

Today’s number one and two offers the same powertrain as last week’s number one.

Two Chevy Silverados chalked up 354,646 miles and 346,192 miles respectively. That wasn’t as good as the 1999 Suburban that went 412,372 miles the prior week. But it’s good enough to be at the top of the heap.

As for the bottom, here’s how a few other brands fared for this week when it comes to reaching the over 180k mark at trade-in time.

Suzuki : 2 out of 27 (best showing so far!)

SAAB   : 0 out of 41 (the usual…)

Kia       : 0 out of 85 (ditto…)

Jaguar : 1 out of 37 (may require a recount.)

Audi     : 2 out of 71

261 vehicles from these brands, collectively, could not beat a mere 39 Pontiac Grand Prixs for this week. Or the entire quarter for that matter. In fact the only true shocker for this April Fools Day is that if you added Volkswagen’s 8 strong and solid vehicles out of 178, those brands come in second to another notoriously poor brand…. Mitsubishi.

Which scored a surprisingly sound 14 out of 97 cars with over 180k. Including this Mirage with 281,146 miles and no announcements related to mechanical defects. If you want a hidden gem among the unpopular brands and models, try to find the one or two Mirages that weren’t sent to an early subprime grave.

In the meantime, there were 104 Toyotas with over 180k, 124 Hondas, 106 Chevys (mostly trucks), and exactly 100 Fords (same story… with a few Panther vehicles in the mix).

Cadillac continues to be another luxury charity case with only 3 vehicles with over 180k miles out of 132 for the week. While less prestigious, but far more mechanically sound Buick continues to blow away the big brother with a score of 13 out of 110.

All of you who continue to clamor me about good deals at the auctions may want to look at one place.

The Buick Century. A jaw dropping 10 of them from the 1998-2001 period were sold as True Miles Unknown due to their odometers no longer functioning. The fix for it is only $2 in parts and a half hour of labor. But I’m not telling the dealership about it.

It’s my job to know about these types of things, and their job to keep on pushing those types of cars in my direction.  Unpopular. Unappealing. Uncertain histories if you don’t do your research before the day of the auction. Yet, these Centurys are usually conservatively driven and offer a great bang for the buck for the non-enthusiast.

Those looking for ‘nice’ basic transportation happen to be my primary clientele.

Well, there you have it for this week folks. The quarterly numbers are being crunched by the TTAC volunteer corps as we speak. I’ll have the results to all of you later in the week.

All the best!

]]> 73
Monday Mileage Champion: Where Few Caddys Fear To Tread Mon, 04 Mar 2013 20:32:35 +0000

I haven’t recommended a new Lincoln in well over 20 years now.

With rare exception, the brand never lives up to the hype of whatever a Lincoln was supposed to represent at various times in recent history. The ultimate luxury coupe that was the Mark VIII. The import fighting LS. The Lexus/Mercedes wanna-be that was the Lincoln Zephyr.  All of them were flops in the new car marketplace for a long list of good reasons.

Even the Lincoln SUV’s, then and now, seem to be little more than overpriced Fords with razor thin chrome accents. While the current alphabet soup of names makes it nearly impossible to recommend any new Lincoln without delving into a smartphone for confirmation that the MK-whatever is indeed an MK-whatever.

There is only one Lincoln truly worth it. The Town Car.  An old one. A well used one. But maybe not as used as this one.

The black 2006 Lincoln Town Car Signature in the first picture is from the Lone Star State and has 437,229 miles. Still runs. No announcements on the auction block. The same is true for this 2009 model from Hartford, Connecticut with 268,440 miles. 

Lincoln Town Cars have long represented the Holy Grail for livery operators who must shuck off various executives and media grunts from the airports to their destinations.

The wandering Texan in the first pic managed to average over 70,000 miles a year in what must have been a near 24/7 livery operation. Not to be outdone, the Northern sibling averaged nearly 90,000 miles a year. That must have included an awful of airport and traffic related idling as well.

No matter. These Town Cars are custom designed for the road warriors throughout our fair land; especially those cost sensitive souls who must operate these fleets without fear of breakdowns in the middle of nowhere.

This is why, every year for well over ten years now, I see the exact same reality whenever I fly off to some media event in the USA. Lincoln Town Car. Chauffeur’s hat. A sign that may or may not have my name correct. Bingo. Another well isolated travel through the angry streets of airport traffic, to a place that requires my services for 48 hours or less.

After a few years of this I started to have a random thought about this livery business, “Why no Cadillacs?”

Well the answer to that question didn’t exactly have to bite me on the ass. I saw it every week. Cadillacs from the mid to late 90′s with Northstar engines that were about to blow out their last coolant ridden remnants out of their tailpipes at the dealer auto auctions. Professional car buyers stayed away from these things in droves and by the time the mid-2000′s rolled along, you could find countless number of 1990′s Cadillacs at the public auctions for well south of $2000.

It was these vehicles that nearly killed Cadillac. Specifically, any model that had the word Northstar somewhere on the rear deck lid or under the hood.   

Everyone likes to say that the Cadillacs of the 80′s were the ones that did them in. Wrong! Most Americans had no idea that the Cimmaron existed, or the Allante for that matter.  Cadillac may have offered some of the most frumpish designs of the era along with engines that weren’t exactly paragons of reliability. But the grapevine back then wasn’t nearly as well connected as was the case by the late 90′s.

Once the internet became a common tool, Cadillac was screwed. All you had to do was go to one of the well visited auto review sites and there, without the forces of corporate influenced censorship,  you would find a hailstorm of hatred from actual owners of the vehicles.

Now with all that being said, there is always an outlier to the bell curve when it comes to automotive longevity. The 500,000 mile Fiat. The 446,000 mile Dodge Neon. And now… the almost made it to 300,000 miles 1998 Cadillac Deville.

293,606 miles to be exact.

It’s sad to think about how much goodwill was lost by Cadillac for what should have been a testament to their engineering prowess. Those who love Panthers (a.k.a Sajeev) may laugh at the thought. But if Cadillac had offered a genuine contender to the Town Car in terms of reliability… and design… and ease of mechanical repair… and…

Well, you get the point. Thankfully the large old fart car has gone the way of the Camry. In fact, the Camry is now to the new affluent retirees what the Cadillacs and Lincolns used to be to the old ones. Some may lament about the loss of luxury bling but to be brutally blunt, I’m kinda glad that the luxury class went straight to the middle class.




