By on April 10, 2013

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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

36 Comments on “Krugerrands For Clunkers...”

  • avatar

    Buy the E34 wagon and provide us with updates! This will allow me to live my E34 wagon fantasies without actually making the expensive mistake of purchasing one myself.

  • avatar

    Ontario especially is bad with salt. You guys in the winter seem to just coat your roads and parking lots with that stuff. I think this is also why the GTA is filled with cars that have their rocker panels painted with pickup-truck bed-liner.

    Last week I was in Fredericton to visit family, and I was surprised how many old cars people were using. Now New Brunswick is economically stagnant, and people don’t drive as much as in Toronto, which creates a hell of an incentive to hold on to the old cars. But still: 80s pickups and sedans from the early and mid 90s were everywhere. Even the maritimes it seems is better for rust.

  • avatar

    Las Vegas is, of course, the driest town. Unless the vehicle is being sold by a recent transplant from a rust zone, there is essentially no such thing as rust here. The soft parts that *do* rot from UV are easily replaced.

    Yet used trucks are far from cheap here. $1600 will get you a 20-year-old, off-brand mini-pickup – maybe a Mitsubishi or Isuzu – but if you want a Toyota, Nissan, Chevy or Ford, you’re looking at at least $2K.

    You want a car, instead? $1600 might buy you a 15-year-old Tercel or Sentra, or perhaps a J-body GM. They won’t have a speck of rust, but most of the paint will be gone, too.

    $2000 really seems to be bottom dollar for anything you’d want to drive around these parts.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven a 1600 euro E34 5-series for the past winter. Not without its share of rust, but thankfully minor. I should do a 10 000 km report one of these days, as the winter is finally going away.

  • avatar

    I’ve been really considering a 92 Bronco custom (stripped down) with a 302, manual, and 4WD. It has 140k miles and is finished in BLM brown. But, it’s listed at $1500. Interior is basic but everything in tact, roof comes off, worn down tires, doubt there is any rust but probably abuse from desert trips. Still, remove the roof and have fun camping.

    • 0 avatar

      Do it!
      I have a soft spot for Broncos, I’ve had two first gen ’66-’77s also a ’87 and later ’91 EB Bronco….all were nicely modified with mild lifts, 35s, etc. I loved each generation for different reasons but if you get the ’92 replace all of the rubber radius arm bushings in the front end. The IFS doesn’t work that great when it’s new let alone when everything is worn out. Still love these trucks though. I’m still looking for a nice ’76-’77 Sport to rebuild…

  • avatar

    Hoo Hoo I love this game! Because all the cars here in Buffalo in that price range have giant holes in the sides I have reverted to my West Coast reality and checked out the Seattle Area Craigslist:

    How about a 1976 MGB?

    How about a 1966 Jeep truck – just needs a “Fuil pump”

    or a Jaguar XJ12 for just $1000? This one has to be great!

    I’m not actually supposed to drive any of these everyday, am I?

    • 0 avatar

      These are hilarious! Jag only “needs a radiator.” Probably 3 kruggerands for that. Jeep only “need a fuel pump.” Yeah, that photo of the glove box door with the Impala emblem makes me want to run out and get that truck. The MGB “has an aftermarket carburetor and needs adjustment. It must go.” Translation: I’m sick and tired of working on this car.

      I’m ready for a roadtrip to Seattle.

    • 0 avatar

      It appears that the MGB has a Ford 2.0 with C4(?) automatic transmission. Rubber bumpers + non-stock = low $.

  • avatar

    In Buffalo…

    Volvo 850 for $1200

    another Jag – and this one is close to the house. – hmmmm…

    Here is the one! 1996 Buick Roadmaster Wagon –

    • 0 avatar

      Thomas, that Volvo in Youngstown…that’s a fairly affluent area. I think I have seen that car driving around (live in Lewiston…).

      All the original wheels, maybe something going on with the driver-side front bumper cover…

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not really a Volvo guy, but if I was looking for something that looked good as basic transportation that one would be high on my list. It doesn’t scream “I’m a rolling moving violation, come and arrest me!”

        I wonder if it had a problem passing the state inspection or something. I’m still pretty new to NY and my former state (WA) doesn’t have inspections like they do here. Although my cars have always passed with a minimum of fuss, I would think twice about buying something on the cheap if i was coming up on an inspection.

