No Fixed Abode: Does It Really Take Privilege to Own a Cheap Car?

W Christian Mental Ward
by W Christian Mental Ward
no fixed abode does it really take privilege to own a cheap car

If so, how much? In February, Baruth asserted, “ You Gotta be Rich to Own a Cheap Car” — which is a contradiction of my entire experience as a youthful vehicle owner. But the meat of the article adjusts “rich” to a definition of “privilege.” Furthermore, he breaks the idea into eight talking points. Adding that its not money that directly enables the ownership of a cheap car, a more flexible financial and employment situation combined with some acquired skills and knowledge makes ownership an easier task.

It was a thought-provoking piece and elicited 4 times the comments than the NY to LA Cross Country Record post (but the April 1st post generated almost 10 times the Facebook shares).

Now before you Baruthians get your collective undergarments in a wad, I asked Jack to use this title. He approved it, which may be the first instance of privilege I will speak to. The second is that I may have timed my request during a period I believed him to be well into a bottle of Tito’s. To center this discussion, let’s list the 8 points of privilege as they relate here:

  1. Not having a job where you will be fired for not clocking in on time.
  2. No children or an alternative reliable car to transport them.
  3. Friends or family with free time to aid a stranded motorist.
  4. Living in a decent neighborhood and driving in safe areas.
  5. Financially capable of getting whatever parts the car needs.
  6. Skills as a mechanic and ownership of tools.
  7. Time and the inclination to handle issues as they arise, or barring that;
  8. The ability to just let the car sit.

For the record, I agree with the assessment that it does take privilege to own a cheap car, but I lean more toward the Tavarish side of it in — knowing just a few things and having a little fluid funding laying around can get you a better vehicle than purchasing new. However, if you are employed at a job that maintains a zero tolerance policy of missing work due to automotive issues, do not take this advice.

Four months ago, I acquired a 2002 Mercedes 430 CLK. The same one pictured above. The price for the V-8-powered example of German engineering? $0. How can that be? Well to quote our man Jack; privilege!

In 2001, my brother purchased this coupe new. It came complete with CD-based navigation, integrated phone and a 275 horsepower, 4.3L V-8. He was in real estate and life was good. The Mercedes was soon cast aside for a pair of Range Rovers, a Ferrari and a Bell Jet Ranger.

When the market corrected in 2008, his partner was driving it. On the freeway, he encountered a solid object. It ripped the front clip, busted 2 headlights and cracked the rain-sensing windshield. In that economy there was no money to fix it, so the front bumper was duck-taped into place. There it remained while business recovered. The car was never fixed. The last time it was washed was when Michael Jackson was still alive. Now it had racked up 208,000 miles, needed tires, and there was enough pine needles under the hood to cover a flowerbed. The car was worthless. No one would pay for a 13-year-old German car with those miles. It was certain to break and the repairs would be an albatross around the neck of anyone foolish enough to own it.


I have a weak spot for old German cars and wondered how bad the car was. A trusted independent shop went through the old girl stem to stern. Seven-hundred and fifty dollars later, I had a new power steering reservoir, trans flush and rear brakes. While the partner had neglected the outside, it did see regular service and oil changes. The compression was good and none of the codes stored in the computer were repetitious or signaled impeding doom.

It is worth mentioning that this is a violation of the 6th assessment of privilege. I am a competent parts replacer, but I am by no measure a skilled mechanic — so I paid for this work. But it is an affirmation of the 5th assessment. Not only did I have $750 without impact to my budget, I also had the cash needed for the bodywork, paint and tires.

Which is where the Merc went next. I researched the replacement parts. Knockoffs could be had on EBay for under $500 shipped. Installation would have taken me a day and I could have cleaned the car. The windshield would be beyond most shade tree mechanics. Aside from the equipment required just for installation, the rain-sensing feature put it out of my limited mechanical ability. I have also never had the patience for automotive paint.

So I had it all done to the tune of $3700. Add a staggered set of closeout Sumitomo tires from, installed for under $500. Now I have this $5000 Mercedes coupe. There is no argument that owning an old luxury car is a luxury in itself. Aside from the lack of mechanical skill display by Tavarish and his friends, I possess all 8 aspects privilege Jack mentioned in his original piece. Even more so, I don’t have to worry about 15 degree temps and I have outstanding roadside assistance through USAA.

The question I am posing 890 or so words later: Is the privilege required to own a cheap car less expensive than the privilege of a BMW lease?

Last month, my wife’s BMW X1 was totaled two years into a 36 month lease. The BMW cost me $9,061.08 but the insurance payoff gave us back $2,800. So, our total outlay for that car over 2 years was $6281.08. BMW included all maintenance with the lease, so we haven’t had to buy so much as a windshield wiper. The Mercedes has about $5,700 in it as it sits. Can it make it another 19 months without great expense? Will privilege win out, or should I have just replaced the BMW with another?

Time will tell — and then dear reader, I will tell you.

Christian “Mental” Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is married to the most patient woman in the world, retired to Atlanta last year and thinks of Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski as a career goal. He is an idiot for driving a high-milage Mercedes when he also has a crappy, high-milage El Camino. Follow that and all his other shenaningans on Instagram, Twitter and Vine at M3ntalward.

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  • Jayzwhiterabbit Jayzwhiterabbit on Jul 13, 2015

    That model was a beautiful car inside and out. Classic Benz lines and interior design. Perhaps one of the last Benzes that didn't look like a Hyundai!!

  • Jayzwhiterabbit Jayzwhiterabbit on Jul 13, 2015

    I wish I could lease but I just drive too many miles a year. My parents are the perfect candidates, but from an old-school era and will not consider a lease (they see it as essentially trashy). They buy new, put on less than 15 k a year, and immediately buy a new car when their old car is paid off. Moronic.

  • Wjtinfwb How does the ICE mid-engine C8 platform work for... anything else? A sedan? SUV? With a mid engine configuration? A mid-engine SUV will have to be Suburban sized to offer the utility of a CRV. GM should dust off the Omega platform designed for the Cadillac CT6 for an SUV/Sedan offering with exceptional handling, Rear or AWD capability and acceptable space utilization. They also need to focus on interior fit & finish, trim choices and high quality final engineering and assembly. What GM doesn't need is another half-baked product with a storied and prestigious badge on the decklid and a premium price on the Monroney. No more Cimarron's, Allante's or X-cars needed to tarnish the reputation of Corvette.
  • InCogKneeToe BUILD It and they will come.By Build It, I mean a Vehicle that the Customer Wants and it works for them. It could be called Chevette for all that that matters. The Mach E's success isn't because it totes the Mustang on it.Just build what people want, the next Caravan/Taurus/Beetle/Maverick (truck).
  • YellowDuck do you make a mid-engine crossover? Or even a 4-door coupe? Me not get.
  • 28-Cars-Later Thanks Corey. The head stud job on NOrthSTAR-T was $3K *years ago* as it involves an engine pull so rear wheel arch rust in and of itself isn't a show stopper. I'll be sure to check out the trunk as it may start to add up on deferred maintenance. Supposedly this was garaged so the underneath the rockers etc. should be decent but if those are shot its not gonna work.
  • Mark 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, G4NG engine with connecting rod bearing issues. Engine needs to be replaced, but Hyundai is denying warranty claim. I have all maintenance records from mile zero. It has been in Hyundai Service department 5 time in 4 months. They added the knock sensor and software update to let you know the engine is about to blow up. They kicked the can down the road doing patch work until the car was past the 120k extended extended warranty. I have that documentation too. So how can I join the class action law suit or find a Lawyer that handles these types of issues?