]]> 62
New or Used? : Economic Outpatient Care Edition Tue, 19 Feb 2013 13:30:29 +0000

Hello Steve,

I’ve enjoyed for a couple of years now the articles you’ve written for TTAC and the insight you give on used cars and the business you work in. Since you do provide your contact information, I thought I’d write to ask a question relevant to my used-car-shopping situation.

The situation – this girl (my cousin, in her early 20s) used to have a nice 2005 Civic that was given to her new by our grandparents when she finished high school. This would normally have served her until the end of time, but she sold it last year for very stupid reasons.

Now she is back in Atlanta, has no money of her own (she lives at home and is supported by her mom) and is trying to get her life back on a more solid track, but can’t do anything without a car. Her mom would rather not spend a few grand on another car, but it is a much smaller burden on her than using her own car, and they do not live in an area where there is any realistically-usable transit. So cheap used car it is.

My cousin would prefer some kind of SUV for style reasons, but while I love her and want her to get her life together, I don’t think her own preferences have much weight here – she is being supported by her mom, who is also prepared to spend ~$3,000 on a car for her despite her own bad decisions.

I think the primary need is for something as reliable as one can get for that kind of money that is not too expensive to maintain (ex.: my mom’s husband knew of a well-kept one-owner 190E in Toccoa being sold by a friend, but I would not consider an old Mercedes, even a well-kept low-mileage one, to be a low-cost-of-maintenance car.)

It strikes me that in this price range the ownership and maintenance history of a particular car is probably more important than the brand reputation of a given make and model. My own firsthand knowledge is centered around ’90s Nissans and old Fiats, as that is what I own or have owned and maintained myself.

I will appreciate any response you may have the time to give.thanks,

Steve Says:

A few things…

I really don’t know why you are putting yourself out there in the first place. Let’s face it. Her mom doesn’t need to indulge your cousin at this point in her life and neither do you.

The following words you wrote were the only ones that mattered.

“Now she is back in Atlanta, has no money of her own (she lives at home and is supported by her mom) and is trying to get her life back on a more solid track, but can’t do anything without a car.”


She can apply for jobs and get a taxi when an interview comes along. If she’s in the Atlanta outskirts, she has plenty of time to take long walks and reflect on her present and future.

Your cousin has time to read, write, exercise, plan, learn, develop a skill or three, and figure out the way forward. She doesn’t have to worry about where her next meal will be coming from, or whether there still will be a roof over her head in the near future.

This is what we call in life, a learning opportunity. And a golden one at that. We all go through them. A hardship can often be a good thing because it teaches you a valuable lesson about who you are as a person, and who you can trust as a friend.

When you constantly give people things they don’t rightfully earn (such as money, love, respect, etc.), that thinking process stops. The indulgences become entitlements, and the entitlements become expectations. Several books have highlighted this unique process of babying as ‘economic outpatient care’ but it applies to all things emotional and financial. In the long run, you make the person more sick and dependent on handouts by shoveling unearned gifts their way.

So why would you want to help give someone a new freebie when they have recently committed, “very stupid decisions” with their old freebie? Think about it. Some people are smart enough to eventually move a swing when it’s facing a brick wall.

Do that instead. Listen to her. Be there for her. Do what you can for her. Heck, 2 years from now she may be the one on top of the world and you may be experiencing your own struggles.

But mark my words. She won’t be successful if her mom simply gives her a car. Let her earn it.

]]> 61
Question Of The Day: What Was Your Best Automotive Deal…. Ever? Mon, 19 Nov 2012 15:29:08 +0000

The bidding kept going down and down at the inop auction. A sale where all cars are usually either dead or dying.

“$200! would-a-give-me $200! $100! $100! How about-a-hundred!”

Pretty soon the bidding went all the way down to $50. For a whole car! No takers. No sale. Until…

I was a member of the auction staff at this public sale. Unlike other junk public auctions which usually offer cleaned up basket cases from the impound lots, this one specifically sold dealer trade-in’s.

The vehicle in question was a 1993 Subaru Impreza.  Four speed automatic. 165k. Primer. The vehicle didn’t even have a lick of paint on the outside.

But it looked clean. Too clean to be used as crusher fodder at an auto recycler.

“Rick? Do you think the Chevy dealer would take $25 for that thing?”

It just so happened the owner of that dealership had a twin brother who also happened to hear me ask about the car.

“You want that junker Steve? It’s yours! Enjoy your new tinker toy!”

So for $25, plus a $50 fee, I had my own Subaru paperweight. That was until I replaced the battery and the shiftlock overdrive mechanism. It ran like a top. Two weeks later I bought a 1988 Toyota Mr2 at the same sale with about 110k for $225 that only needed a fuel pump.

Two cars for less than $500 altogether.

Eventually I sold both vehicles on Ebay for $1576 and $2712 respectively. A rally coordinator for Subaru flew in from California and kept the Impreza for another 50k miles before turning it into a race car. The MR2 went to a super nice guy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where thin framed older cars have limited lives.

I’ve made more money with plenty of other cars over the years. But these two have always been close to my heart. What about you? What was your best deal? Feel free to throw in a parts story or two if you like.

]]> 79
Hammer Time Remix: The Ultimate Tightwad Car Sun, 11 Nov 2012 19:03:09 +0000


Saturn? Civic? Neon? A diesel owned by this long-time TTAC commeter?

For the longest time I’ve been trying to figure out what penny pinching prodigy earns the most keep. I’ve spent years pondering this question.

Well, more like a few dull moments at the auctions.

I finally figured out the answer this evening. The cheapest car to own  is the one you like so much… that you’re willing to buy another one just like it so that you can keep yours on the road for years to  come. I’ll give you a recent example of two ‘cheap’ cars with two very divergent destinies.

A family bought two vehicles from me recently. In turn, they traded two cars in for $500 altogether. One  was a 1996 Taurus Wagon. The other was a 1992 Volvo 240. Both of them  had ‘issues’. The Taurus had a weak tranny and looked like.. a Taurus.  The Volvo had been in a fender bender where it looked like it got into a fight, and lost. Both of them were worth more dead than alive. Perhaps…

The Taurus and Volvo were put on Craigslist  for $700 apiece. The Taurus had at least two dozen contemporaries over the prior seven days that had also been listed for $1000 or less.  If variety was the spice of life, the dozens of Tauruses on Craigslist  seemingly offered more spice-filled suggestions than an old Simon &  Garfunkel tune. Mine thankfully was a more luxurious version of Ford’s attempt to wreak utter havoc on the Camcords of that era.

A 200 HP Duratec engine in this one equaled  the output of the late Toyota Celica All-Trac. A well adorned cloth  interior with foldaway cupholders and storage bins made it family friendly. The ‘Mach’ premium sound systems made the ancient Volvo seem tinpot  cheap. Let’s see what else. Did I mention the engine already? Anyhow the 1996 – 1999 Taurae represented a billion plus dollar project for Ford at a time when the Taurus was fighting it out for the ‘best selling  car’ award in North America. Surely people even today must want to  snatch these things up?

Nope. Nothing moved. Not a one. Not even my ‘gem’ with only 115k.

Most already had blown trannies that were underengineered just like all the prior ones. But there was an even bigger problem.

Working on the dang thing. Compared to a Camry, Accord, or even a Lumina of the same vintage, the Taurus is an absolute pain to diagnose, repair and maintain. We’re not talking about Nightmare on Elm Street or 30 year old Fiat levels. Just enough fragile electric doo-dads, strangely configured parts, and cheap stuff to make the whole upkeep process a trying one.

Plus there’s nothing special or unique about the Taurus. No character. No longevity. No strengths within it’s design  or presence to make a keeper want to keep fixing it.

I wholesaled it for $550.

Now the Volvo 240 was a complete paradigm shift. Volvo had built these cars to last decades with proper maintenance and everything about this vehicle was ‘authentic’. No marketing cabal in their right mind would ever design something like a Volvo 240. It’s as utterly square in it’s appearance as Lawrence Welk with a bubble machine and a baton. But thankfully the parts within the 240 also make it as soulful as Coltrane on a light blues riff.

The red brick engine under the hood has become to the classic Volvo enthusiasts, what the V-twin engine has become to Harley enthusiasts. A symbol of the vehicle’s strength and  character. On the road the Volvo 240 has a sound and feel unlike anything else on the road.

It’s not fast at all in stock form. Even compacts from the same era offered far more power.

It’s not the smoothest. The cheaper Camrys and Accords of that time were far more refined and quiet.  So were Maximas, Intrepids, and almost any other pricey competitor of the early 1990′s. The interior? Even calling it luxurious in the early 1980’s would have been a stretch. By 1992 the only thing saving it from an early grave were the glacier like changes in American luxury cars, and that the Lexus ES300 was not yet a known commodity.

But the sound and feel of a Volvo 240  in motion has made thousands of folks around the world smile and enjoy their ride. It’s genuine and earnest in all it does… which you either love it or hate it.

This one was merely one of nine available from the past six weeks at the thousand dollar or less ‘TLC’ level.  At that range of time and prices, the Tauruses on Craigslist were as  common as herpes at an Elliot Spitzer fundraiser.

I got calls, calls, and more calls. They ranged from a fellow who had an almost Rain Man like knowledge of these vehicles, to a parent who couldn’t understand how a radio could be  removed out of any car. My first question to everyone was,

“Do you know how to work on cars?” If they didn’t get the hint or read over my listing, I explained layer upon layer of cosmetic issue until I finally received the polite response, “I’ll keep on looking.”

A missing interior door panel. No radio. A bad A/C compressor. A couple of broken door handles. A passenger side  hit with just enough force to make the front passenger door nearly impossible to open. Oh, and no antenna! Eventually I was able to ferret out the cheap and inexperienced and find the hobbyist who would put the Volvo 240 to good use.

The fellow who bought the 240 was already driving another 240. His had a bad wiring harness. A frequent issue with pre-1988 Volvos. It would be far easier for him to part out his current ride in favor of this commuter. Door handles and panel? Check. Radio  and A/C? Check. Engine and transmission? Two of each in great shape. Before my ‘Raging Bull’ Volvo received it’s battle scars from the teenage son, it had been expertly serviced by a Volvo specialist with OEM parts for nearly 15 years.

Like all true beaters the gold mine of value for this Volvo 240 was all beneath the surface. The sum of all it’s parts will definitely be enough to keep the owner on the road for at least another five years. At which time the old engine and or transmission from the donor car can be put into a classic that is already old enough to drive itself.

The tightwad’s car… is always the car worth keeping.

]]> 89
How To: Invest In A Beater Wed, 22 Aug 2012 13:00:23 +0000
Congratulations!!! And my condolences.

You have just bought yourself a vehicle that may be worth more dead than alive.

Did you follow my car buying advice? Of course not! You wanted cheap to the extreme and now you got it. Bald tires. Doors that may be lovably ‘scrunched’ just a little bit thanks to those pesky inanimate objects. But hey, at least the ashtray still works.

Now you just have to figure out what to do with it?


A beater will have any one, many, or all of the following issues.

  • Bad engine
  • Bad transmission
  • Bad steering and suspension mechanisms
  • Bad body damage
  • Bad frame damage
  • Bad electrical issues
  • Bad reputation
  • Let’s face it. It drinks. It smokes, and it hangs out with the bad boys.

The operative word in all this loathsome criticism is ‘bad’. Forget about the very concept of ‘good’ for now. Until you can get this beast rolling safely in the same general direction of the nearby traffic, don’t even think about your car as anything less than illegal roadside architecture.

Let’s take a recent example. This 1999 Taurus was recently traded into my dealership with 213,000 miles and the obligatory transmission fluid container in the trunk.

Ugly? You bet. But the beginning of the bad news here is a bit more obvious. The headlights have performed the late-90′s water seep and headlight shatter that is as common as kudzu here in the South.

So, do I invest in it?

The cost for the headlights is $75 on Ebay and about fifteen minutes worth of my time. I could go with a $30 junkyard version. But nice clear headlights that are devoid of plastic exfoliation are a better bet. Few things make an old crappy car from the Clinton era look like new than a pair of Chinese headlights and a full set of Malaysian floormats.  Throw in a $5 automated car wash from down the street, and you’re pretty much all set.

This is what we call in this business ‘the $99 upgrade’. It does wonders to nearly any beater.



What else did we forget? Inspecting the car of course. Get ready to take out the ‘bad’ checklist.

The body had all the dings, dents and bruises that you would normally expect from a 13 year old beater. All doors opened and closed fine. So body wise, we’re already ahead of the game.

I opened the driver’s door and….

Clean. Surprisingly clean.

Yes, there is also the obligatory Southern dashboard peel that seems to provide a nice contoured holder for all your papers and related knick-knacks. But any car that has soaked up the Georgian sun for 10+ years without the occasional protectant spray is gonna get a burned and warped dashboard.

A/C… works! You have no idea how important A/C is to the evolution of Southern life. Forget about all the politics and ‘the city too busy to hate’ propaganda. Air conditioning finally gave us Southerners a feeling of luxury that no Tara styled mansion, ceiling fan, or mint julep could ever provide. Thanks to A/C this beater car has no sweat stains or frayed fabrics.

The interior is clean overall. The A/C works as noted. Radio works as well as all the speakers. The trunk has no leaks. Turns out this was one of those ‘owned in the same family’ cars that gets traded in once the younger folks want something that is a bit more fun to drive.

Tires are mediocre, not great. The trunk has no leaks. What am I missing???

Everything else needed to drive it.

I opened up the creaky curvaceous hood and saw a few small things.

Like the battery. It isn’t the right one. Apparently one of their other cars must have bit the bullet in the past and they decided to put small battery #1 into car #2. I’ll brace that battery correctly should I decide to retail it.

The power steering hose is leaking. A standard feature in most older Fords.

No recent tune-up. Then again, the check engine light wasn’t on at initial start up and a quick hookup with an OBDII scanner revealed that no codes were pending.

A few pictures didn’t make it to this article. The coolant reservoir was empty. A lot of buyers will assume a head gasket issue once they see an empty reservoir. This may be the case here. But a quick splash of water pointed to a small crack in the container. Some Fords get it, and nearly every Mercedes I have ever seen from this era will have this as well. Another potential Ebay order.

I popped open the copious plastic covering the radiator and found a brand new one in there. But why the heck did they get a new radiator and use the old hoses? Cheap bastards! I’ll have to keep an eye for leaks.

Oil looks fine. It’s not new which is a good thing because a lot of ne’er do wells will put in new oil to try and hide the milky residue of a blown head gasket. The oil cap seems fine. I start it up and verify that the transmission fluid is just below the min mark. I put in about a quarter of a quart from the free container and go on a fifteen minute drive.

One tire needs to be replaced. The heat doesn’t work. The temp gauge doesn’t get to the right point as quickly as it should. I’ll want to put in new hoses and a thermostat when the time comes. After I drive it for 15 minutes and park, I look at the oil again to verify the lack of head gasket issues and take a glance underneath the car for leaks.

The underside is ‘frosty’ dry. Just a little bit of residue which is a shocker.

Other than a few cheap repairs, this old bull of a Taurus is still surprisingly decent. Except for one thing.

It has a transmission whine. Not even giving it new fluid via a hand-pumped Mityvac will remedy that. This process usually helps keep a bit of the grit in place while giving the car new blood. The transmission is shifting well. Perhaps some time spent at the prestigious Taurus Car Club of America will help remedy that potential issue.

So here comes the golden question…

Should we be driving this beater a lot, a little, or at all?

Unless you have a friend, cousin, or sister named Vinny who is in the transmission rebuild business, don’t bother with the frequent driving. The AX4N transmission is the best one ever put into a Taurus. But at 215k, this particular one has given all it can to God, country, and the prior owners.

I would consider this a short trip car. You need to drive seven miles or less to work and back? This type of car can be an interesting oddsmaker. So long as the fluids are kept clean and on level, this type of car can work well as the ‘airport’ car or ‘bus’ car if you live nearby one. But make sure you have a second family car for when the tranny does decides to go south.

It may take years for a beater to become crusher fodder at the local junkyard. Or instant death can happen on a hot summer day in the middle of outbound traffic. Beaters, cheap as they come, are like a free box of Gump chocolates that have been left in storage for an indeterminate amount of time. You may get a great deal.

Just make extra sure you don’t kill yourself in the process.


]]> 36
New or Used: Two Too Many Beaters? Thu, 16 Aug 2012 19:33:15 +0000   Anonymous writes:

I picked up a Forester for a song and a dance ($500) this past summer, and did brakes and an oxygen sensor. We have less than $750, total, into it. It presently has 256K miles (another reason I don’t really want to use it as a daily driver!) I’ve had my 1999 Saab 9-5 wagon for about two and a half years, from 160K miles to 197K miles.

I bought it for $1,000 and other than rebuilding the brakes (and doing a very thorough detailing when I first got it) haven’t done anything other than routine maintenance.

My wife has a 20-minute highway commute with her 2003 Subaru Baja, about 25 miles round trip, with heavy traffic. I have a 110-mile per day round trip commute, mostly highway cruising, although there is some gridlock in the mornings.

Most of the repairs and maintenance I do myself. But the CEL codes on the Saab have me and my indy mechanic stumped. So – I am thinking about replacing the Saab.

Having an extra car as a daily driver has proven to be very convenient and very cheap thus far. So it’s a hard decision. The $600 or so in insurance (per year) on the Forester has paid for itself in using the thing like a truck, avoiding rentals, etc. But I don’t want to drive it every day.

So do I try to cash in two beaters and buy a nicer vehicle? We’re paying down student loan debt, saving for a house, and generally live pretty simply. I’ll consider all comers. But Panthers are not practical for my commute! Your thoughts?

Steve Says:

A lot of folks get past the emissions issue by registering their vehicle in an area that doesn’t require them.

That’s the first thing I would do if emissions are a long term concern with either of the cars.

Alternatively, since this is a third car, you can add another family member or close friend to the title who may sometimes require an extra car in a pinch. It would provide both of you with a nice hedge in the event of the unexpected. If the CEL on the Saab bothers you, take it to a Swede specialist or start drilling hard at finding the fault at the enthusiast sites.

With specialists you do pay more. But you also save yourself the trauma of a catastrophic financial event which, given your commute, is quite important.

I would keep both cars. Just parlay out some of the issues and realize that every once in a while you will have to pay a ‘price premium’ to keep them in good running order.

If push ever comes to shove, you can always sell both and move onto something else. But I see no sense in getting another ride at this point.

For right now you have two good solutions, one minor annoyance with the Saab CEL, and zero terminal problems. Keep them.


Sajeev says:

Sir, how dare you suggest that a Panther is not suitable for your needs!

You haven’t even given it a chance! But honestly, you need a less charismatic vehicle. Singular. This should be something without the charms of a SAAB or a Subie.  Panther no, but something boring from Japan or the USA.  No complex SAAB electrics, no difficult Subie labor rates…a big concern at that mileage!

So set a budget and stick to it.  Maybe $5000 for a decent Corolla, Civic, Focus, Cobalt, Malibu, Camry, Sentra, Accord, etc. Get something with better-than-subie fuel mileage and bulletproof components.

If you find it boring, drive the wife’s Baja a few times. Save your cash for a home, or maybe another weird third car that might float your boat. Or maybe a little truck with a stick.

But right now, the smart money is on you consolidating and simplifying.

]]> 30
Piston Slap: Keep the Jeep, Change your Name? Mon, 02 Jul 2012 10:43:55 +0000


John writes:

What sort of upgrades would you recommend for a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited? I bought it to replace my 300CE, which was the feature of a previous Piston Slap. I am planning on keeping this one for the foreseeable future. The only problems with it right now are broken fog lights, the rear window wiper is frozen, and God-awful gas mileage. Aside from the wiper and the fog lights, is there anything you would recommend?

Sajeev answers:

I need more info.  What do you want to do with this Jeep?  What engine, mileage, etc information should we know about it?

John answers:

Actually, it’s probably going to be my DD for the conceivable future. I don’t have a whole hell of a lot of disposable cash at the moment to buy something better for what I’m going to need it for. I’m going to have a nice 52 mile each way commute to college come September, and despite the high miles (220k) it was well taken care of for most of its life. Also, I can usually fix anything major myself. I am kind of concerned about everything wearing out all at once and putting it out of commission either before I can fix it or before I can afford something else to take me back and forth. Perhaps I should change the question: should I save up as much as I can (which, frankly, would not be a whole hell of a lot. Probably no more than $2,500) and buy something hopefully a little better on gas and hopefully with a little less mileage or just invest everything back into the Jeep and keep it going for probably a couple more years? It is a 1995 ZJ Limited with the 5.2, insanely comfortable leather seats, a lovely slow oil leak from the rear main seal that I have been meaning to fix for quite some time now, a new rattle developing every week, and my complete and utter affection despite its many faults.

Also, I should have mentioned that there is practically no rust, and the only off-roading I do is the occasional light trail work. And here is a picture of the Jeep in question:

Sajeev concludes:

You went from a 300E to a Jeep ZJ. But I must be losing my marbles, as I previously called you “Fabio” but am now speaking to someone named John.  I think Fabio is a good name for that Benz, John is good for the Jeep.  I need to get you in a Grand Marquis, then change your name to Mildred.  Perhaps next time, that.

Almost any time someone with limited financial funds (and a non-European vehicle) such as yourself writes in, I say you need to stick with the problems you currently have.  It could be a lot worse. Do not save your money for another hooptie, this Jeep sounds pretty much okay. Save your money far beyond your college tenure, for when you will have a better job and enough income to actually afford a good, late-model car.

Fix all the little things as needed.  Buy the factory shop manuals and read up on the forums.  Tackle small projects between classes, studying, work, etc.  I know this plan is good, I did this for years with my 1988 Mercury Cougar during my BBA, my 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII during my MBA.  Hey, I’ve seen dumber things!

With any luck, the Jeep will make that time go by very fast. And then you can dump these old cars and get something decent, trouble-free and somewhat entertaining.  Or, when that time comes, get something very cheap and keep your old clunkers just for funzies.  That’s how I roll and I’ve yet to regret it.

Keep the Jeep, but I like “Fabio” better.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


]]> 42
Working On a Harlequin Interior For My Civic, One Junkyard Piece At a Time Wed, 30 May 2012 18:03:27 +0000 There’s a liberating feeling when you have to fix some interior component on a beater transportation car (e.g., my destined-to-become-a-track-car 1992 Civic DX) and you don’t care about color matching. Item #3,491 on the list of Parts Whose Failure Doesn’t Stop You From Driving, But Still Drives You Crazy: the glovebox door latch.
My Civic led a rough life before I bought it five years ago; its previous owner was a blues bass player who lived in Chicago and then San Francisco, parking the car on sketchy side streets near sleazeball blues clubs in both cities. Street-parked cars in San Francisco get broken into about once every two weeks on average, which meant that every lock on the car has been punched or pried out at least a dozen times, and every storage compartment in the interior has been pawed open by many desperate thieves in the throes of amphetamine psychosis and/or the DTs and/or the hippie hippie shakes (in Denver, they just try to cold steal the car itself). The glovebox in my car was always flaky, with a balky latch mechanism damaged by the scrabbling fingers of so many urban entrepreneurs, and last week it finally gave up completely.
Yes, the plastic handle finally snapped off when I opened the glovebox to grab my cassette of I, Fish Driver. I called my local Honda dealer and was quoted a price of just $17.95 for this piece, but it wasn’t in stock. I planned to do a junkyard run that day and shoot Junkyard Find photos, anyway, so I thought I’d do some glovebox-latch shopping at the same time. If I couldn’t find one, I’d just wait a few days for a new replacement part.
The first yard I visited didn’t have any fifth-gen Civics that hadn’t been completely gutted (I’m still waiting for 1992-95 Civics to show up in large quantities in self-service junkyards, but this hasn’t happened yet), so I looked at Integras, Accords, and Preludes from the same decade. Honda has been known to share components across different models, so maybe the Accord’s glovebox latch will fit the Civic.
This one has a lock, but the overall shape is identical to the 92-95 Civic unit. What the heck, it’s held in with just two screws and the junkyard wanted only $2.99 for the entire latch mechanism. As an added bonus, it’s even the correct gray color!
Unfortunately, the location of the striker is about 1/4″ different in the Accord latch, so it wouldn’t work without a bunch of pain-in-ass modifications. The good news was that I planned to do another photo expedition at a second junkyard that afternoon… where I found this fifth-gen Civic coupe.
The interior of this Civic was a very mid-90s beige, which was sort of horrible, but the latch was mechanically correct. This junkyard charged just $1.49 for it.
30 seconds of work and the swap is done.
In a non-beater, this would be a major fashion don’t, but I’m this car’s final owner!
Anyway, the latch goes well with the only-one-I-could-find replacement for the window crank I snapped off while loading 8-foot 2x6s in the car at the lumberyard. Now I’m tempted to get a green steering wheel.

18 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 01 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 02 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 04 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 05 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 06 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 08 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 12 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 16 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair 17 - 1992 Honda Civic Glovebox Latch Repair Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 24
Piston Slap: Honda Fanboi, Beater Enthusiast, Wannabe Racer? Mon, 21 May 2012 11:51:32 +0000


Carleton writes:


I have two essentially unrelated questions but both seemingly require something that I greatly lack: money.  I’m a 22 year old engineering student in New Hampshire and have been around cars my whole life.  Over the past few years, I’ve purchased several older motorcycles on craigslist very inexpensively, sorted the mechanical issues, cleaned them up and sold each on for a solid profit ($500 to $1000 profit per bike).  While this has been fun, cars have always been my real passion.  Working on motorcycles has given me the confidence to tackle a project of a larger scale, so I am seeking advice to realize two long awaited desires.  I am currently working and making around $1000 per month and can play with about $200-$300 every month.  Furthermore, I have access to my grandfather’s a large garage with pretty much every tool needed to do any automotive work.

Since I got my license several years ago, I have wanted to purchase a winter beater.  As I mentioned, I can’t spend more than a few hundred dollars and am therefore not picky about the make, model, year, color, etc (however I will note that I am a Honda fanboy).  All that I want is a vehicle that will be capable even during the worst northeast blizzards to save my daily driver from the obscene amounts of salt and sand that the DOT uses to cover our roads.  I don’t mind something requiring some relatively basic maintenance but nothing major.  I would prefer a car that is either very economical OR able to carry a vast amount of large cargo (ie: mopeds and small motorcycles).  I think we’ve all seen the Top Gear Challenge where the blokes buy cars for less than £100 but I can’t seem to find anything in the Boston/Seacoast of NH that is remotely close to this kind of money in fully usable condition.  I’m constantly trolling craigslist, local newspapers and side roads.  Where is the best place to look for solid and very inexpensive beaters and what should I expect in terms of price and condition?  I am fully aware that rust will be an issue where I live.

My second question is perhaps more difficult to answer.  I’ve read most of Mr. Baruth’s Trackday Diaries pieces and would like to get into competitive racing/track time in the near future.  I am a great proponent of training and licensing but don’t currently have the funds to drop g’s on Skip Barber track days.  I am not a “fan” of racing so I don’t know what types of events clubs like SCCA offer or the cost of entrance.  My daily driver is an 2008 Civic Si Sedan with 46k and stock Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season rubber.  I am open to using this car for some track time but I want to do all that I can to prevent catastrophic failures from occurring and minimize my risk.  I know that this car may not be the best for such duties but I can’t see how it could be the worst.  I want to properly learn track etiquette and safety procedures but am not sure what modifications, training and equipment I would need to be successful.  Are the barriers of entry simply too high for a broke college kid or is participation in the racing scene actually possible?  Thanks for any help you may provide.

Sajeev Answers:

Very well written letter!  Sometimes I feel like an English teacher, so giddy when someone writes such a well thought out query! So let’s do this thing.

Your first question is easy to answer: you covered almost all of the bases.  The only thing left is to go on the offensive, via posting want ads. Start on Craigslist with a want ad for a cheap car.  Find any corkboard for community postings in college, grocery stores, churches, community centers, etc and post a similar message.   Beggars can’t be choosers, but they also can’t wait around for the right whip to show up.  Make it happen, and write it just as well as this letter to me.

Question two:  there are weekend driving courses around the country, but I couldn’t google something relevant for you.  Fear not, I’m just an ignorant Texan, I am sure you can find a place where nearby tracks are rented for weekend driving schools, SCCA club events, Import tuner clubs, etc.  The easiest way to get in the action is to join something like the aforementioned SCCA. You know, to get in the network and start autocrossing.

And this is where Jay Lamm, Nick Pon, Judge Phil, Judge Jonny and countless friends I’ve made in the 24 Hours of LeMons proceed to burn me at the stake!  Or put a stupid hat on me and strap me to a Fairmont station wagon. Which is kinda the same thing.

It’s true!!!  My favorite way to go amateur racing is with LeMons.  Eventually.  You start by joining a team, and cutting the requisite check for the (laughing) honor. (/laughing) Then you get access to the car during test and tune track days, general wrenching, and so forth. While I do not recommend door-to-door racing for a complete greenhorn, you’ll get there soon enough. Your team will help you make that decision. Most importantly, this form of racing is so much cheaper than anything else out there.

And you’ll make many friends along the way to help you. Too bad most of ‘em are completely nuts.  But it’s all good so do yourself a solid, join the LeMons Forum and get rolling. Enjoy the insanity.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
]]> 11
Piston Slap: The Ideal Aussie Indie Film Star? Thu, 17 May 2012 10:34:01 +0000 James writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’m a university student completing their honours degree in screen production. My project for this year is making a short drama/comedy about a young man and his car (surprise, surprise!), so I’m looking for old, tidy cars with character.

My search has come down to a yellow 1983 Volvo 244 GL 3sp auto, offered to me for $500AUD with no registration – the pictures I’ve been given shows a very straight, tidy old brick, but it could respond well to a good polish. The bad? The car has been sitting around for at least a few months (could even be closer to a year…), which causes worries. I’m told it drove quite well before it was put away and the owners in question are quite mechanically minded and love their bricks, so I’m lead to believe it will be a good car. However, if I buy this car and it doesn’t work, suddenly I’m out of money and I don’t have a car for my film. So is there anything I should be wary of and check to ensure clean health? Any brick nuts want to chime either?

For you brick nuts, it’s an ’83 244 GL with the B23 and the 3 speed automatic. It’s done 280,000 kilometres/170k miles. I’m from Australia so I’m sure someone will school me on how we got the better bricks and USDM got shafted or something along those lines!

Speedy response would be lovely before I loose my money!

Sajeev answers:

Take it from a single guy who spends a fair bit of time networking: be it for cars or people, “character” is an, um, interesting term. Try telling your average business networking professional that your daily driver is a Ford Ranger. Or a Lincoln Mark VIII. It’s quite an eye opener, and the right car will set the tone for a conversation. Or a movie.

All old cars have tons of it, and perhaps your short film will be adult rated because of the sheer volume of profanity involved when said vehicle’s character leaves the protagonist stranded, waiting for parts or trapped in a diagnostic nightmare.  Trapped, I tell you! In this case, depending on the quality of a vehicle’s service history, this might be quite a short film!

Buying a non-runner is a terrible idea for a man in your shoes.

I’d strongly suggest finding a runner that you can test drive and judge on its flaws and benefits.  Service history is crucial.  I’d also recommend buying an indigenous vehicle so people around the world can get a better window into car culture in Australia. Not necessarily like MAD MAX, but some sort of Australian angle would help.

I’d go with a Holden, any of them. Or a Chrysler with a slant-6 motor. Ya know, the Ford’s already been done.

Brick-umentary? (courtesy: James) DSC_0082 DSC_0083 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail




Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

]]> 35
New or Used: Commuter Ying, Sporty Yang Fri, 09 Dec 2011 18:05:00 +0000


Mark V. writes:

I was wrong, I thought I could drive a 370z touring on a daily basis to work, a 75m round trip on the highway mostly, but I can’t.  Its to loud and its becoming unpleasant to drive.  I don’t want to get a beater for a 2nd car because spending almost 2 hours a day in it would be a major quality of life loss and probably not any more pleasant then my 370z.

I need a commuting yin to my 370′s sporty yang, but I don’t think I can afford the expensive of a 2nd car, technically 3rd if you count the wife’s car.

So I think I’m going to be forced to compromise and get a sports sedan.   Which leads to the question, Should I compromise and if so which sports sedan will hold up to my ~18,000m a year commute, make sitting in the car for 2 hours passable, sporty enough to not make me nervous while hooning, and will cost me around 75k to own and operate for the first 5 years?

Sajeev answers:

I have no clue what is sporty enough for you.  Owning a German sedan sounds great, and kinda like yesterday’s installment of New or Used,who knows how much of a money pit it will be after the warranty runs out. And that’s assuming you can buy a new one, and not give in to the temptation of a heavily depreciated 7-er, 5-er, Audi A6 or A8. Your mileage will probably require an extended warranty too. Maybe a Lexus IS will work.  Maybe a used Infiniti M or G. (M’s depreciate like mad and seem like decent machines) Maybe a Caddy CTS.

I have no idea. Or maybe you should get a Mercury Marauder. Yeah, actually that will work just fine for me. But seriously, start test driving before you get snow’d in!

Steve answers:

The number of the cars that will fit these requirements numbers well into the double figures.

Audi A4. BMW 3-Series. Lexus IS350. Infiniti G37. Anyone here can throw in a long list of good potential fits.

Since your budget is a bit more generous than many, I would consider upsizing a bit. My brother just got the new Audi A6 (really) and considers it to be the ultimate elixir for his PITA Long Island commute. Then there are the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class which have pretty much dominated the mid-level luxury market for eons on end.

You have a lot of options out there. So just take your time. Drive a few… and enjoy your next car.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.
]]> 45
Question of the Day: Hoopties Past, Present… and Future? Thu, 17 Nov 2011 14:00:20 +0000 A hooptie is a once-semi-luxurious car that’s depreciated down to just-above-scrap value and is getting its final owner some quality, low-buck miles before being crushed. The Buick Electra 225 was the archetypal hooptie of the 1980s and 1990s, but how about today? More importantly, which current models will be the hoopties of 2025?

Sir Mix-a-Lot pretty much said all there was to say about the Electra as Über Hooptie of 20 years back, and other hoopties of that era are measured by their similarity to the Deuce-and-a-Quarter.
I think the Chrysler LH (Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, Chrysler LHS/Concorde/300M/New Yorker) is the King of the Hoopties in 2011. If you see a big car with red tape for taillight lenses doing 90 on the highway with a space-saver spare on the front nowadays, it’s probably an LH.
The LH has all the hooptie qualities: it was a powerful, luxurious machine when new, the build quality was bad enough that non-essential components such as window regulators and weatherstripping crapped out in a hurrry, the paint and trim looks like hell after a decade or so, yet the running gear is tough enough to keep the thing surviving in true cockroach fashion. Like the Electra of the late 1960s, the LH started life as a good-looking car; it’s faded glory that really gives a car an edge in the hooptie battles.
Another indication of hooptieness is the quantities you spot in the high-turnover self-service junkyards. These days, the LH is outnumbered in yards’ Chrysler sections only by the Neon. Vast junkyard parts availability is critical for hooptie survival, because a hooptie’s owner never has more than 100 bucks in cash at any one moment.
A case could be made for the GM H Platform cars as King of the Hoopties, particularly the LeSabre of the 1990s, and the ’92-up Panther Grand Marquis makes a strong hooptie statement as well. I still say that, were Sir Mix-a-Lot 20 years younger and just starting out, “My Hooptie” would have featured a ’97 Concorde.
However, maybe this debate needs a real wild card. The late-80s/early-90s Toyota Camry is second only to the Chrysler LH in the 90-MPH-with-space-saver-spare count on America’s highways today, and it looks particularly unsavory with faded paint, a trashbag for side glass, and a coat hanger for a radio antenna. This generation of Camry was essentially immortal, which means that members of the hooptie-driving demographic can get away with the usual 60,000-mile oil changes, curb-bashing, and general duct-tape maintenance. The Camry isn’t exactly glamorous, but it has always been a sufficiently upscale car that a wretched one looks especially terrible.
What about the King Hooptie of 2025? Jonny Lieberman suggests the V6-equipped Chrysler 300, and I think he may be onto something. Perhaps a truck? Hyundai Sonata?

Hoopties_of_2011-7 Hoopties_of_2011-1 Hoopties_of_2011-2 Hoopties_of_2011-3 Hoopties_of_2011-4 Hoopties_of_2011-5 Hoopties_of_2011-6 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 109
New or Used: College Priorities, Automotive Compromises Thu, 14 Jul 2011 17:33:42 +0000 Animal...housed?


Brenden writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

My buddy is in college and needs a used set of wheels.  After 2 years of depending upon Baltimore’s awful public transportation system and the generosity of friends, roommates, frat brothers, and total strangers for car rides, his school work is starting to suffer and he’s decided to buy a car.  Unfortunately, his budget is about $2000.  His living situation and total lack of mechanical skills rule out anything German, Swedish, or otherwise maintenance intensive.

His criteria for the car are reliable/durable, fuel efficient, and cheap to run.  Working AC and heat would be a bonus, but he really only intends to drive the car about 15-20 minutes per day for school.  He has absolutely no pretensions about the car’s badge, perceived coolness, sporty driving dynamics, etc., but he probably won’t spring for a total crapcan like a metro or echo. Also, he’s currently unemployed, and I don’t think he intends to find a job due to his course load.

His prior cars have all been automatic Volvos, but he’s driven drunken frat brothers’ manual-equipped cars before, and he’s willing to drive a stick on a daily basis.  Any kind of repairs on a high mileage automatic would probably bankrupt him.  Personally I would never advise anyone to buy a high mileage automatic; I’d feel like I was telling them to buy a ticking time bomb.

My first advice for him was to budget at least $1000 for future repairs, maintenance, taxes, registration and insurance out of his original $2k. What are your recommendations/advice for finding a sub $1000 set of wheels that won’t kill my buddy with repair bills?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Saturn S cars – as long as he avoids the DOHC motors, which I’ve heard require head gasket replacements every 70k or so.
  • Geo/Chevy Prizm – it’s basically a toyota with heavier depreciation, and I haven’t heard of any ‘known’ issues with these cars.
  • Corolla/camry/Civic/Prelude/Accord – again, do you know of any issues with these cars for the 90′s models?  I checked Craigslist and autotrader and couldn’t find any examples of these within the $1000 price range.
  • Neon – I’ve heard that except for the last few model years, the Neons had head gasket issues, so I’m inclined to tell my buddy to avoid these.
  • Focus – no clue on these
  • Contour – Mondeo FTW!  Obviously, the I-4 motor.
  • Cavalier – again, no idea whether these had common problems

So, what advice can you offer regarding vehicle selection?  Buying from a dealership would be ideal, since it would be easier to take the car to his family mechanic for a pre-purchase checkup, but I think we’re going to end up on Craigslist and at auctions.  Assuming we can’t get any of our mechanically inclined buddies to show up, what checks can I reasonably perform on the cars to weed out total dogs?  Offhand, I know to check oil levels and check for oil frothiness/discoloration, check transmission and hydraulic fluids, coolant levels and colors, belts and chains, and to do things like run the AC, wipers, etc.

Steve answers:

I would avoid the dealership like a harsh case of psoriasis. You need to go to the private owner. As for the sub-$2000 car in this economy you should look for…

  1. No A/C: This automatically knocks off $500 to $1000 off the price
  2. The EXTRA car: Folks who already have one more car than they need will sell the leftover ride for cheap. I was able to buy a 10 year old Camry for $500 back in the days when I was getting started. Don’t bet on that happening in today’s times.
  3. Older folks: Owners who are middle-aged and beyond tend to be less abusive than younger folks. Feel free to visit some of the retirement communities in your area and you’ll see exactly what I mean. 4) Gas Guzzlers: Although any vehicle in good condition will do, your friend may actually come out ahead by buying an older vehicle that drinks gas but requires minimal maintenance.

The brand name is completely unimportant at this price point. What is important is that once your friend finds what will work, it is immediately taken to an independent mechanic for an inspection.

Once he buys the car he will want to bring the car back into ‘day one’ condition with it’s fluids. I would buy a Mityvac and replace all the fluids as soon as possible. $80 for a manual pumping Mityvac and about $50 in fluid and filters should be more than enough if his friends are willing to help him out. If not then let the mechanic do the work.

Right now your friends only concern should be to get good grades, great work experience, and a pathway to a good job. Don’t worry about the ‘type’ of car. Just by something that has been well kept and keep focused on the work and grades.

Sajeev answers:

Both your and Steve’s assessment are correct. Quite honestly, you will buy the first vehicle on Craigslist with a smattering of service records and a sub $1000 asking price.  And yes, anything European is entirely out of the question, but automatic transmissions are a hit or miss at this price point.  I would not rule them out, especially if you stick with slushboxes made by GM or the major Japanese brands.

From there I can only guess: any GM sedan, a non-Z car Nissan, or some other non-Honda and non-Toyota from Japan (i.e. resale value) is a good idea. In theory.  Or maybe an ex-cop car Panther, in reality.  Because, why the hell not?

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder. In a rush? Don’t be shy about asking to cut in line.

]]> 50
Piston Slap: Extra Rims for a Simplier Life? Mon, 06 Jun 2011 08:56:28 +0000

TTAC Commentator talkstoanimals writes:


Much to my dismay, in less than a year my job will move from downtown Washington, DC to suburban Maryland. This means I will be forced to drive to work every day rather than being able to rely on the Metro system for the work commute. Currently, my main ride is a 2011 BMW 135i with the M Sport package and some Dinan tweaks. However, since it does occasionally snow and sleet around here, and since I’m unwilling to sell the 135 or swap the summer treads for all season rubber (I regularly flog the car out in the twisties of VA/WV and prefer the feel of summers out there), I’m presented with a twist on the new or used question. Should I:

1. Invest in a set of winter tires, perhaps in a minus 1 size on dedicated wheels? This would require that I rent storage for the wheels/tires not in use or move out of my apartment to someplace with dirty item storage space. I could maybe beg a friend with a garage to loan me a dark corner, but it would make me feel guilty.

2. Buy some sort of cheap – $3500 to $5000ish – but reliable winter car? I wouldn’t mind having a second vehicle for hauling stuff around – maybe a small pickup or a wagon/SUV. Also, since most of my social life still revolves around downtown, I wouldn’t mind having something I could park on the street without a care whether it gets doored, dinged or scraped.

If the answer is two, what car or truck should I look for? The only caveat is that, after the fiasco with my 2010 lemon-lawed Mustang [can't find the link to the Piston Slap on the issue], I won’t buy a FoMoCo product. (Sorry, Sajeev. But Ford ticked me off so much in negotiations over the Mustang that I refuse to give them my money anymore, even in used car form. I don’t want them making a nickel off of me on parts or anything else.) The ideal would be something small enough for city life, durable, utile and easy to insure.

Sajeev Answers:

I remember your quandary quite well.  Shocking as it may sound, who cares if you love or hate FoMoCo?  Not me! My shameless promotion of Panther Love is shallow, laser targeted in scope.  I never was a big fan of coloring outside the lines, if you know what I mean.

I feel bad that you had to Lemon Law your ride, but at least you learned plenty in the process. With any luck,  we can smooth things over with your current quandary.  I wouldn’t entertain the idea of a “winter beater” because I’d keep winter tires in just about any of my friend’s places. As I note the irony of buying winter stuff for Houston, think about the costs associated with multiple car ownership: insurance, wear/tear items and unexpected major repairs.  Of course, your BMW is probably under warranty, and you can often buy a $5000 sled that needs very little in upkeep. If you keep the miles down.  But that 5 large buys a lot of storage and plenty of social libations in the DC area.

More to the point, how long to you expect to live as you currently live?  From your last two rides and career info given here, you sound like a single guy who’s, um, living life to its fullest.  Which usually doesn’t last forever.  Especially with BMW’s rather awesome cost-value proposition after the warranty runs out.  I’d mark time by getting some winter rubber on spare wheels, and judging by what I see on, the snow-friendly rubber is quite easy to get.


Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

]]> 59