Hammer Time: The Beater Index

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time the beater index

Everybody believes they know what a beater is.

“My old 10 year old Chevy Cavalier is a real beater!”, they may remark in some self-affirming way. “Why it’s old and it has 120k miles, and the paint is faded… and…”, they will continue to go through the list on the mistaken belief that any car made in the late Clinton to Bush era is a beater. They’re not. At least not quite yet. Any car that can be scanned or diagnosed with a conventional OBDII scanner is not a beater.

Then there is the modern day Yuppie beater. “I have a late 90’s Mercedes E-Class that’s a true beater!” Never mind that the car would fit in at any country club if the owner bothered to give it a good detail.

In my humble opinion, these types of cars are not beaters at all. What qualifies? Well let’s go through the list shall we?

The ‘E’ Factor: As in embarassment. A true beater will always have a degree of social stigma attached to it. As in, “Did you see that crappy car that Flo the crackhead waitress drives? What a beater!” If your car blends in with the scenery of drivers, it’s not a beater. Only when a car sticks out in ‘that way’ does it qualify. Ten points.

Daily Driver: If you don’t use it as a daily driver no dice. Some may call it an antique. Others may call it junque. Either way it has to stay on the road to be a true beater. Five points.

Dents Don’t Matter: If hitting another object that is made out of steel does not require even a glance at the damage, five points.

Orphan Brand: Oldsmobile, Saturns, Pontiacs, Plymouth, Saabs and Hummers all get one point. Actually, they have to be at least 17 years old which eliminates all Hummers and most any Saab that is still in good running condition. Five points are given if your beater brand was last sold prior to 1995, and ten points if it was before 1985. Five if it’s French or Italian. Ten for British. Fifteen for Eastern Europe. Twenty for a Russian brand.

Old Enough To Drive Itself: Five points if it passes this test and is a daily driver. Prestige brands should be of legal drinking age except for Jaguars which automatically qualify once they hit their teenage years.

Beer Bellies And Soggy Bottom Boys: Is your car’s suspension so bad that it has its “pants on the ground”? Do the shocks or struts make moaning or groaning sounds akin to a mechanical orgy? Does your car truly bottom out when hitting large potholes or small furry woodland creatures? 10 points for you!

Primer: Forget about faded paint. Are portions of your paint job down to primer? That’s another five points.

Four Speed Stick / 3 Speed Auto: Five points for either one. Five additional points are also given if you can no longer use one of the gears.

The Technicolor Dream Coat Paint Job: Does your car come in at least three different shades of the same color? Or two very bad off colors? Five points for you!

Doors: Do they work? Five points for each door that doesn’t open.

Windows: Five points for each crank window that does not open. Five additional point if you use a garbage or plastic in place of a window. Ten points if it’s the rear glass.

Big Old Detroit Iron: No we’re not talking about the custom ghetto blaster with big wheels, and stripes, and looks like a big rolling Tylenol. Thugmobiles don’t count. Grandma’s little traffic helper does. Five points if your car was owned and driven by the wiser among us. Ten points if it was the last car driven by both beloved grandparents.

Ol’ Redneck Truck: You know it when you see it. Extra five points given if the seats are vinyl. An additional five points if it has no muffler. five points more if the horn no longer works due to overuse. On second thought this criteria also applies to cars. Ten points if the bed has holes, and ten points more if the floorboard has holes.

The ‘Memories’ Car: Has a random stranger come to you and waxed eloquently about all the joy your model gave them back in the day? Ten points if this has happened to you and your car hits at least three of the above categories.

The Followed Car: Is your car so nasty looking that the police start following you around the neighborhood? If this has happened at least five times, then five points for you.

The ‘What is That?’ Car: If folks out there have asked you that question at least three times, that’s five points. Five times or more? 10 points.

The Scrapper Saver: If your car was meant for the crusher at least once in it’s life, that’s 10 points.

The Duct Tape, Thumbtacked, Staple Gunned Car: 5 points for each one of these substances. 10 points if the duct tape is used to hold together or replace a vinyl roof. Wire hanger holding the muffler up? An extra 5 points.

Thirteen Inch Wheels: If your replacement tires are the proverbial advertised specials you see in the circulars, 5 points. A smaller size is 10 points. Ones that have to be special ordered because of their age and rarity are 15 points.

Bathroom Floormats: Five points for each one used in the interior. Ten points if they are used for the trunk. Fifteen points if they are permanently attached to the vinyl roof.

Broken Antenna: Five points. No more. No less.

Old School Features: Five points for those that ceased to exist by the 1990’s. Ten points for the 1980’s. Fifteen points if your car did not come equipped with a working radio, passenger side window or air conditioning.

The Steenkin’ Lincoln Factor: Is your car so menacingly ugly that people automatically give you the right of way? Ten points!

The Mismatched Syndrome: Five points for each part on your car that came from another vehicle… that was not the same model. Buick wheels on a Pontiac. Jetta steering column in a Golf.

Tally up your score. 50 points or more is a true beater. 25 points or more is a beater-in-training. 15 or less is plain Jane commuter in drag.

Also, if you have any other criteria you would like to add feel free to make it known. All the best!

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2 of 108 comments
  • DisTurbo DisTurbo on Jun 22, 2012

    On a side note, did you Americans ever get the 1978 Mazda 929L? Every single one of those that is still on Australian roads, is a true beater in all the ways you describe.

  • NewsLynne NewsLynne on Jul 15, 2012

    63 for my '95 Buick Regal with 177,000 miles on it. I'm headed out today to tear out the double sided tape that was holding up the back of the headliner. It seeps oil and throws itself out of overdrive and makes a "bonk" noise when you turn the wheel a certain way but it passed inspection with just a set of brake pads. I have enough saved to buy a new (to me) car but the old Regal's fine for trips around town and an occasional interstate run.

  • RHD Any truth to the unconfirmed rumor that the new, larger model will be called the bZ6X? We could surmise that with a generous back seat it certainly should be!
  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…