  • avatar

    The G20 would be the “smart” play, but the other choices would make for much better reading. The BMW wagon will probably cost double what you paid the first time it needs service.

    Volvo 240’s make great beaters. Well made, easy to work on, cheap parts, and have a little bit of panache.

  • avatar

    About 6-12 months ago, I was seeing more cars for under $1600 that were reasonable, but a recent check didn’t show very many. Some of them 6-12 months ago were W124/W126 Mercedes in decent condition, which was rather tempting, but they probably needed some kind of minimal work. Not seeing those right now, in any case.

    Now it seems like there are a lot of pieces of crap for $7-10K available. Way overpriced for tax season, perhaps.

  • avatar

    I bought my clunker 4 months ago, ’92 Nissan Sentra SE (featured on a piston slap here) From the greater Seattle area and with a curbstoner for a seller. Asking $1300, settled on $1200. 180k miles at the time and no issues other then the syncro’s in 2nd are lazy when its cold. Fixed the trunk leak, and did a safety inspection and tuneup including belts and hoses. Put about 7k miles on it in those 4 months, 6k of those during 6 days of road tripping. It even survived being loaded to the gills in moving me across the country. Averaged 35 mpg on the freeway, and the 10yo battery is still good. Bang for the buck it even beats the wrecked $200 ’83 Toyota truck I bought several years ago.

  • avatar
    Mark in Maine

    I just bought a ’98 Subaru Outback for a grand. Loaded 5-speed car. I got it from a friend, so it’s the devil I know, instead of something from the local Car Trader rag,or CL. He’d gotten it from the original owner a ways back, and it was sold new in Tennessee, and it is very clean – I can find no rust on the thing, top, or bottom. I will need to replace the timing belt and a couple of oil seals, but it still runs and drives pretty well for not a lot of money.

  • avatar

    I think you forgot the link, I’m guessing it is this post:

    Great blog btw, highly recommended.

  • avatar

    As nice as the original G20 was anyone wanting a small Nissan with independent rear suspension, four wheel disc brakes and the SR20 motor could get a much lighter Sentra SE-R.

    What small cars today has that combination?

    And if the BMW needs brakes, emissions and body work to pass inspection, I’d rather have some of that ‘wonderful’ regulation that’s snidely referred to in this article.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve noticed the SE-R is very hard to find, while there’s no short supply of G20s.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to sell Nissans off and on between 1990-1992, so I’ve driven most of their line-up from those days. I gotta say, I never understood the popularity of the Sentra SE-R. Sure, it was a nice ride, but it was nowhere NEAR as fun to drive as the NX2000, which wasn’t appreciated as much due to its not-so-pretty face.

      But BOY was the NX2000 fun to drive. That thing carved corners like no other FWD car I had ever driven. It came close to the 240SX in its handling prowess, and of course its engine was far smoother than the SX’s 2.4 liter gravelly motor.

      • 0 avatar

        I was going to call you on any improved handling of the NX2000 over the SE-R as they are the same platform, until I went and read Wikipedia that stated that Road and Track also agrees. The wider tires and lower ride must really help. The SE-R hands down wins the looks department over the NX, the poor NX looks like a goldfish. I think the 2 door B13 looks alot like an E30 BMW, very similar shapes etc. Now if I could only get a NX digital gauge cluster in my Sentra……

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah, the SE-R was certainly in a class of its own. I do understand its appeal. The NX2000, on the other hand, had to compete against the far more attractive Honda CRX and Mazda MX-3 GS. The NX2000’s wider performance tires and lower center of gravity made a significant difference. The NX1600 drove like a Sentra XE, by comparison.

  • avatar

    I never realized before how much the E34 touring looks like the E39 touring from the side. I have an E39 touring in the same color with the same wheels (style 29s). Had I not seen the headlights or side reflector on the front bumper, I might have thought it was my car. Unfortunately, mine doesn’t have three pedals. But fortunately it also doesn’t have emissions, brake, or bodywork problems. It was nickle and diming me pretty good between 140k and 170k, but has been solid lately (just turned 200k). I too have an irrational love for the E34. This isn’t helping.

  • avatar

    “If you live in a crappy climate and find something cool, post it up anyways.”

