Hammer Time: The Cheapest Car

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

A 1994 Impreza for $25? Bought one back in 2003 with an auto tranny and all the paint stripped off. It needed a new battery and . . . that was it. I sold it on eBay for $1576 to a fellow who flew in from California and drove it all the way back to IOU-land. He was a rally coordinator for Subaru and although the car was going to be modified, it ended up slogging through So Cal traffic instead for another 50,000 miles. I’ve always wondered whether it would have been more profitable to keep it? Perhaps.

The Impreza as a 4-speed auto averaged 27 mpg. Let’s say it consumed 3700 gallons over 100k miles. That’s about $9250 in gas costs (assuming $2.50 a gallon). The 1st gen Insight I drive will spank it but a Cavalier? An Escort of the same vintage? The 15% lesser mileage in my mind is partly compensated by better engineering from Subaru. Which brings me to the key point about a cheap car.

It has to last. Most cars have some type of nasty weak point, and in the case of the Roo it’s the heater core and knock sensors. Not much at all compared to most other cars of that vintage. Finally you have to figure out the type of driver who actually owned the vehicle. There’s an old saying in the horse country of Saratoga Springs where, “It’s not the horse, it’s the rider.” When it comes to cars, it’s not the car—it’s the driver that determines the long-term worth and condition.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Dcdriver Dcdriver on Jul 30, 2009

    I'm addicted to scanning craigslist for cheap used cars. I see a ton of early 2000's Taurus on there for really cheap. I'm thinking of getting one. One thing to keep in mind about used cars is that miles can be deceiving. A 10 year old car with only 60-70k miles on it may look great, but it could also mean that it was driven mostly in stop and go traffic, short trips where the engine didn't quite heat up etc. (Or it could mean that it was inoperable for some unknown reason for a long time) Conversely, a high-mileage car often means a lot of highway miles, long trips etc.

  • Blindfaith Blindfaith on Jul 30, 2009

    1994 cadillac concourse with all the trimming bought 10 years old 2004 with 100k miles for $4000 drove it for 4 years no problems but 1 or 2 qt of oil a month burned Looked like a pimp felt like a theif Sold it for $4000 and put 80,000 miles on it

  • Dolorean23 Dolorean23 on Jul 30, 2009

    re: ttacfan; I remember the 93 Cavalier was the first car I could afford that had ABS standard on most models. Probably could still order one with nothing else to it, but it was Chevy's big thing that year. Chevy advertised that every one of their cars came equipped with ABS and spend a lot of money inventing little badges stating that fact on all their cars.

  • Andy D Andy D on Jul 31, 2009

    In '96, I bought an 88 BMW 528e with 150k miles on it. I drove the car an additional 200k miles. I maintained it in my driveway, just normal wear items. The furthest I got into the engine was replacing the timing belt. I replaced the injectors with a used set and set the valves once. In 11+ years,it never broke down on me. I liked the car so much, I bought 2 more 86s and then 2 more 88s. The last 88, is a 500$ fixer upper. It runs great.