    Here in Milwaukee several days of cold rain have finally washed the winter salt from our roads. Some under $1600 vehicles from the local CL pages with interesting stories:

    2001 Range Rover $1500

    “Last Friday the upper radiator hose blew, which more likely than not has caused damage to the head gasket. The vehicle currently starts, idles and will move when engaged. However, I believe it will need substantial work …

    Saab 900S convertible – $999 “Runs A1 The bad clutch bad i think…..”

    1964 Corvair (no price listed)

    2 Motors, (Does Not Run Or Drive) Extra Parts, I Even Have The Original Hub Caps. Pictures Suck, You Gota Come See It. Very Little Rust. Only A Rip In The Drivers Seat, The Rest Is Great! Interior Needs A Cleaning But For The Age This Car Is Nice.

    I’m glad I no longer have to shop in this price range.

    • 0 avatar

      “Here in Milwaukee several days of cold rain have finally washed the winter salt from our roads.”

      Who knows, at this rate, the roads themselves might be washed away! But seriously, I have a feeling that pothole visibility will be significantly reduced due to all the rain we’ve been dealing with this week. I hope I don’t ruin a tire because of this.

    • 0 avatar

      The Saab description is priceless:

      Runs A1

      The bad clutch bad i think…..

      Roof Works

      Leather Seats No Rips

      Burns very little gas

      Very Eager To Sell

      The irony is this is the sort of crap I typically buy for kicks…

  • avatar

    No road salt in Portland.
    1994 F150 213000 miles 6cyl 5spd good tags

    A dealer once told me that trucks like this are like gold in Mexico. Cheap parts, easy to work on, simple. Hell, I may go take this one for a drive.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve heard the same thing, if you have a decently clean 80’s chevy truck, you can take it to Mexico and get $15,000

      Was with a friend one day, and some guy stopped us and offered him $7,000 for his truck (worth $4k on a good day here) and proceeded to tell him the above.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    You can get a solid 6 cyl Commodore for less than 2K here. It won’t be very powerful or fast, but you can still go out there and have plenty of fun.

    If GM is not your cup of tea, then a Falcon can be had for the same or less money. Again, you can have heaps of fun with it.

    For a bit more coin, but still staying below 5K, you can have Soarers, Skycraps, BMWs, Mercs or nicer local iron, maybe even with a V8. Those may require some work to get a RWC.

    There’s plenty of machinery to choose.

  • avatar

    here in chicago, with the advent of almost universal adoption of CL, I will no longer even attempt to buy anything on the lower end. you spend so much remediating metal fatigue on body/parts that it just is not worth it.

    i’ll happily spend the time and cost to get something back up here that hasn’t been through the frosty hell we endure 6 months a year. as I write this in mid-april, it’s 37 outside.

  • avatar

    Here in Edmonton we sand our roads instead of salting them and rust isn’t as big of an issue as in most other Canadian cities.. So there are plenty of older vehicles on our road still in pretty good shape.

    My ’88 Ranger cost me all of $700 plus a few hundred it needed in exhaust work to pass inspection. It’s the third of my vehicles, all costing less than a grand a piece (a 96 Grand Am and a 90 Taurus were my first two). I’ve long maintained that you can find a decent quality, safely driveable junker for less than a grand in this city and I will continue proving that point for as long as I can get away with it.

    My idea of a good time: put in a max price of $1300 in Kijiji ($1300 translates to a not-too-lowball offer of under $1000), add a max year in the mid-2000s to weed out the dealer adverts and most of the wrecked cars and see what you come up with. There are always lots of very viable options out there with little to no work needed to keep them going for at least the next 6 months.

    Don’t expect too many advanced features like ABS or airbags, though. My truck is bone stock, power nothing (other than brakes) but it did come with a handy second fuel tank.

    I love cheap rides :)

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • kcflyer: at Arthur Dailey. Thanks for the links. Very helpful in general but none addresed my specific question as...
  • ToolGuy: @mcs, Do you think he got the promotion because he drove the “right” vehicle? If...
  • mcs: Well, with the money he’s saved by driving the jeep, maybe in the holiday spirit, he could spring for some...
  • BobinPgh: Did the fact that according to Chrysler, it was “Suddenly 1960!” have anything to do with the...
  • ToolGuy: Re: XJ Cherokee This individual (current CEO of Amazon) has a net worth of something like $400 million and...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber