By on July 7, 2016

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One of my favorite pieces that my dear older brother has ever written is his recount of his experience with Matt Farah’s Million Mile Lexus. His epic takedown of the very notion inspired a good amount of heartburn amongst the Best & Brightest, generating nearly half a thousand comments on the way to becoming one of the most viewed articles ever posted here.

I was reminded of it today when I was browsing through the new Facebook Marketplace for my zip code. There are dozens of cheap cars posted daily, ranging from $300 for a Suzuki Reno without a motor to $3,500 for a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a rear window that’s sadly fallen off its track, destined to lazily lay halfway down its frame for eternity. However, in each of the corresponding comments sections for the listed cars, at least one person asks the following question: “What’s wrong with it?”

And that’s when you begin to understand how buying a cheap car can become an incredibly harrowing, terrifying experience.

As any of you who’ve read my writings for any length of time are completely aware, I have limited wrenching skills — and that’s being kind to myself. I can change tires and adjust shocks, and that’s only born out of necessity from my autocrossing days. I’ve tried going down the cheap car path myself for a winter/airport car a couple of times, and it has yet to end well for me. But I can at least pop the hood and know if hoses are disconnected, or if there’s a leak somewhere. I generally understand the principles of how automobiles work.

What if you literally knew nothing about how a car functions and you only have $1,000 to buy a vehicle that’ll get you back and forth to your job that you will absolutely lose the first time that you’re late?

It’s easy to say that you should get a pre-purchase inspection of any used car that you buy. Problem is that your typical PPI runs about $100-200, which is a significant chunk of your budget when you only have $1,000 to start with. Also, that assumes that the car you have inspected checks out (which, to be honest, is unlikely). If something’s broken, you probably can’t afford to have it fixed anyway, so you’re just going to have to move along to the next car — and yet another PPI.

So what do you do? You end up asking the fox to guard the henhouse. “What’s wrong with it?” is the only defense you have against spending your last $1,000 on a car that breaks down seven days after you bought it. This question, nearly exclusively asked by women, is universally answered as such:

“Runs good, needs a little TLC. A/C is out, engine takes a little while to warm up. I’ve driven it for months with no problems.”

I’ve added punctuation where there’s typically none and used correct spelling, but you’re picking up what I’m putting down. There’s absolutely no way that anybody could discern anything of value from the description that is normally given of the car in question, and it’s just as unlikely that any potential buyer has the mechanical ability to inspect the vehicle as it’s unlikely that he or she would have the funds for a PPI (or even a CARFAX). If the buyer lives in one of the many states in this nation that require emissions or safety inspections, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

In essence, the buyer has become powerless in the process, forced to accept whatever vehicle matches their available funds. The buyer is now doomed to an endless cycle of buying cars that are as disposable as the clothes at Old Navy. As soon as the buyer purchases this car, they must immediately start saving for the next $1,000 car, because they know that the lifespan of their vehicle is extremely limited.

I saw this rinse-and-repeat cycle personally for years when I worked as a retail manager for Cricket Wireless from 2008 to 2010. The owner of the neighboring business, a cookie shop, came storming into my store one day, complaining about my customers’ “jalopies” and how they were spilling oil all over the parking lot. I couldn’t do much but agree with her and apologize. Cricket is a monthly pay-in-advance cellular phone service provider, which meant that we would see the same customers every single month as they came in to pay for their next month of service.

What we didn’t see every single month were the same cars. The Cricket target household income was sub-$15,000, which meant that these customers (if they even owned a car) were likely to own a car that was prone to implosion. It was likely that we’d see them in a different car almost every visit.

But what else are they to do? While it’s certainly true that cars are built to last longer than they did a decade or two ago, it’s those cars from a decade or two ago that these people are forced to buy. Cash for Clunkers did nothing to help the situation either, removing thousands upon thousands of viable vehicles from the road.

I don’t even blame the sellers — after all, they’re in a financial position where they’re being forced to sell a $1,000 car. What technical expertise could one possibly expect the private seller of a cheap car to have? He’s likely selling it because it isn’t working all that well for him. Can you really blame him for not disclosing everything what’s wrong with the car? He probably has no earthly idea either.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a column where I put out some idea to fix the situation. I don’t have a clue where to start. The next step up from buying a $1,000 car is going to a Buy Here Pay Here lot, a business model so reprehensible I can barely bring myself to speak of it, or doing a special finance on an late-model used car for 18.99% over 84 months and risking bank repossession for a single missed payment.

It’s yet another way that the poor get poorer in this society, and I don’t know what can be done about it. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make me sad.

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279 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Buying a Cheap Car Is an Expensive Problem...”


  • avatar

    If you’re willing to spend long to rebuild large portions of “cheap cars” then you’re OK.

    OR…the more logical solution:

    Buy a car that is old and can easily be upgraded using performance parts. There are plenty of aftermarket performance and high quality parts available for older vehicles.

    You could build a RACE CAR.

    Or you can buy an old, beat-up, soul-less Japanese-import econobox and fix it up…

    New skirt kit
    New Spoiler
    Elephant fart emissions system
    Air suspension/ struts/springs

    If I were gonna buy an old used car and build A MONSTER, I might get a used Mercedes CL, Accord Coupe or Dodge Challenger and rebuild the entire thing to my specifications.

    Supercharger, Big(ger) BREMBO brakes and iPad Mini/LTE
    integration.

    Perhaps I’d build a Quad Turbocharged V8 Lincoln panther-platform.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Bark, you are giving me flashbacks of my life from age 16 to about age 25. (Shudder)

    Lucky for me those cars were family hand me downs, although I still ended up being responsible for repairs once I started college.

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      That’s part of that stage of life.

      I did the same thing, although it was long ago. And cars back then…no, not more reliable; but more FIXABLE. For a four-year stretch, I alternated between beater Pintos and beater Postal Jeeps, with one Gremlin thrown in the vetch.

      They were of varying states of decomposition but one thing they had in common was, the POs never TRIED, probably didn’t know how, to make them work better. My glittering jewel (oxidized paint notwithstanding) was my Texas Trash Pinto Squire, complete with Royal Oaks Country Club stickers. Having been sold by the apparently-successful initial owner, it went through the Buy-Here-Pay-Here lots, and had a lot of destructive quick-fixes to the engine, especially the cooling system.

      It’s a testament to the durability of the Cologne 2-liter Four that it didn’t decompose under that mistreatment. A new radiator (boneyard) and new carb (Nationwise Auto Parts, a Holley Economaster) and I had it purring like a kitten. It became my solid-body Summer Car…at least partly because the heater didn’t work and pulling the dash out to change the core was beyond my ken.

      Others were in less-restorable condition. There was the Pinto Hatch, which had the automatic stuck in Second Gear…until I did a fluid change and added Trans-Medic. Freed it up. The Postals had the box-cabs rotting off the frame; angle iron from the hardware store and a heavy drill and some bolts, and we’re off and running! Nothing’s as durable as the AMC, later Jeep, six.

      All of those cars were CHEAP. The Pinto cost me $750; probably $2000 in today’s funny-money. The others…never more than $300.

      Except for one of the Postals, and the Pinto Squire, I sold them all for more than I paid. One Postal went to the boneyard; and after I landed a good job, my mother wanted the Pinto wagon out of her garage. Sold it for $400. I put 30,000 miles on it for $350.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    >The van doesn’t have to be pretty or have seats…<

    That's not creepy at all.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      And he’s willing to “defiantly” trade for it as well.

      • 0 avatar
        SlowMyke

        @FormerFF – This was pointed out to me a couple years ago, but almost every instance of the word “defiantly” on the internet is the result of autocorrect changing poor spelling of “definitely”. Searching defiantly on Twitter is entertaining.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Well it could just be for hauling “stuff” and you can pack way more stuff in a van w/o seats. Then again there was the old Sammy Johns song….

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      “I need something with a lot of room to haul stuff on a trip.”

      Yeah, people with cargo that needs to be moved sure are creepy. Filthy losers with worldly possessions. For shame.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        I know, right? There I was last Sunday minding my own business at Walmart stocking up on the essentials – duct tape, ball gag, chloroform, handcuffs, waterboarding kit, ransom notepaper, rope — and these people come out of nowhere and get all up in my grill for offering some candy to their kids.

        I just thought these kids would be curious to see the inside of my white van. That’s not creepy.

        • 0 avatar
          PeriSoft

          Waterboarding kit, eh? How much are those going for at wally world these days? I usually get them at Target for that extra splash of style, but I’d hate to be paying too much.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      But it’s helpful if it says “FREE CANDY” on the side.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    All I see is another ringing endorsement for the advancement of autonomous cars. I’m guessing credit is out of the question for these folks as well so financing something half decent is no bueno.

    These folks could forego the heartburn of car ownership completely and just do a pay-per-ride car sharing/public transportation deal. The main hurdle to public transportation in sprawling places is the fixed and limited nature of the routes. Autonomous public transportation would not have that problem.

    Will be interesting to see what will happen to the current crop of cars on the road, which are probably more durable than ever, if/when autonomous cars mature and proliferate the market.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Getting the usual ignoramuses out of the “ban anyone else from buying a car without all the equipment the political donor class feels should be required” business, along with ditching the ambulance chaser welfare program that is “at fault” and mandatory “liability” insurance, would help the issue immensely.

      In some rural parts, this is already happening to some extent, as sheriffs are largely looking the other way at people getting around on/in none-to-barely registered and insured 4 wheelers and such. Those things are becoming increasingly useful as general transportation, while remaining much cheaper than even low end cars fully insured. Chances are, even Elio won’t be able to change that.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Can you show me how to get INTO the “ban anyone else from buying a car without all the equipment the political donor class feels should be required” business. It sounds fascinating and lucrative. Will I need another degree from Trump University?

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      @sportyaccordy – “These folks could forego the heartburn of car ownership completely and just do a pay-per-ride car sharing/public transportation deal. The main hurdle to public transportation in sprawling places is the fixed and limited nature of the routes.”

      They have a fix for this already – Uber and Lyft. Uber and Lyft drivers have no issue driving into a traditionally poor (or “bad”) neighborhood to get a fare. And in a sick twist of fate, the cities where dense populations of impoverished residents call home are trying to outlaw these services or overregulate them into oblivion… All in order to protect incumbent taxi services that wont go into said neighborhoods in the first place. A sad state of affairs overall.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        You make a strong point. It would be stronger if impoverished residents of traditionally poor neighborhoods could afford $600 smartphones and monthly bills. Many cannot.

      • 0 avatar

        Uber Lyft and Taxis are all much to expensive for working poor people to use regularly. It’s a good occasional solution but does not work for commuting to your 10/hr job.

        Also to be fair most cities aren’t trying to protect taxis (some are) most are just enforcing existing laws or keeping some standard for professional drivers. There are reasons these laws were created ,(not all protectionist) .

  • avatar
    RHD

    Part of the problem is the sales venue – Facebook Marketplace. It’s the digital version of the flea market, where the bottom 25% sell to the bottom 25%. (Gotta tell it like it is, this IS The Truth About Cars!)
    [On a side note, our local flea market is full of Russians selling very dodgy used cars, many of which are the front half of one welded to the back half of another.]

    If the jalopy drivers were to invest their cigarette and beer money in their cars, they could afford to repair them, or buy something better.
    It comes down to a lack of maintenance – any car can last practically forever if it gets repaired (just ask any Cuban!) when necessary, which in nearly all cases is much cheaper than buying a new car.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      Firstly, not all (or even most) poor people blow their money on cigarettes and beer. Some poor people are irresponsible with their money, some simply don’t earn as much as they need to get ahead of the proverbial 8-ball.

      And, yes, just about any car CAN be repaired, but when you are going to get fired for being late to work more than a couple of times, a car that breaks down every couple of months is one that needs to be dumped, no matter how much money it could “save” vs. buying a replacement.

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        Well, if it’s not cigarettes and booze then it’s tattoos and body piercings and more tattoos. I do find probably the majority of the “less fortunate” partake of at least one of the four. I see it in my own family.

        Not all but many considered poor or less fortunate are such because of repeated poor choices they make.

        • 0 avatar
          HotPotato

          Yeah, that tattoo made all the difference to their net worth.

          Think, 56. Reason.

          • 0 avatar
            56BelAire

            Potato……I said “tattoo(S)” and more “tattoo(S)”.
            I see plenty of people in the local bar with full sleeves but they don’t have a car because they can’t afford one.

            I’m not talking about one small tat. Think. Read. Comprehend.

          • 0 avatar

            How much do tattoos cost ? It is your body, you can do what you wish…does extensive body art cost six figures ? five ?…

            Seems like a dislike of body art, with a dash of social class shaming. Having said that, when I go to Courts, there is a definite increase of skin coverage with lower income, depending on the Town/City.

          • 0 avatar
            Detroit-Iron

            @potato and speedlaw

            As far as I know, a decent butterfly costs upwards of a $100, or roughly the price of a PPI. When you get full sleeves and angel wings and you are already living on the margins it absolutely makes a difference in your net worth.

          • 0 avatar
            SSJeep

            Tattoos are very expensive, even a smaller one of approximately 2″-3″ diameter runs about 200.00. That is, of course, unless your friend is applying your tattoo with ball point ink and a disassembled cassette Walkman…

            I know dozens of people that would be considered poor. And the reasons for their poverty are as varied as their stories themselves. All of the above points (and below points) are correct in varying degrees, and there is no one easy answer.

          • 0 avatar
            56BelAire

            speedlaw…

            Well done “full sleeves” by a good artist can easily set you back $2,000.00 per arm.

          • 0 avatar
            Dynasty

            It’s not that ONE tattoo that makes the difference. It’s that one tattoo, plus all the others. Plus the money spent on cigarettes, beer, pot, other illicit substances.

            It’s the live for today, tomorrow will never come no long term view mindset of this portion of the population that is drawn to inking their bodies, smoking, etc. that they are poor.

            Take away the tattoos, the beer, the cigarettes and the drugs and most of the poor still do not have a long term view.

            It’s just easier to distill all that down to the poor waste all their money on tats and beer.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      “If the jalopy drivers were to invest their cigarette and beer money in their cars, they could afford to repair them, or buy something better.”

      Chances are these folks can’t afford to smoke either. Beer is cheap and forgoing a few beers a week won’t do anything for your car. You just don’t have a lot of money when you’re making $9.25 an hour, your hours are unpredictable, and you’re having to pay rent in the hottest housing market in American history.

      The $1000 car revolving door is just one of the many reasons poverty is super expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Yes,
        But if I can blame the poor for their problems, I don’t have to feel bad about not helping them.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          that’s the biggest mindf**k we’ve been fed in this country; the notion that if you’re poor you must have done something to deserve it.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            The vast majority of the middle class are just a medical problem or difficult boss away from poverty.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Vogo

            On this we most definitely agree.

            I read somewhere than in India it is common practice to save a fair amount of wages in anticipation of losing one’s job (something like a year’s worth).

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “The vast majority of the middle class are just a medical problem or difficult boss away from poverty.”

            which they refuse to believe; instead listening to people like the Koch bros. tell them that the real cause of all of their ills is “poor people.”

          • 0 avatar

            “The vast majority of the middle class are just a medical problem or difficult boss away from poverty.”

            I learned this long age being raised middle to upper middle class when I was first on my own everything was great until it wasn’t. It’s amazing how much medical debt can pile up even with insurance. All this was quite a surprise.

          • 0 avatar
            jacob_coulter

            Not all poverty is self-inflicted, but I sure do see a lot of it.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            And ditto for it’s corollary: That if you’re rich, you have done something to deserve it.

        • 0 avatar
          LIKE TTAC.COM ON FACEBOOK

          When I was in college, I worked a second job at a gas station mini-mart. I was astounded at the number of people who would buy beer and cigarettes; many would hand you a ten and say to “put the change on the pump”.
          Not all poverty is the fault of the poor, but poor decisions certainly are the responsibility of the person making the decision.
          If someone can’t afford the rent in their town, there are a lot of other places to live with lower rents. It’s like Sam Kinison pointed out – there is no food in the desert – the people in the desert have to go to where the food is.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Places with low rents don’t usually have jobs.

            Places with jobs don’t usually have low rents.

            The national housing market is literally the hottest it’s ever been, and the places left behind have been left behind because no one can make a living there.

          • 0 avatar
            SSJeep

            Ill cite another comedic genius – Matt Paxton, the “Extreme Cleaning Specialist” from the show Hoarders:

            “We are all about 2 or 3 bad decisions away from shitting in a bucket”

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Or, much worse in practice, I get to feel good about managing them / telling them how to live and banning them from begging to differ, under the pretext of “helping.”

          Very few grown men need “help.” Virtually all benefit from being left alone. It’s that whole pesky freedom thing again.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      “our local flea market is full of Russians selling very dodgy used cars, many of which are the front half of one welded to the back half of another”

      This checks out. My Russian dad always told a Russian me “never buy a car from a Russian.”

      Masters of “making do” and improvising, some Russian immigrants have carved out a niche in the used car trade buying bottom of the barrel wrecks, flooded cars, you name it. Some quick and dirty fixing up and tire gel and the cars are ready for prime time! Of course this type of occupation isn’t solely owned by the Russians, hell check out the Iron Triangle in Queens, a true global melting pot of eager immigrant entrepreneurs.

      • 0 avatar
        onyxtape

        An uncle of mine loves to buy salvage title “welders” from the local Russian community in Portland (which are actually mostly Ukrainians). It’s understood (or at least I think he does) that it’s a bit of a gamble and that the resale will be shot.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I view three grand as sort of the price threshold for a vehicle with some level of ongoing viability. Anything in the thousand dollar range is long odds. Of course you see some nice sheet metal in the junkyard series at TTAC in various locations where salt is not used but those probably have a dead engine or transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      thousand dollar car aint even gonna roll
      ’til you throw at least another thousand in the hole
      sink your money in it, there you are
      the owner of a two-thousand dollar, thousand dollar car

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    As far as that PPI goes, the bottom end of the market is very much a seller’s market, and any decent < $3000 car will be gone long before you can get a PPI done. I sold a 12 year old Focus a couple of years ago and had two buyers by 10 in the morning on the day after I posted it to Craigslist. I could have sold five of them that day if I'd had them.

    Where I live, the bottom of the market for a decent running car is $2000, anything less than that and the car either has mechanical issues or significant body damage, or is 20+ years old and has more than 250,000 miles. $1000 will not get you a running vehicle.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    A few years ago a gal-pal of mine bought some used and abused Mercedes C-class for $1500. Every repair – luckily she worked at an import repair shop – drained her already low bank account further. That car – on start up – would misfire and make some of the fartiest exhaust noises I’ve ever heard. A year later she was out of a car, and ended up at a different job which, luckily, she could walk to.

    Her boyfriend had an older VR6 Jetta that was always in the shop. Both of them weren’t rich but they clung to these cars as long as they could. And no, she never listened to my advice for buying something from Toyota or Honda, or one of the American fleet cars, like a Crown Vic.

    As an aside – for cheap cars is something Japanese better (reliability but more expensive parts) or American (cheaper parts – in theory)?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Domestic parts costs can be “cheap” but build/materials quality, ease of repair, and overall reliability are not always there. I’ve gotten excellent reliability out of my 3800 Pontiac but the materials quality of tertiary systems has been abysmal (shocks, seals, and steering rack, oh my!). What’s important is pre-bk GM saved the 39 cents it needed too on my thousands of dollars in replacement parts and labor.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Yea, steering racks are a maintenance item on GM cars.

        And power window hardware.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          This. I’ve replaced both of the power window regulators on my LeSabre. Thankfully, I figured out how to do that on my own (with the help of some Youtube vids) and saved around $600.

          • 0 avatar
            56BelAire

            Very true Mike, Youtube is a Godsend for people with old cars who are willing and able to attempt repairs. When I was still driving my 2002 Buick Century I saved close to $2k over a two year period doing relatively easy repairs I would have never attempted without Youtube tutelage.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            True. But let’s keep in mind that 20% of Americans still can’t afford internet access.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Well, technically those Youtube vids were on my phone, VoGo…

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      If you’re a wrench, American is better without question.

      If not, probably Japanese.

      Although in this budget range there’s really no good answer.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “If you’re a wrench, American is better without question”

        How so? Depending on the model, parts for the Japanese cars are every bit as cheap, and in my experience, the Japanese cars are a bit more straightforward to work on, fewer “what the hell where the engineers thinking” moments IMO. Highly model dependent of course, I speak in generalities. Also overall quality of electrical components/motors and accessories overall I’d argue falls in favor of the Japanese.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          In general terms, American cars are much cheaper for the same amount of remaining life. You can just expect more minor failures.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            True. To compare and contrast almost equals that I test drove: ’02 Grand Prix with 165k miles, didn’t really need any work at all immediately, some rocker rot-through, everything worked. But it just didn’t feel ‘right’ to me. Final negotiated asking price $1800

            2000 Maxima that I bought for $1600 definitely needs a few more odds and ends, but to me just feels like a much better driving and better put together vehicle. From a strictly pragmatic sense the turn-key W body was the way to go.

      • 0 avatar

        Well I think american tend to better value (worth less) so if you can wrench you get a better deal then Japanese. I’m likely going American for the next car unless I get a deal on a Japanese one. No more euro cars (that’s the 2nd time if said that didn’t work last time)

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Aint nuttin more expensive than a cheap Benz.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’ve talked about this for years, nice piece Bark.

    I find the Cricket sub $15K target demographic to be interesting. I’ve had Cricket since 2002 and since I was out of college I’ve been well out of the target demo. I suppose I’m an outlier.

    I’d also add while C4C did take out a sizable portion of salable used cars, it was the lack of production 2008-12 which has hurt more. There were literally millions of the equivalent of DN101s, N and W bodies, and LHs not built which would have by now wound up with a third owner be it younger person or the cognitively/financially impaired.

    BONUS WISDOM: Buying a cheap or old used car, much like purchasing real estate, is signing up for a part time job. If done correctly, it can provide a decent amount of equity at a reasonable cost but frequently in order to do so you must provide your part either in cash flow or “sweat equity”. Fools, as I once was, believe they can simply expect to get regular use out of something twenty years old without ever having to spend time doing preventative maintenance or hours in the shop for repairs.

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      Cricket isn’t what it once was. It’s wholly owned by AT&T. Now that the days of subsidized contract phones are gone, it barely makes sense to be on a major carrier.

      I’ve been on Cricket since October. I’ve never paid a bill in person, strictly autopay. For $35 (total, including taxes) I get unlimited voice and text and 2.5GB of high-speed LTE data.

      Why pay more?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I agree. I went with them years back because friends were then spending three figures on Verizon and Cricket advertised unlimited minutes. The bill was frequently around $55 over the years until the AT&T buyout.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        +1 to eggsalad and 28.

        I was paying around $100 a month on Sprint for a smartphone at one point (and that was a crappy data and voice plan). I picked up a Virgin phone for $55, and pay $35/mo for unlimited talk/text and 2.5 GB data. Service isn’t quite as good as it’d be with something like Verizon but it’s certainly sufficient, and the extra cost just isn’t worth it to me.

        My ex, on the other hand, insists on getting Verizon phones for her and my kids, and it costs around $200 a month. Stupid…but then again, that’s why she’s my ex.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          My mother came from Sprint to Cricket under my plan. I think she was getting dinged $55/mo for dropped calls/poor service and her contract phone was physically broken. AT&T’s Cricket has dropped several of my calls, which the previous Leaf Wireless Cricket never had, but is otherwise OK.

          In Switzerland, Swisscom prepaid was about 15 cents a minute and over 1 FR/min for calls outside the country but 3G data is *unlimited* for 2 FR per day (then about $2.15).

      • 0 avatar
        Slawek

        I am on RingPlus for year. Total cost was $5 to sign up. $0/month for 1000 minutes, messages and 1000MB data. The only drawback is I have to listen to ads while making phone calls.

    • 0 avatar
      pdieten

      “I’d also add while C4C did take out a sizable portion of salable used cars, it was the lack of production 2008-12 which has hurt more.”

      Now imagine how much worse that problem would have been without C4C, which stimulated production of exactly the cars that people want now.

      Not even poor people want the mid-’90s Explorers and Blazers and unrepairable high-end luxury cars that represented the largest number of victims of C4C. How the hell could anyone afford to keep them on the road now?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “which stimulated production of exactly the cars that people want now.”

        I’d have to see figures before I could agree with this statement. CNN argues in fact the “stimulated sales” actually cost $24,000 per unit.

        “But the overwhelming majority of sales would have taken place anyway at some time in the last half of 2009, according to Edmunds.com. That means the government ended up spending about $24,000 each for those 125,000 additional vehicle sales.”

        http://money.cnn.com/2009/10/28/autos/clunkers_analysis/

        “Not even poor people want the mid-’90s Explorers and Blazers and unrepairable high-end luxury cars that represented the largest number of victims of C4C.”

        You’ve never been poor have you? Because last I checked poor people will drive anything that runs. The Gen 1 Explorer (4.0 Cologne) and GMT 325 (4.3 262) both can be made to run twenty years on with ease, its more a question of cost to do so and running costs. Today’s Explorer will be junkyard fodder very shortly and I’m not sure on Equinox but its not an S10 Blazer in terms of repair costs.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          A mid-90’s SUV will easily cost $1000 more per year in gas than some old compact. When that’s your total purchase price, that’s a pretty steep bump in yearly budget. And, not like there aren’t plenty of compact cars that are just as capable of 20 years/200k.

          But, at the same time, is the engine really the weak point on most modern cars? I’d lean towards transmission (frequently fragile, replacement or repair is usually more than the cost of the car), or death by a thousand cuts.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’d agree on transmission but in mid-90s cars/trucks a manual was still available.

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            Well, yeah, but if you’re buying a vehicle with a stick and it’s less than 20 years old, it’s pretty much either a compact, or a sports car/Wrangler.

      • 0 avatar
        MWolf

        I’ve been in the, “I’m broke, but need a car NOW!” crowd. It’s true, you’ll drive anything as long as it runs and has the right price.

        I DID have a first generation Explorer. I inherited it from Dad when he passed in 2014. It wasn’t bad, I did spend some money fixing it, but fixing it was easy, most of the time. I didn’t end up with it out of desperation, mind you, but it wasn’t awful, either.

        The one I got out of desperation was a 2000 Chevy Malibu. I paid $400 for it in 2009. It actually ran for 5 years with regular maintenance. It had a messed up front fender and needed tires. I got used tires that were better and drove it until the subframe rusted 5 years later. I could have had a different car during my stint with the Bu, but why? It ran.

        Currently, my daily is a 2010 Escape, bought through a dealer with traditional financing with a nice warrenty. I got tired of old cars.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        “Not even poor people want the mid-’90s Explorers…”

        Said someone who isn’t poor and in need of an all-weather family hauler. Are you going to retort with an AWD Caravan? Please do, it’s worth a laugh.

        Explorer in that era was a reliable*, relatively safe and roomy vehicle. It still makes sense to a lot of people. Every time I find a reasonably priced example in decent condition on craigslist, its gone in a couple days.

        People love to hate on the first and second gen Explorer, but it wasn’t a bad vehicle at all. Transmission problems? Yeah, better get a second gen Odyssey instead, or maybe a Chrysler minivan. Just buy stock in your local trans shop. Most Explorers I’ve seen with trans failure had well over 200k on them.

        *With the exception of the later models with the 4.0 SOHC and its timing chain clusterfμ©k. The OHV version was reliable, the 5.0 was bullet proof, and I’ve seen plenty with very high mileage and still going. I have a picture of an odometer on my old phone from a 1995 Explorer with 369k miles on it. One owner car, “best vehicle we’ve ever owned”.

        • 0 avatar
          MWolf

          Exactly! My dad had another before the one I ended up with. It had over 500,000 miles on it before he sold it wnd bought the first gen I eventually inherited. I loved it, but after 2nd gear went out, I got rid of it.

          They were solid if they were taken care of. And before we beat on the A4LD, I think most here can say that just about any mass produced car has a mechanical weak spot. We had a 93 Caravan with an awful transmission. At least with maintenance and care, the A4LD could go a couple hundred thousand miles.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “Not even poor people want the mid-’90s Explorers and Blazers”

        Utter tripe. Why don’t you actually try driving around a poorer area. Despite C4C, the ground is thick with these exact two SUVs. Cheap to fix and easy to work on owing to their construction, and reasonably durable. Poor fuel economy sure but the difference between an old W body getting 20 mpg around town and an explorer getting 15 is lost on someone who fills their tank up with a $10 or $20 and uses it to cruise around the ghetto and to the corner convenience store.

        • 0 avatar

          I have a 2000 Durango my wife daily drives. I bought it 7 years ago for around 6k. In that time it’s driven 60k miles, replaced a fuel tank strap, a rusted bumper, one set of brake pads one set of tires, 2 wheel cylinders, a power steering line, AC evaporator and an transmission oil cooler line. it gets 13 MPG driving around town, but you know at under 8k miles year it gets driven it doesn’t make any sense to replace it. If I gave it away today it would still average under a $100 a month less gas and insurance. Old american SUV’s are pretty durable and make a lot of sense as beater cars.

    • 0 avatar
      sprkplg

      “BONUS WISDOM: Buying a cheap or old used car, much like purchasing real estate, is signing up for a part time job. If done correctly, it can provide a decent amount of equity at a reasonable cost but frequently in order to do so you must provide your part either in cash flow or “sweat equity”. Fools, as I once was, believe they can simply expect to get regular use out of something twenty years old without ever having to spend time doing preventative maintenance or hours in the shop for repairs.”

      +1

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      I’ve owned a couple beaters in my time. I assume in any situation that anything under $3000 is probably going to need an extra $1k worth of work within the first 6 months to a year.

      Brakes are easy/cheap and I can do them myself, and tires are easy enough to inspect visually at purchase. Tie rods, wheel bearings, ball joints are tough for the average person and will run $250 a pop, and I’ve never bought a used vehicle that didn’t need at least 1-2 of those repairs in the first few months of ownership.

      One good thing for me is that I live in MD, where we have a huge comprehensive inspection required by the state before it will issue the new title/tags/registration. I won’t buy a used car without demanding it first at the seller’s expense, since it at very least will tell me how much out of pocket I’ll need to pay to actually register the car. Most sellers that aren’t idiot/assholes realize this too and will at least cover the inspection.

      Beater buying was fun – I decided to look at 25+ year-old cars so I could tag them historic and bypass the inspection.

      • 0 avatar
        operagost

        I wish I could have found a mid 1990s Explorer to buy for my sister in law last year. Actually, I found two, but both were gone before I could get my hands on them. People definitely wanted them.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          The gen 1 is literally a Ranger, the gen 2 I’d probably pass on in most cases.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Gen 1 has arguably a more failure prone transmission. Gen 2 is just as ranger based in terms of drivetrain (okay not the AWD 5.0L models). JohnTaurus nailed it: get a 5.0L with the heavier duty 4R70 transmission, or an more basic 4.0L Cologne OHV V6. There’s a reason just about every 4th car I see down in rural Mexico is a beaten to death 2g Explorer.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @gtemnykh

            Can one put a diff trans (or motor) in a gen 1 Explorer?

  • avatar
    ajla

    Well, I’ll fix and maintain my friend’s or family’s cars for free if they bought what I recommended when they were initially shopping. Even if they didn’t I’ll probably fix it with sufficient grovelling.

    I don’t know of any charity that lets share-tree types like me donate time/tools to fixing up vehicles. Probably due to liability concerns. I’d be game for it if it existed though.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      You may come repair my Cadillac at any point you desire.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Around here I’ve seen a local church team up with volunteers and a local shop to do free inspections, minor repairs and oil changes for poor people, mainly targeting the single mothers.

      From my understanding they do some basic safety checks like lights and brakes. If it is something like a burnt out bulb they will fix it on the spot, not sure what they would do if you rolled in with metal to metal brakes that required more than just a set of pads, though of course the idea is to catch the vehicle before it gets to that point.

      My bet is that the volunteers do the simple things like check the lights, tires and stuff like that and maybe do the simple things like replace the burnt out light bulb.

      I bet if you look around in your area you will find a charity that might be willing to have a similar event, but as you mentioned the liability concerns in today’s world could stop an otherwise willing organization from stepping up.

      On the other hand those that are on welfare can get the gov’t to pay for some car repairs. I had a tenant years ago who kept getting her Caravan that was long over due for its appointment with the crusher fixed on the gov’t dime.

  • avatar
    manny_c44

    At this point (financially) it makes way more sense to buy a scooter and take the non-highway route to work. At a certain point (sub $3k) there’s little chance the car will run reliably.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I agree. Really around $3,000 is where you get into something which (though used with high miles) will be decently reliable. As long as it’s Japanese or has a 3800 in it.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        You people must be rich to blow $3K on a beater.

        Minimum $10K on a note for something that won’t create a headache or seek value around a grand cash money and put in the sweat equity fixing everything which could go wrong with it. The only way around this in my view is to be epic like me and snag a clean no miles beater for $3K. But since none of you are me, well… :D

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          So you jump from $1k to 10?! Nothing in the middle? There are many nice options at $6-7 these days.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Difference between a note and actual saved cash. I can front $10K, you probably can too, so many can’t for the past twenty years. Even $3K is much to ask, so you put down three but then it needs $XXX.XX because everything always does. If you’ve only got $3K, you have to put down $1xxx and save the rest for “it needs XYZ for inspection”. Uncle Barry isn’t coming by with a check for me, I have to take care of myself. Its a mad mad mad world.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I see what you mean, if the $3 is literally all the cash they have, plus bills, child support, and 7/11 pops.

          • 0 avatar
            Zykotec

            Admittedly the used car market in the US is probably very different from the Norwegian one, but the worst thing you can buy is a semi-expensive used car, especially if it’s not japanese.
            With the cheapest ones you may have to do some work to get it road-legal, but by then you will know that is wrong with it, and you can always scrap it if it braks down, and with a brand new /almost new car you will have warranty, and a decent statistical chance that it will last a while.
            But everything in between is potentially expensive to fix, while still being much to expensive to just scrap.
            Scary…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I would imagine you Norwegians have intensive inspections for registration as well? Only some states here have -any- inspection at all. If you’ve got a title, you’ve got access to a plate and registration. No insurance check, no condition check, etc.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Corey

            “Approximately 62% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 21% don’t even have a savings account, according to a new survey of more than 5,000 adults conducted this month by Google Consumer Survey for personal finance website GOBankingRates.com.”

            http://www.marketwatch.com/story/most-americans-have-less-than-1000-in-savings-2015-10-06

            You should probably not have “child support” either because not knocking up girls isn’t so difficult as it turns out. I’ve never smoked and I know its incredibly difficult to quit from watching others, but there are products and resources which didn’t exist fifteen years ago to quit. Not being an alcoholic or drug addict is also surprisingly not an insurmountable feat.

            Poverty is both a form of control and also a weapon, some time in a local library would bear out these facts. Poor people will always be, poor people. I believe it is only through the embrace of one’s God given talents they may get on the path to their destiny. If one ignores them, they choose their devolution.

            @Zykotec

            I’ve never been to Norway but having just spent time in Europe I would say its certainly very different there than here in general transportation terms.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That survey’s sample size is too small to mean anything. 5,000 isn’t even the population of a single rural county.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Another reference:

            “Still, there is something about the U.S.: Nearly half of Americans would not be able to come up with $400 in savings in an emergency, according to a Federal Reserve study cited in The Atlantic’s cover story this month. ”

            http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/04/why-dont-americans-save-money/478929/

            Although the article itself is flawed:

            “Indeed, the countries that finish above the U.S. in retirement security, like Switzerland and Norway, not only have much higher taxes but also benefit from the availability of public-health options and cheaper education in their prime-age years, which means they don’t have to spend as much out of pocket on insurance and college.”

            Switzerland is much more expensive but does not have higher taxes than the US.

            “Examples of cantons with a relatively high income tax rate are Basel-Landschaft, Vaud, Bern, Geneva and Zurich. In one of them, the highest observed tax rate amounts to 30%. The observed tax rates include both cantonal and municipal taxes.”

            http://www.nomoretax.eu/living/relocation-to-switzerland/

            Middle class without fun deductions will pay about 20% FIT, plus 8% OASDI, plus state/local (PA: 3.03% no deductions, local 1-3% no deductions), so about 31-33% here. The *max* in Geneva and Zurich is 30% and some of these people make millions of dollars (which they will f***ing need believe me) with more ordinary people paying less. The Swiss also levy a wealth tax and some other kind of weird rental tax on property you own, but it varies from canton to canton.

            Oh and VAT is 8% unlike most VAT countries at 15% although gasoline is about $6/gal (1.39-49 CHF/litre)…

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Corey, brush up on your statistics.

            If the sample is truly unbiased (which is always the big question), then 5,000 gives you quite a small margin of error.

            https://onlinecourses.science.psu.edu/stat100/node/17

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            28, you have to be pretty far up the income distribution before you pay an effective fate of 20% in federal income tax, especially if you pay mortgage interest. That (or more) may be the percentage of gross pay that’s deducted if you don’t manage your allowances well, but it will come back by refund.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I -really- didn’t like my college stats class. That sort of math is one of my least favorite things to do.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Single, basic $5700 deduction everyone gets, out of student loan interest deduction range, no mortgage interest (rent), no other post tax deductions (some BS about itemizing and the tax lady doesn’t itemize me bc the church deductions don’t meet the threshold to itemize). I’d have to look at my return again to know more to be quite honest.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Around my area $3k will get you a low mileage Neon, P71 Vic, or a 150k mileage H-Body or a beat up Camcord. I gave up on the last category after seeing so many rusty examples (largely from neglect).

        Our $3000 Neon hasnt needed much above basic maintenance, it aint perfect cosmetically but its been an above average example of a Neon.

        On the other hand, most of my $1k cars always had something annoying up their sleeve, always an oil leek, broken AC, worn suspension, radio issues…

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          “but its been an above average example of a Neon.”

          This cat turd is an especially nice shape!

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            By “above average” I meant its been okay, stupid little things aside like a battery connector.

            Honestly feels like a Honda Civic with the little details eliminated, and a cheap forgery piston slappin F22B thrown in (sounds like a 1940s Dodge on a cold day).

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Is the Neon an automatic, with the 3-speed from the Valiant or whatever?

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Automatic 4 speed SXT, with a wheezy 130hp 4 cylinder.

            I had the chance to look at a strip level 95 Saturn last week, our Neons barely if at all a step above.in yerms of materials.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Oh lordy, I’ve had experience with a ’95 Saturn sedan. Now -that- was flimsy. It was more flimsy inside than the ’97 Lanos I had while I was in Korea.

            I remember you’d press one of the buttons atop the center stack, and the whole thing would shift and move about.

            Be careful though, 28CL is a Saturnite!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’ve read things which state the gen 1 was better than the gen 2 and vice versa, but the gen 2 with the LL0 DOHC in a stick is probably the way to go (the SC/SL2 model). You don’t want the SC/SL1 ideally, the motor had issues which I can’t exactly recall.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            The one I looked at was a first gen SL1, but due to being a 95 it had the second gen interior.

            Its quite amazing how cheap they made the interior, but yet the generous owners manual featured full color illustrations and was even hard covered!

            Still, the SV2 variant is reportedly a great autocross car, had GM given Saturn more money they could have made some good stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I’ll never forget while on a run once, seeing a fully loaded up SL1. Pearl white, sunroof, directional polished alloys, spoiler, tan leather. Only time I’ve ever seen one so well-equipped.

            I thought to myself, “Why would someone do that?” because it had to be the price of something better by the time they were done with it.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The odd thing there was they got all of the options but still bought the SL1 vs SL2, and the difference between then was the motor, *not* the trim level as you might assume (SOHC vs DOHC).

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Those things had a cult following at the time. A kid at my high school had a fully loaded stick SL2 and could talk all day and night about it if you let him.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I remember the SC2 versions being considered “pretty cool” during early high school years. Around 2000-2001.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            We had them here obviously but I don’t recall a cult following at the time. My father had the ’98 I later purchased from new, I recall not being too impressed to be seen driving it instead preferring my Cavalier coupe (or my uncle’s Townie that I lusted after).

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            They mayve had a small following but I cant recall myself.

            One weird detail I found were the fuel and trunk release switches, they had completely copied Toyondas setup, but yet in true GM fashion there was no plastic box around the switches.

          • 0 avatar
            tankinbeans

            Your discussion of Saturns reminds me of an acquaintance who regularly acquires 20 year old SLs and SCs, does a minimal amount of work and expects to get $4k out of them. They’re the definition of dog excrememt, and that’s being unkind to the excrement.

            I drove my aunt’s SC1 for a couple days while she drove my car to Kansas for a funeral (we live in Minnesota and her car was on its last legs) and the thing was buzzy and I had to beat the tar out of it so I could get anywhere. Definitely nothing I’d ever pay money for.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Where I reside, a nice Saturn of that vintage would net $2000, even a newer one maybe $3000. Yes the single overhead cam models are a bit gutless, made like 84hp for a while (compare to a base Corolla at 95hp)

            At one point I even had the chance to own a free, more worn out Saturn example. Ended up passing on that one due to space issues.

            Does your flipper friend make any profit or does he end up hoarding them?

          • 0 avatar
            tankinbeans

            Ryoku, I don’t really know if he makes any money of them, but he has a different one every month or two. I think he might make just enough to procure most of the purchase price of another one and then raids his wife’s bank account (doesn’t have gainful employment) for the rest.

            I know that he us the last person I would take automotive advice from because he’s a bit too shady for my tastes. Then again I haven’t owned an older vehicle for a long time, relatively speaking (aside from my Century which is strictly a secondary car).

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      It’s pretty amazing how the used car market has changed. In 2003 I bought a clean 1993 Honda Accord with ~90K miles for $2,200. I think I put about 40K miles on it, but killed it with an impact between a NYC frost heave and my oil pan. Mind you, it was $18K new in 1993, which is about $30K today (wow). Today an equivalent 2006 Accord is probably about $11K. Hell, an equivalent 2006 Civic is probably about $6-7K. Way beyond what inflation would warrant.

      It is possible I got an insane deal but that same 93 Accord in similar condition would probably retail for $3K and go on the CL market for that same $2200. I think the combo of C4C and the depressed sales through the recession flipped things on their head.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        C4C took a lot of usable cars off the road, with the intention of selling more GM cars.

        The beneficiaries of increased new car sales due to C4C were the foreigners and transplants.

        The losers were the people who would have bought one of those used cars destroyed because of C4C but now had to pay much more for what was left on the used-car lot.

        Now that it has been disclosed that the US has more untapped shale-oil reserves than any other nation, I hope we don’t revert back to the greenweenie bullschit of smaller is better, or EV is the only way to go.

        Long live gasoline and the ICE! The bigger, the better.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    The best way to learn how to work on cars is to buy 1k beaters though, repeatedly. I did that for years, and every time I convinced myself this was going to be a ‘keeper’.
    On the other hand, I’ve always had the time and place to work on my cars, even with lacking skills, except rust repairs, which has been what has killed a few of my ‘best’ cars.
    The mistake many people make when they buy cheap cars is to pay for repairs though, instead of just saving money for the next beater. I can’t even imagine having to pay more to repair a car than it is worth even when repaired, unless I’m emotionally attached to it, which can easily happen if you’ve spent a year or more rebuilding it from a wreck.
    The cars I’ve spent most money repairing were actually the most expensive cars I’ve bought in the first place (worst ; AC-compressor on a ’07 CR-V, and it happened while on vacation so I had no tools or opportunity to do it myself)

    PS: I have to admit I get kinda hung up on the ‘I will defiantly trade for a van’, even if most of those looking for a 1 dollar Taurus may not notice the mistake at all, some will probably wonder why he is so defiant about trading for something he says that he really needs…

  • avatar
    sirwired

    On Cricket, and their fellow pre-paid cellular brethren… I’ve been on pre-paid for YEARS, and, well, lets just say I make quite a bit more than $15k.

    Pre-paid carriers are nearly always cheaper than their post-paid counterparts, and use the exact same networks. (Cricket is owned by AT&T, Sprint owns Virgin and Boost, and all four major carriers have 3rd-parties that re-sell their coverage.) I was on PagePlus for years (a VzW reseller), and now I’m on Google Fi (a combination of Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular.)

    The only real difference is access to roaming networks (generally pre-paid doesn’t roam), but that really isn’t that much of a problem for most people.

    I suppose the big difference is that I’d never drive to a dealer to pick up my monthly recharge; I just do everything online.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    This is a societal problem that is generally only applicable to North America and perhaps Australia.

    We lack the infrastructure of other first world nations. Good, dependable and efficient mass public transit. Conservatives may decry taxes and ‘big government’ but public transit actually subsidizes employers. It allows them to recruit workers from a wider geographic area and pay them less.

    As Bark writes, those in precarious employment, low wage jobs are generally paid hourly, lose money when they have to miss work/arrive late/leave early due to transport/commuting issues and are more likely to loss their job for being late or missing work.

    North American urban sprawl makes commuting more difficult, than in compact ‘European style’ cities.

    North American winters make commuting by foot/bike/etc harder.

    That is one reason why millenials are flocking to inner city condos in Toronto. Growth in the ‘inner city’ is astronomical. The streets are alive all night. And these new condos are more often than not built without any or only a small number of parking spaces. And they are built over where public parking lots used to exist. Parking is thus non-existent or too expensive. So millenials are much less prone than older suburb dwellers to actually buy a vehicle. They instead use transit, uber, taxis and car sharing memberships.

    We are experiencing a sea change, away from the car based society in North America to one in urban areas of a European lifestyle. Electric, self-driving, shared vehicles will become the norm within our lifetimes.

    • 0 avatar
      nlinesk8s

      Very well said. As has been mentioned in a previous article, to own a beater you need to be privileged with alternative transport (3rd car or relatives) when your beater needs work, and have the skills or money to do the repairs.

      Having done the beater route for years, I’ve told my kids, neither of who are interested in being mechanical, to lease or buy new or nearly new. And to allocate a realistic amount for maintenance in their budgets.

    • 0 avatar
      MrGreenMan

      Maybe, or it could be that kids like the city life, and then they turn 30 or 35, move to the suburbs, and raise kids of their own.

      Having heard three Poles at the diner this morning screaming about how they all left Hamtramck because they couldn’t stand being around the Yemenis, and vocally explaining how much they hate the “Yemeni” language, being spread out in various little areas that are a drive from each other keeps that from becoming direct violence, and it’s the only legal option in the USA (with proxies and soft discrimination, like pricing certain people in and out, or having a language barrier for shopping and getting around in a certain area) without, say, neighborhood covenants.

      The police state required to accomplish your dream may be coming, but it will, invariably, be a police state, since, with 121 no-go zones in Sweden, not even the Europeans can make cities work reliably and consistently.

      The Russians appear to have a really good subway, but, again, a police state built that.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        Your description of Europe doesn’t match my experience of the parts I’ve been to, and I’ve been to 10 European countries, including the ones I spent 5 months living in.

        For those who describe non-US countries as “police states,” you’ll be surprised to learn that there are lots of countries which are just as free as the US, and even ones which are far more democratic. I include Germany and Switzerland as just two with which I have personal experience, and their public transit is fantastic. Similarly, there are cities within the US which have made public transit work very well, such as NYC, in addition to my own city, located 40 miles from the US border.

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          Well, Norway certainly is not a ‘police state’ despite a lot of people claming we are pretty near a prefect communist country. We may have a lot of laws regarding mostly everything, but we also live so spread out in a way that makes it near impossible to police in the first place. Especially in weekends, where some counties share the police duty so that you’re mostly always an hour away from the closest officer.
          So most of the time we are left to behave ourselves properly by our own conscience.
          (we are not really ‘typical Europeans’ though, except maybe people in the ‘big’ cities.)

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Nicely put, Arthur Dailey,

      My request of lawmakers is to consider the next generation of mass transit, which is just now evolving. Autonomous vehicles, rented like taxis.

      Yes, I know a Tesla crashed the other day. But if we were to pull together a consortium of leading automakers and tech firms (like Apple and Google) to define the standards and necessary infrastructure, this could really work.

      Then government could put in place the infrastructure, using our current roads – all the sensors and such that would reduce crashes and make roads safer, whether cars are autonomous or still driven by us cavemen.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Autonomous personal-use vehicles take up too much space to solve the real problem, which is American land use patterns and how spread out everyone is. You can’t have both a high enough concentration of jobs to make for thriving job centers and everyone arriving at those jobs in single vehicles. It’s just geometrically impossible.

        That’s why metropolitan areas can’t function without mass transit serving the core. LA is a good example; it tried really hard to be a totally car-based city, failed (in the form of economy-choking levels of traffic), and is now spending billions to build a real mass transit infrastructure that will allow for more job growth. Houston is the next city that will head down the same path.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          You make a good point, Dal,

          I don’t propose that AV taxis take the place of mass transit – we should have heterogeneous infrastructure that reflects the needs of the specific locations.

        • 0 avatar
          wstarvingteacher

          Houston has installed some light rail down town and already has an excellent bus system with park and ride lots all over the city. You are correct, we are headed that way.

          In regard to the main problem that we are talking about I think beaters are fine today if one has the ability to troubleshoot electronics. If not….. I found the sweet spot here locally is between 4-6K. I spent 5k for an MT, 95 4runner that has given me absolutely no problem. I lost the S10 I had before that when a granddaughter moved to florida for college. She bought an Olds Bravada pretty cheaply to make the brave jump into adulthood. Things came crashing down around her ears like we are talking about with a slipping 4L60e and knocking 4.3. I let her take the S10 which also fell into the price range I mentioned, junked the olds in short order, and bought the 4runner. Things can be pretty complicated with all the electronics and the old saying is still true. If it seems to be too good to be true….

    • 0 avatar
      jacob_coulter

      There is no problem with lack of public transportation in most areas of North America, its just many people don’t want to take a bus so they make the unwise decision of car ownership when they can’t really afford it. What parts of North America that are “city sized” don’t have a bus system?

      Things like Light Rail are just another form of taking a bus. We have a new light rail system in our city, it’s an absolute boondoggle and it doesn’t go anywhere a bus didn’t before. And we still have crappy cars driven around by people that can’t afford to maintain them properly and probably shouldn’t own them in the first place.

  • avatar
    hoserdad

    The problem is these people really can not afford to own a car. Their only real option (where its available) is car sharing or public transit or buying into a car pool. Since they really can not afford it, trying to own a car will just dig them deeper into debt or create cash flow issues. It’s a vicious circle; they do not have a car so they can not get to their job to make money, or can not afford to live close to where they work.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      My wife worked at K Mart for a while, when it still existed here. Observing the other employees was instructive; most of them were dirt poor, and therefore they couldn’t live anywhere near town. So they absolutely had to have cars.

      Being poor is expensive part one.

      Then they were poor, so they’d have crappy cars. Those crappy cars would break and they’d have to fix them, and they’d lose time at work, costing them even more money.

      Being poor is expensive part two.

      Not only that, the cars they drove were older and tended to be the kind of cars nobody wanted – which, with the high gas prices at the time, meant old gas-guzzlers. So not only did they pay more for the cars, pay more to keep them running, and pay more to drive them further than people with more money for better housing, they’d pay more per mile to do it!

      Being poor is expensive part three.

      Sigh.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I agree with your post wholeheartedly as I have seen this up close.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Agree wholeheartedly.

          Another problem is that the people who need it the most cannot access cheap credit.

          So they have to pay $1,000 up front for a beater plus repairs instead of being able to access a cheap sub $200 per month lease on a new car, which would then provide them with reliable transportation, at low cost for the next 3 to 5 years.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Good point on cheap credit.

            K-Mart employee:

            Cashier/ Based on 274 employee salaries
            $8.18 hourly

            https://www.glassdoor.com/Hourly-Pay/Kmart-Hourly-Pay-E370.htm

            $8.18 salary is $17,014 per year. Barring EITC and assuming 100% refund of FIT, that’s about say 13% tax in state/local (oasdi 8% + 5% state/local) so take home $14,803 (17014 – 2211). In your figure, a $200 lease assuming no money down amounts to 16.2% of annual income. If we throw in another $1,000 in fuel costs it becomes 22.96% of annual income in simple transportation. Now I see why they are so afraid of an armed citizenry, its amazing there already hasn’t been a revolt or coup.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            well, if they’d just pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get a better job (‘cos we know all you have to do is go to the Job Store and pick out another one) they wouldn’t be in that situation.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Do you know how much bootstraps cost these days? Bernie wants to send all the kids to college for free, but what about us bootstrappin’ wannabees? We can suck eggs, apparently.

  • avatar
    threeer

    The only sub-$1000 car that didn’t completely kill me to own was a 1983 BMW 320i I bought at auction one year. Wife was out of town and I made the mistake of going to the local auction that weekend. In the corner sat a lonely, sad little grey 320i. I’d been jonesing for another old Bimmer, as I’d just not too recently sold both my 1985 318i and 1993 325is (oh, the pain of becoming an instant father) and had visions of turning the little E21 into something that maybe I could hand down to my son. Bought it for $800. Drove it for a year with little to no maintenance. Wound up putting two fuel pumps into it and then sold it for exactly what I had put into it (what I bought it for plus the work done to it). Basically wound up being a free car for the year.
    As for threshold of pain…we spent something like $2500-$3000 back in 2007 for a 1997 Toyota Tercel with 123k on it. Was super-dirty (I pulled out what seemed like several liters of Coca-Cola that had spilled on the passenger side floorboard). But my son still drives it and it has over 230k on it now. Original engine/trans. Zero mechanical issues.
    Having said all of that…I’d be hard-pressed to attempt another $1000 beater. I think my cut-off would be $3000, as mentioned already. And even then, that’s rolling the dice.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Yep, this. It’s really expensive to be poor.

    I’m not rich at all, but the level of stability I have allows me to pay far less overall to drive a new car than many people I know pay to drive a series of beaters.

    And I don’t have to waste mental energy and time wondering whether my car is going to work. So I get a double advantage.

    And then people complain that the poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough. It’s really quite galling.

  • avatar
    ericb91

    All this talk makes me curious about my next car purchase. I work in car sales at a Ford dealer. I drive a 2001 Toyota Camry with 134,000 miles that I own outright. The car is dead-reliable and is perfect for my sub-5 mile round trip commute.

    When the time comes, I will likely be looking for a car for less than $5,000. As mentioned above, my commute totals about 3 miles round trip. Why buy a nice, newer car when that’s all it will be used for?

    #firstworldproblems

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Eric, you could walk to work at a nice leisurely pace in 20 minutes or less saving you fuel costs and improving your health as a bonus.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit33

        56,
        You cannot walk 5 miles in 20 minutes at a nice leisurely pace. I’ll leave the rest of the math up to you.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I bet you, the majority of Americans would struggle (if even possible) to complete a mile in 10 minutes while running.

          • 0 avatar
            Paragon

            OK, when I drop off my car at my mechanic for whatever it needs, I walk the 7 miles home. Takes about 2 hours at a decent but leisurely pace. Have done this 5 or 6 times in the past 10 years. I’m 61 years old. It’s good exercise!

        • 0 avatar
          JuniperBug

          3 miles round-trip means 1.5 miles each way. At 20 minutes, we’re talking an average of 4.5 MPH. I agree that that amounts to a bit more than “a leisurely pace,” but stretch it to 30-35 minutes, and it’s a totally plausible suggestion. Add in a garage sale bicycle or roller blades and it becomes a breeze.

          Let me know if any of my math or reading comprehension are off.

          For what it’s worth, when I worked an office job I would bike to work 2-3 days a week in the summer when the weather was nice. It was a 16 mile ride *each* way, and did wonders for my physical and mental health. Not something I’d rely upon having to do every day, though, and I did get very lazy about once I had a motorcycle waiting by the front door.

        • 0 avatar
          56BelAire

          Detroit, did you read his whole post??

          He said later in the post that his round-trip was 3 miles. I was always pretty good at math, majored in it in college. Yeah, I can walk 1 1/2 miles in 20 minutes. I do 4 miles every day in an hour.

          Juniper, your math is a little off, recheck it.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      If you are using anything more than a bicycle for a sub-5 mile round trip commute (which I’ll guess means less than 2.5 miles each way), you are kidding yourself.

      Even someone who’s completely out of shape can do that one way ride in less than 1/2 hour on an old 3-speed ‘English racer’ type bike. A couple of weeks riding and you’re down to a mile in five minutes.

      A month or so of that and you’ve probably knocked off about ten pounds, assuming no other changes in your living habits.

      And if it’s pouring in the morning, take the car.

      No gas costs, virtually no operating costs (a can of chain lube will last over a year and costs less than ten bucks), touch up the tyre pressures once a week at the dealership. Parking? Make arrangements with the service manager to find a corner to tuck the bike into.

      And if you don’t already have a bike, you can find something good on Craigslist for $100-150. I’m far from the only person in the country who fixes and flips bike thru that venue.

      Our society’s automatic dependence on something powered by an ICE absolutely floors me.

      For that matter, I would think that anybody poor enough to only be able to afford a $1000 car would be better off using a $100 bicycle in the interim while saving up a lot more money for a better car.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I drive about three miles, up and down several steep hills, on roads which in places are 45mph. I’ll keep my ICE for work, but I do understand your point.

        • 0 avatar

          If you can, walking public transit etc are all good.
          I would love to work close enough to work to walk.
          In my life I have only walked to work at my first job in high school where I walked about 3 blocks to work. Since then my shortest commute was 4 round trip miles for a year in Maine, the rest of the time my commute has never been less then 24 miles round trip. Given the cost of moving and stress of finding a new place to live every 3 years (my average length of employment) the expense of communing in beaters is minor.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          Yeah, I know Pittsburgh (ex-Johnstown boy), so the hills can be a bitch. But while not the ultimate solution that some bike advocates try to push it as, a bicycle is a lot more useful than most non-riders realize.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            I bike commuted for a summer job in college at one point, only about 2 miles or so each way on an old 10 speed road bike in fairly hilly Ithaca NY. It’s actually pretty eye opening how quick and easy it was to get around, especially after the first week or so of building up muscle climbing the hills on the way home. My other ride was a ’65 Honda S90 that got 100 mpg so I wasn’t exactly getting killed on gas to begin with. Getting to work in the morning only took about 10 minutes, almost comparable to driving. The evening ride home was about 20 minutes all said and done.

            People in Ithaca were very good about giving me some space when passing, and I likewise followed rules of the road to a T, including signaling turns. I can’t imagine bike commuting where I am now, even if I was pretty close. Drivers are just way too oblivious and don’t give pedestrians/bikes an inch of room, even when they’ve got the entire opposite lane clear. It’s pretty disheartening actually.

  • avatar
    greenbrierdriver

    Boy, does this hit home. My step-son is in this very boat. Working at wally-world, living at home but desperately wanting to move out and when his beat-to-poop 2000 Ram 1500 wouldnt pass emissions, managed to get a small loan for another vehicle. Bought a 2002 LeSabre (joined the church of 3800)without me along to look at it. Seemed good, everything worked, although its a little rough around the edges. (enough that I would have passed on it) 97000 on the clock.

    Ran like a top – for 2 weeks, then misfiring and steam out the tailpipe. Arrgh. No money for the intake manifold that I suspect he needs. Hoping it isnt head gasket, Im getting to old to piss with those. I can do the work, but fronting money is something Ive learned not to do, after many thousands of dollars.
    Finally, after telling him that he will be walking to work and friends homes, we managed to spend some time under the hood of the Ram (it has good tires and the buick doesnt) and replaced t-stat, replaced the radiator, replaced a sensor or two and regapped the plugs. I point and hand him the tool, he does the work. 100 bucks and a couple hours later, my obdII reader says no codes. It passed emissions that day. Why didnt we do this before? Because he couldnt be bothered to stay home long enough for me to look at it and he wanted something “better”. Oh, the buick? 2100 bucks and that was about the lowest he found that actually ran. Bad Buy? Maybe. It was running and worked fine at first. Lost the bet, though. If he didnt have the truck and someone to help fix it, he would be dead in the water. Most of his co-workers at the wally world are in the same or worse boat on their vehicles – if they even have one. The days of the 1,000 dollar beater that will last a while are gone. Like others have said – 3,000 is about the floor and even that is getting hard to find. Even gen 2 Explorers are getting pricey if they run. I lucked into a 97 for 1600 that was clean, but needed intake gaskets and tires. That was a year ago and now there arent any for less than 2500 and those are 200k plus miles with the SEL bulb removed.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The plenum used to be a major culprit on the H Lesabre, it leaks coolant onto the coils packs IIRC and causes all sort of trouble. I would start with checking it to ensure it is not leaking, I doubt very much you have a HG issue. The G-body Lesabre has its faults but can be made to run a very long time on junkyard parts, don’t give up on it just yet. Apply the same determination to it and once you’ve got it rolling sell it for what you have in it if you’re step son is better with the truck.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I found a 2002 Jetta wagon with a 5 speed and the 2.slow engine about 3 weeks ago on CL. Figured it would work as a beater since that transmission is reliable and the engine is essentially bulletproof*. I was looking for a beater because I figured I might park my TDI wagon. Guy had it listed on CL for $1200.

    Got there and checked it out and it was rough but could have been workable if I wanted to spend a good chunk of time and money on it. I’ve driven A4 platform VWs for many years so I know how to fix them, but I decided in short order that this thing would have been a nightmare to keep going based on how it had been neglected. (would have needed all new brakes, new suspension, who knows what else)

    The looking process ended after the engine started sputtering and making a weird smell on a short drive. Pulled the dipstick and the oil was milky. The seller actually told us to move on, he was pissed at the garage that had just done the timing belt and water pump. Like the car Bark talked about, this thing also had a bunch of new parts. But not enough obviously because it now needed a junkyard engine.

    The guy still has the car on CL but with the update that the head gasket is blown.

    After that experience I’ve decided to keep my 2012 car that works as it’s supposed to and hold out for the buyback!

    * – Engine is not bulletproof if it is running a low amount of green (non G12) coolant

  • avatar
    NoID

    This typifies my first car buying experience. When I got married at the ripe old age of 17 (my parents actually had to sign the marriage license application) I owned a 1984 Monte Carlo SS and my wife was driving her mom’s 90s Grand Am. So I spoke with an elderly family friend who owned a used car lot, told him I had $2k cash from the wedding gifts, and I walked away with a 1992 Pontiac Sunbird with 76k miles.

    5 days later the timing chain broke. And two years later when I tried to re-register the car I found out that the car lot’s clerk was a convicted felon who was skimming title and registration fees and slapping tags on the car whilst forging the registration & title documents. The car was still titled and registered by the prior owner. Oh, and by that time the dealer was deceased and the business no longer operating. So that was fun.

    A decade later I’m doing fairly better now with my used car selections, but I still haven’t broken a base price over $10k yet. We had another fun experience last year of having to replace our totaled minivan and having a residual value from insurance of about $2k. I bought a Montana minivan for $1800, and a few months later had to pay for a shop to tear apart the top of the engine to replace a cross-threaded thermostat housing bolt that sheared off in the block while I was attempting to repair a leak in my driveway. That was fun. I’m still paying the debt on that credit card charge since it was entirely unexpected and we’d just blown through our savings on a home repair.

    The best feature of that van was the section of chain-link fence post that had been welded in where the catalytic converter used to be.

    And I’m not even poor…I’m firmly in Hillary and Donald’s oft-lamented shrinking middle class. Good cash flow, steady job, great credit. I have sure sympathy for those farther down the economic ladder.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “This typifies my first car buying experience.”

      Hell, it was my lifestyle from when I got my drivers license at age 16 until I bought my very first new car, a 1968 Mercury Monterrey, upon my return from my Senior trip to Viet Nam.

      Up until then it was nothing but cheap used cars, other people’s hand-me-downs and other people’s problems.

      Oh, I learned a lot about fixing and maintaining cars with the help the public library and Mr. Chilton. But I don’t care to repeat those times.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    The used car appliance market is certainly ripe but the sub $1000 population is, rightly so, the last stop before the scrap heap. Buyers should feel satisfaction if the car finishes the week and is still drinking gas because that is the only reason it wasn’t destroyed outright.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I’ve just embarked on a new beater journey, but the key difference as Jack had pointed out is that it is not by necessity, I have a second car as back up, I have the skills to work on it myself, and the privilege of a job where not making it in on time in an emergency/breakdown is not grounds for a firing.

    Just put temp tags on it today, my lovely 2000 Nissan Maxima SE in a sharp jet black with nice factory five spoke alloys and a spoiler on the back. 145k on the clock and in need of some reconditioning, but with a okay-ish maintenance history and fundamentally sound powertrain/drivetrain/suspension/body. Paid $1600, my self imposed goal is to have her all finished up mechanically/cosmetically/audio for $2500 all in, not including paperwork/insurance.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Privilege!

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Gtem is so privilege!

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        I should add that on my mother’s side of the family back in Russia all of my cousins are handy with a wrench, very much by necessity. The better off one built his own garage with a pit in it, he’s currently fixing up and commuting in a rusty W202 C-class benzo that he traded a RHD 3 door Pajero II straight across for (a poor trade IMO, given the state of roads over there). The other has a super high mile, beaten to death ’92 Corona (many many accidents and repaired bodywork) that he had to take a loan out with my grandma to pay for. He’s replaced the diff in the transaxle and it’s had an underhood fire on him, in addition to the constant suspension work. Not a fault of the car by any means, more so the literal 10+(!) previous owners and incredibly harsh conditions that cars are operated in over there. His commute every day is about 3 miles on beaten up gravel/dirt roads through some fields, and then about 5 miles of treacherous pavement, the kind where they use whole bricks to fill in potholes. He was elated when a taxi ran into his rear bumper and tore it off, he got a 48k ruble payout that time. Everyone out there either works on their car, or has a neighbor/friend/relative who can help them out. There’s the janky old bus that comes every 30 minutes to the village that they can fall back on if all else fails, but that’s really the only ‘safety cushion.’

        My cousins were jealous that I picked up a car with just two previous owners that needs some very light work (by their standards) to be a really nice reliable vehicle, and for only the equivalent of 100k rubles. In contrast, that ’92 Corona cost my cousin 160k rubles ($2500ish by today’s rates). One can find a rusty 80s-90s Fiat based RWD Lada for about 15-20k rubles ( $250-300) that will need some welding at Uncle Vasya’s shop before it’s fully structurally sound to hit the road, that’s a popular route to take as well out in the sticks.

        Just some global perspective on beater car ownership.

        • 0 avatar
          brettc

          I just read this and said “holy sh1t” to myself. Quite a different perspective indeed. We complain about road (and other) infrastructure here, but it sounds like Russia is much worse off.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Moscow and even Novosibirsk and other metropolitan areas aren’t so bad, Novosib is overall up to par with an average MidWestern city I’d say. But you don’t have to go more than 50km outside these big cities to find villages without pavement and scary-bad roads. Russian-made stuff truly thrives in this environment due to its mix of durability and repairability (note: NOT reliability), in the sense that most parts are back compatible on all rwd ladas made from 1970-2011, and stuff like UAZ 4wds and Volga have such thick sheetmetal that even a relative amateur with primitive equipment can weld it. 5k rubles buys you all the parts you need to rebuild the front end on a Lada. Toyota cars/trucks (and other Japanese makes) also have been in the Siberian part of the country long enough to have a lot of know how and spares built up, Toyotas in particular are singled out as being remarkably hardy and having relatively simple suspensions even on the sedans. Of course, the epitome of an automobile over there is some flavor of Land Cruiser. A Prado 120/150 if you do pretty well for yourself, older 80 series for connoisseurs and offroaders, and 100 and 200 series for the well-to-do.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            We’ll get to their level of infrastructure soon enough.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Update on my claims about my “fundamentally sound” maxima

            Houston, we’ve got problems!

            all 4 brake rotors are rusted beyond salvaging, been driving it a bit and the constant noise went away as the creeping in rust got worn off, but these things are not usable IMO. Ordered a 4 wheel Powerstop kit off rockauto for $150, not bad!

            Lower driver side balljoint has a torn boot. Slathered a bunch of grease on it as a band aid, but I will keep an eye on it. Not loose yet mind you. Rest of the front end looks good. Lower control arms look really easy to change if it comes to that.

            Struts are shot, front and rear. At lower speeds it just felt soft and mushy which I don’t mind, but higher speed impacts are awfully harsh and poorly controlled. Time to scope out some sketchy chinese quick strut kits! Forgot to mention earlier, unlike my 4Runner which is a shrine to OEM made in Japan Toyota parts, this car will serve as a test bed of the quick and dirty, nice and cheap generic brand stuff.

            The exhaust leak is somewhere on the vertical pipe coming from the rear exhaust manifold. Going to sit on this one for a bit as it is not safety-critical, and gives the Maxima a very beater-esque growl (not obnoxiously loud).

            lastly, and most scary/worrying, this Maxima has a classic case of rotted radiator support. A literal hole in this structural member, near a mounting point for the engine cradle. I’ve seen much worse online, but it goes to show that even the seasoned beater connoisseur can make some pretty grave omissions on the pre-purchase inspection. I knew this issue existed on maximas, how did I forget to check when buying?!

            A bright spot to cheer us all up: the motor pulls like a freight train, transmission shifts well, all interior accessories are functional, and my HVAC is no longer smelly after a session of anti-bacterial Febreezing the bejesus out of the AC evaporator, cabin filter housing, and all air vents both exterior and interior.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That’s a LOT of stuff to fix on a cheapo car. You’re much more dedicated than I. That leaky radiator I30 ain’t lookin so bad now is it?

          • 0 avatar

            Be careful with subframe rust on the Max. My fathers 96 spit out the lower control arm from rust 2 -3 years ago a few blocks from my house. That was the end of that car. Mind you he knew it was bound to happen. It had been welded together with angle iron a few years earlier in a friend of his home garage. They are great cars to drive thou the 3.0 is a great engine.

            On the cheap parts honestly I have been buying cheap parts for years 90% of them haven’t given me any trouble.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            mopar the subframe where the control arms mount seem pretty sturdy thankfully. I’m keeping a close eye on that lower radiator support though. Guys have drilled out the spot welds and welded in a new factory piece, it’s $200 and change.

            Agreed on the 3.0L, it’s a gem! The car isn’t even that heavy so that V6 really hustles it along.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Corey I think that overall had I known EVERYTHING, I probably would have walked away. But nonetheless I have a pretty good running A-to-B car with A/C and a pretty serene ride at 70 mph (tracks straight, no weird vibes), and looks pretty neat for $1600. Again, will monitor the lower rad support closely, and probably plan on welding it up with a friend’s welder. Even when those fail, the motor has 3 other mounts to sit on and nothing catastrophic happens. Mine is sturdy enough to use as a central jack point for the front end so that inspires at least a bit of confidence LOL. I think that I will at most own this car for two years-ish.

            The sad/scary thing is, to guys like my cousins, this thing is a piece of cake and really a nice car in need of just ‘a few things!’

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Really makes you consider how different the level of “acceptable” is in other places.

          • 0 avatar

            Corey, As a beater driver I find those things not bad as well, none of it is to expensive to fix and most could be considered wear items. My brother and father both had 96 maximas manual transmission. Great cars really. When the wheel flew off my dad’s it had around 250,000 miles on it and still got almost 30mpg on highway trips.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Cars descend to beater for me if they’re missing any paint and have more than four dents. My Cadillac is pretty much beater, lol.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah I call my XC a beater because I paid 3,200 for it but it’s actually very clean only issue is some clear coat peeling on the little plastic filler pieces on the roof rack side rails. My Durango was clean for years but now has some rust bubbles on the rear quarters. My last Beater Beater was my golf the paint was mismatched on half the panels the rockers were rusted out and the floor was staring to go.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “this car will serve as a test bed of the quick and dirty, nice and cheap generic brand stuff”

            Oh this sounds like a dare.

          • 0 avatar

            Cheap parts aren’t usually that bad, over the last decade and a half or so, I can think of only twice where I was screwed on cheap parts, a rotor on My Ramcharger and a wheel bearing on my Mirage/Summit. I just slapped $30 set of rock auto pads on the Durnago this weekend and it’s stopping better then ever. The Rock auto $30.00 a piece shocks are still great on the back 5 years later. Started using rock auto coil packs on the Volvo about 15,000 miles on the oldest one so far.
            Now of course you do need to know when not to do it. The internet is your friend. Don’t pay attention to the guys who always buy OEM, but do pay attention to the guy who had actual part failures. When I put a CV axle on my Subaru I used a NAPA branded one (which at the time were a rebranded OEM part) after hearing many issues with cheap CV axles on these cars. Even some of the later offered OEM parts (they changed suppliers for the CV joints) would fail at 20k miles.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    Generally speaking, I agree with most of you here: if you’re going to be reliant on a car as a source of transportation that’s going to see a good amount of use, it makes little sense to try to get by on a beater if you can afford something better.

    That said, I’m now at about 8 months on a car whose market value was about $1,000-$1,500. I got it for free, as it was my parents’ old car, and the dealer offered them $250 on trade, at which point they preferred me having it as an airport car instead of dealing with a private sale. The keys were that it was a car whose history I knew – it had been very reliable during my parents’ 8 year ownership despite being a 150k mile Chrysler – and that I don’t drive many miles, nor would it be a big problem if it died unexpectedly. I drive to work little more than once a week, 15 miles round-trip, plus whenever I feel like doing a Costco run or when I prefer not to take my (17 year-old, fully-reliable) convertible. I’ve put about 2,000-3,000 miles on it, so I’m really not driving it much, but I’m happy to have it when I need it.

    My full outlay into the car so far has been registration and insurance – cheap, and cost dependent on where you live – and $15 I spent on topping off the ATF. Otherwise I’ve been putting gas into it and driving it. It came with two sets of serviceable wheels/tires, which is not unusual in places where winter tires are mandatory. Even if I’d paid market value for the car and it went to scrap tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a terrible deal. That said, if I had to rely on it to drive to work 5 days a week, I’m pretty sure it would be replaced by something newer within a few months.

    The other scenario where a beater can make sense is for young drivers. At least where I live, insurance for new drivers in new cars is so expensive that it makes sense to get an older car, insure it for liability only, and deal with the repairs that come up. That’s what I did when I was 18, and it ended up considerably cheaper than if I’d leased something like a new Civic. Take the high insurance cost out of the equation, though, and total cost is close enough that you may as well have the new car.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    I find this article interesting. I drive a $1000 beater to work (4 miles), airport (6 miles), and when we go fishing or shooting. It’s perfect for that. It’s a 2002 Escape V6, bought from a family member. Runs great, drives nicely, and everything works ?including cold AC). I got it cheap because they were tired of it and it had several CEL occurrences. I had the codes run, called a few shops, watch YouTube, and attempted repairs on my own. I replaced the coil packs, DPFE sensor, egr, intake manifold gaskets, and fluids. Also put new Michelin AT tires. It’s an old vehicle but not a beater, even though it has a couple small oil leaks.

    What I’m getting at, is that I had the time and did not depend solely on this vehicle. My wife has a newer Accord and I have a company car (Fusion, soon the be replaced by something plug-in or electric). A mechanic would have cost me around the price of the vehicle to repair issues that otherwise wouldn’t let it pass emissions. I could see how tough it would have been for someone with very limited funds.

    Really helped me appreciate owning a “beater” as well, I take pride in driving the Escape given my income level. Of course my wife thinks she could have something bigger or new.

  • avatar
    sprkplg

    In about 16 years of car ownership, almost all of my vehicles have cost me less than $2000, with a couple exceptions. Most have been not-particularly-desirable Japanese cars (Tercel, FWD Impreza, etc.) that were over 10 years old when purchased. As far as I’m concerned, my maintenance/repair issues have been acceptable, and not noticeably worse than what a lot of people suffer with subpar, even just slightly below-average new cars. However, I recognize that I’ve had a lot of factors working in my favor: I know some stuff about cars; I can wrench a little; even when I was making like $20k a year I had savings that made $500 repairs not too painful; and I’ve been blessed with a support network of family and friends to help out when things go south. Lots of people live with few or none of these advantages.

    I appreciate the way this piece ends—”It’s yet another way that the poor get poorer in this society, and I don’t know what can be done about it. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make me sad.” It seems like a lot of articles written in this vein end up saying something like, “Poor people should just make payments on new Kias.” That never made sense to me. The humility and empathy of Bark’s conclusion strike a better note.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I’m going to be 50 later this year, and I’m officially DONE with trying to limp beaters around. For years I could buy a crapheap for $500 and get 9-12 months out of it. More recently I spent $1800 on a 97 Volvo and I put 15,000 miles on it over the past 14 months. I haven’t driven it this week, and got a call today that the contractor who is digging a swimming pool for my neighbor hit it. Surely it’s a total loss, I’ll take what I get and be done with it.

    The arthritis is getting bad enough that I am having trouble doing my own wrenching, my close-up vision is becoming an issue, especially on a dark colored car (it’s amazing how much more I can see in the engine compartment of a white car, vs a black one)and it’s just not worth it to me. It used to be a game, now it’s a drag.

    I figure if you are too poor to insure and maintain a car, you need a bus pass. Driving is not a God-given right, and cars in my household have been involved with 3 uninsured drivers in the past 5 years.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I’m 10 years younger than you, but I’ve also decided that beaters are not worth it to me. A project car would be something different if I were to take that on, but after my recent experience where I got close to buying a beater I realized that beaters are not worth the headaches and stress. New or gently used from now on.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “I figure if you are too poor to insure and maintain a car, you need a bus pass. Driving is not a God-given right”

      Most of the poor around here live somewhere between a two and four hour walk from the nearest bus stop. What do you suggest *they* do? Arrogance and condescension contribute nothing to the conversation.

      • 0 avatar
        CincyDavid

        Perisoft, I was not being condescending. If you can’t insure a car, you can’t legally drive a car. Are you suggesting that people drive illegally, accepting no financial responsibility, and create hazards on the road? There’s a point beyond which someone has no expectation of driving a car. My dipshit 22 year old nephew lost his license for driving uninsured and is now the proud operator of a little BMX bicycle he cadged from another nephew…it gets him to work and back, until he can get his act together and be more responsible.

        Perhaps the walking poor should move near a bus line if they can’t operate a motor vehicle. My grandmother never drove a car, and she made a point of living somewhere appropriate to her transportation situation, ie: near the bus line.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      On one hand, I’d normally be inclined to agree with you that public transportation is the best choice (and it worked for me for a while when my insurance rates outweighed by income). But, at the same time, there are plenty of people who find themselves with jobs with limited transit access, or forced to work irregular hours (I’m going off this, as a frame of reference – https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/06/04/study-highlights-link-between-precarious-work-and-miserable-commutes.html ).

      Now, unfortunately, this basically means public transit needs to be heavily subsidized, or we need to make it easier for people to own a car. I’d love to say the solution is really just to build denser so the car isn’t a necessity, but that’s not likely to happen (because so much of North America is already built up around the assumption of car ownership).

      • 0 avatar
        CincyDavid

        As I understand it, public transport is already heavily subsidized. Whether the funds are properly allocated is another issue entirely. Perfect example is Cincinnati’s new “train to nowhere” light rail system that is a giant money pit and really doesn’t go anywhere meaningful. Or the enormous underground bus terminal adjacent to the stadiums that was designed to handle hundreds of coaches and busses at once, and is only open during events at the stadiums for bands’ tour busses and sports teams equipment trucks.

        At least St. Louis City & County (MO) made their light rail actually GO somewhere. You can quibble all you want about whether it should have been extended into St Charles County, but it’s a great tool for getting in and out of downtown efficiently and quickly, unless there are multiple events ending downtown at the same time, and everybody is waiting for a train to the ‘burbs.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I can’t think about that street car here, it makes me too G-D mad. I want everyone who voted for it to be REQUIRED to ride it at least once a week.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          Absolutely, there are virtually no (if any) transit systems that aren’t subsidized. Odds are, it’s a trend that will get worse, as the poorer people who would most benefit from it will get priced out of denser areas where it’s more convenient.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    My experience with my Thunderbird has me wanting an older car with limited electronics that I might be able to actually fix myself…

  • avatar
    deanst

    I never know how to get rid of my old cars – I had a 9 year old chevy venture which needed the A/C recharged and $600 in repairs to the engine, but otherwise had never had any problems – including original brakes, muffler etc. I guess that could be viewed as an expense that would be coming in the near future, but I viewed it as a sign of a reliable vehicle. I ended up giving it to the dealer for $200 – didn’t really care as its replacement had $8000 in incentives.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    The Grapes of Wrath (1940) movie was shown in Stalinist Russia during WWII and the Russians thought it was an American propaganda film because the supposedly dirt poor Okies were driving to California in their own vehicles at a time when not even the most connected Communist party members could get access to a car. Yes it sucks to be poor, but there basically isn’t any true poverty (i.e. starvation) anymore in the US that isn’t the result of many self-inflicted poor choices. With all the anti-poverty programs any full-time worker is looking at $30,000+ in cash equivalent income these days, and if they carefully watch expenses, pay their bills on time, most poor could afford a reasonable used car. Unfortunately, what separates most (but not all) of poor from the middle-class is they tend to not watch their expenses very carefully (i.e. buying expensive cable TV packages, expensive sneakers and smart phones, etc.), tend to have some bad habits (i.e. more likely to smoke, abuse drugs and alcohol, have “accidental” kids, buy lottery tickets, drop out of school, etc.), tend to be late paying bills (hence no cheap credit), and frequently have a lack of useful skills/education that make them employable and/or able to fix their own cars. I just hope we don’t attempt to “solve” the bad car problem with another anti-poverty program built on giving the poor a “free car” – which in today’s Washington will mean it must be electric, 5 star safety rating, all the modern conveniences (we can’t have the poor feeling bad because their cars don’t have A/C, navigation, and leather seats), and cost taxpayers $50,000 per vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @stingray, some truth to what you wrote. However the primary predictors of poverty are: 1) single parent 2) divorce, 3) high medical bills.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        Ah, yes, poverty is “self-inflicted.” That’s the ticket. If only the poor would listen to us middle class folks and stop *inflicting* themselves with poverty, they wouldn’t be poor any more.

        Just wake up in the morning, and decide that you won’t have cancer, you’ll take that investment banking job offer and stop turning down all those offers for affordable housing. Duh!

        • 0 avatar
          operagost

          Poverty isn’t necessarily self-inflicted, but I’ve seen enough to know it’s self-sustaining. Single moms/deadbeat dads, spending every spare dollar on middle class entertainments you can’t afford yet, saving no money, and defaulting on debts.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            People of all income levels develop lousy habits. Or maybe they just want to give their kids some of the little luxuries their schoolmates have, like a dinner out or a movie. Or maybe they have a vice to give themselves a brief respite from the difficulties of poverty.

            These may not be wise choices, but they are understandable. I can’t sit here and say I would do any better.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Arthur’s first and second points are self inflicted, and possibly the third depending on the ailment.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Single parenthood and divorce aren’t always choices. Too many mothers got that way from rape. And plenty of divorced mothers got that way because their husbands just up and left them. No child support because mom can’t hire a lawyer, or because dad works “off the books.”

          • 0 avatar
            operagost

            Besides the fact that Planned Parenthood practically runs a disassembly line of abortions these days (with federal funding), the number of women who actually got pregnant by rape is quite a lot smaller than the population who got there through carelessness.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Thanks for coming here with an open mind and no axe to grind, Operagost.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “Parenthood practically runs a disassembly line of abortions these days”

            More shifts, more staff or we’re paying for all those babies that happen. Forever.

          • 0 avatar

            You guys are brutal. I’m middle class by most definitions(if I was single I’d fall in the top 40% of income earners in the state with my family size I’m way down in the bottom half) but in no way feel I could afford a lease or finance of $15,000 car. Part of that is choices (3 kids) but part of that is crap of life (medical that has gone from no deductible 9 years ago to 3,800 per person this year, 45% higher property tax then 8 years ago, somewhat stagnant salary, ) I have spent many years with lower middle income and poor people since I left home 17 years ago, while many make bad choices many really got there thru shit luck, everyone makes a few bad decisions, you can’t describe a whole group of people in one way it’s way to complicated for that. I know alcoholics that are on skid row I know other ones that pull down 6 figure salaries, vices do not alone equal success.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The first short of sexual assault is certainly a choice, the second is a choice someone makes backed by poor choices made by society as it descends.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            28CL
            You seem really driven to blame the poor for their poverty.

            While I believe that people need to take responsibility for their lives, I also recognize that a lot of people got dealt some really tough hands in life. I doubt I could play those cards any better than many of them do.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            To the contrary, the ruling elite are largely responsible for the economic straits we find ourselves in. I do however hold people responsible for the choices they make where they do have some form of control.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Well Stingray, there is one presidential candidate touting “free college education” for all…….the free EV’s won’t be far behind.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    My dad has been in this circle for a while. He had ended up on financial hard times due to a decade worth of bad decisions and just recently been in an accident that totaled his reliable but inexpensive car (decade-old civic). To make matters worse, he was working as a pizza guy, so his job required a car.

    He then purchased a vehicle I advised him againstwith his insurance money: an E39 528i with 150k miles on it. Because he “deserved something nice.” He also neglected my advice to get a PPI because “it was great on the test drive.” It proceeded to crap out its transmission 2 weeks after he bought it. He’s been in BHPH limbo on a crapcan decade-old Hyundai ever since.

    I don’t have much sympathy for him as he continually makes poor choices with regards to these and just about any other thing that can financially impact his life. It’s just very eye opening to watch the realities of being poor combined with the bad decisions of impulsivity catch up with someone you actually know. I’m in agreement with Bark – I don’t have a solution, but it still makes me feel bad.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    I have a 9-year record of maintaining a decent Volvo 240 that I bought at 60K miles. I do some work on doors, interior and minor rust but nothing on the engine or brakes or transmission – mechanics do that. The average on all the maintenance, including 2 tows when it broke down, two timing belts, brakes twice, water pump twice, and other normal things, is $150/mo – I have records. I don’t drive during the weekdays because I take bike to the station. A poor person who is trying to make something of him/herself cannot afford a beater car. You can lease a car for almost the same money, especially when you factor depreciation. When I was a poor college student and had tight monthly budgets I bought a new Stanza and then leased a Golf.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      A good portion of poor people generally lack the credit to you need to lease, which is where this argument falls apart. I wrote about my dad further up – He has wrecked his credit to the point that the only place that will touch him is a BHPH, and he’s paying the kind of money that you would for a decade-old Hyundai Sonata that you would on a new one on lease.

      I’d be all for everyone who makes that full-time minimum wage money setting aside a paycheck a month for a lease payment plus insurance. At sub-$200 leases that’s doable for anybody with a bit of financial sense. Getting approved for the lease in the first place is a whole other ballgame.

      • 0 avatar

        Well being able to afford rent and the lease might be a bit of a problem.

        • 0 avatar

          It all depends. My Volvo over the last 28 months has averaged $83.00 a month for maintenance and repairs this was much less until a recent $1600.00 repair. I paid $3200.00 for it Right now I could sell it for at least $1800.00. That would leave me at $133 a month average without going in to the more then $40 a month in property tax a new car would cost me or the increased sales tax. Or for that matter the fact that I drive close to 20k miles a year which is a nogo on a lease. And that was on a European time bomb.
          The best I have done was a Mitsubishi mirage that one ran well under 100/month all in. I had a Toyota pickup that was in that range as well. It’s not really cheap but it’s much better then those with poor credit can do otherwise.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    As much as I like suburban living and having the ability to hop in one of the 5 cars in our household to run to Walgreens, I do find the idea of urban living more and more enticing. There are some new condo developments that would allow my wife and me to drop down to one car (the kids would still need wheels) and walk to restaurants, the drug store, etc. The city bus line runs right by the building I’m thinking of too…

    The concept of being able to stumble home on foot at the end of the evening, and not worry about who will be the designated driver sounds good too…

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Oh come on, you do not wanna live in downtown Cincinnati. Just go down there and drink, and get an Uber home. :)

      • 0 avatar
        CincyDavid

        CoreyDL, you made me chuckle. You’re probably right, and uber is pretty convenient. Can’t take the bus to the Pirate’s Den anyway…best people watching in Cincinnati, it’s a meat market for 40-80 year old West Siders, if you’ve never had the pleasure of going there.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I hadn’t heard of it! But I see it’s in Western Hills, and I most definitely don’t go over there.

          EDIT: That shopping center up there is desolate. Didn’t it used to be a Service Merchandise anchoring that place?

          • 0 avatar
            CincyDavid

            Corey, just once in your life you have to go to the Pirates Den or its miniature version, the Hillside GastroPub at the bottom of Rybolt Rd off I-74…it’s amazing watching divorcees putting the moves on each other, including the 80 year old guy who leaves his walker at the bar when he dances with the ladies.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            LOL

            I would be more inclined to go to that GastroPub. It looks like a nicer place (I know it’s pretty new) and I’ve actually seen exactly where it is. I generally don’t go to bars, though.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      Living that dream right now. Went from renting a charming 2-bedroom cottage with a yard in an outer-city neighborhood to owning a tiny studio apartment in the heart of downtown for about the same money. Once you’re home, the car stays parked all night and all weekend – you can walk to anything you want or need to do. It’s a different *kind* of luxury.

      However I do not live in Ohio. YMMV.

  • avatar

    Any vehicle under $1000 is nearing the end, sometimes you’ll find a gem,but that’s rare.
    Occasional use, maybe, but everyday use (and the looming problem of deferred maintenance)will catch up with you.
    As for the ad, when it touts all the money they put in it, how it’s super duper fantastic in every way (except for this one little issue which they have no time to fix), it means they’re FOS.
    Better off to buy an ex-cop Crown Vic at an auction. Yes, they drive them like they’re stolen, the dash will be full of holes and the back seat area probably smells like puke and misery, but at least you know they’re maintained.

    • 0 avatar
      sprkplg

      In my experience, lots of $1000 cars and $1500 cars are identical on paper and a world apart in real life. In the CL ads, both are tired-looking and old, but run and drive with no major issues. In the flesh, the $1000 car has bad brakes, makes weird noises, has funny-colored exhaust, and stinks, while the $1500 car runs and drives as advertised. I wasted a lot of time looking at garbage before I figured this out.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    I’ve only run into very few people like this, but the irritating ones are people who buy some old beater from a Shafty Sam, and then mutter about what a piece of s**t it is and how they’d never buy another car from that brand. I’m like, “it’s 22 years old and looks like it was used in a demolition derby, and you expected it to be reliable?”

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Agreed. See Ryoku’s Honda/Toyota rants as an example. Sorry the ’87 Tercel was a piece of junk in 2014!

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        You secretly love my rants, just admit it! You have them saved in a notepad to read every day, marveling at my amazing typing skills.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          Haha to your credit you put in much more thought than that one GM salesman guy who kept retelling the same story of a rental “2014.5” Camry where a bunch of interior trim fell off and he got some sort of weird skin rash from the seat material. It’s all good!

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Thank you, I’ve tried to make my rants more info based than just mindless words, and I do agree that people shouldn’t swear off cars from one ancient example ( age means more than brand in the long run).

            I once had the chance to drive a rental 13 Corolla I think it was? Had an unresponsive throttle, but otherwise was an okay economy car, it didnt have the body panel gaps of a certain rental Avenger.

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Camry fall apart, well, beyond an example that had been hacked up for audio equipment.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That dude’s name starts with poncho.

  • avatar
    GermanReliabilityMyth

    I might’ve shared this story before, but I’ll share it again due to relevance to the topic. When I was still in college, I got taken to the cleaners by a dealer. They didn’t care that I had a shoestring stipend and limited income due to my course load. They upsold me into a vehicle that was overpriced, misrepresented and more than I could afford (I hobbled into the lot driving a $300 Acura Integra complete with the Swiss cheese and bad clutch package). On my biggest car purchase at that time, I made the mistake of negotiating from a position of desperation. If I had taken the time to learn more about the car buying process, or how cars works, maybe I could’ve saved myself a lot of money and trouble. The negative equity from that purchase followed me longer than it should’ve into my later adulthood.

    Regardless, as a result of that experience, I promised myself that I would learn about how to buy cars from a position of knowledge and power and how to fix them. Many years later and 30+ voluntarily purchased, and sold, cars later, I have a well-honed sense of what to buy and what to walk away from. Because I invested the time reading about how cars function and how to repair them, then put it to use wrenching, I saved myself multitudes of dollars. I’ve flipped cars for a profit and never experienced a catastrophic failure or stranding on cars ranging from $500 up to $2750.

    My most recent purchase is a 1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport purchased for $1000 in cash. It came with a set of nearly-new all season tires, a set of wheels with winter tires, 172K on the clock and some need for overdue maintenance. After dropping a couple hundred dollars into fluids, suspension components (thanks, Amazon!) and other miscellaneous things, I know enjoy a well-running $1000 vehicle with functional air conditioning and accessories, which I use to commute and run stuff to the dump or recycling center. I will admit that I got a good deal on it because I was willing to buy a 2WD XJ, which I consider a boon due to reduced operating costs and increased simplicity. My point is, I know, generally speaking, which drive trains have a reputation for reliability, the Achilles heels of most platforms out there and other things to watch out for during inspections. Knowledge is power and money. I sincerely believe any person can improve their situation in life, given enough time and austerity. My apologies in advance for what must appear to be unbridled bloviation, but I can’t stand pity parties.

    Editorial & Disclosure: I’m not usually one of those “bootstraps” type of people, but I do believe everyone needs to take at least a degree of responsibility for improving their situation. It always comes down to priorities. I did not grow up in a rich family, I never got any breaks and I’m still not rich by most people’s standards, although I am very frugal and financially secure. Admittedly, I enjoy some of the mythical “white privilege” as it’s sometimes known (a distasteful term) but society will probably never be equal. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to want what I already have, not want what others have. But there will always be folks who want more than their station/situation in life permits, but society won’t always equalize that disparity.

    • 0 avatar
      Paragon

      Very much liked hearing your anecdotal story and your summary. There is certainly something to be said for being frugal, as it allows one to set aside money that others might blow on the idea of having fun, in order to “save your money for a rainy day”; that is, to have some money set aside for if and when some sort of adversity strikes. The wise man has some money set aside so that he doesn’t need to get a loan or borrow from family or friends. There is also something to be said for being content with what one has and can afford, rather than living paycheck-to-paycheck and trying to enjoy a standard of living above one’s pay grade, or attempting to always get the newest, latest and greatest thing. We all live and learn, and have the ability to act mature before we actually become mature.

  • avatar

    Or you can get a brand new Hyundai Accent for $43 weekly in Canada on a 60 month lease http://www.hyundaicanada.com/Pages/SpecialOffer/SalesPromotions.aspx

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      If you have better credit than someone who needs a $43/week car usually has. To get good credit, you need either some money (not a ton, but some) or help from someone else with good credit.

  • avatar

    Most I have paid for a car so far is 6k. Average about 2k. I have bought a couple sub 1,000 cars in the past, both were indeed pretty bad repair wise. But both lasted a few years of daily driving. The key thing to remember here is many have no other better choice then make do. If buying a new beater every few years gets you by and the alternative is 29% interest at the BHPH I would take the beater every time (and have). There have been times when my credit and income would have allowed a 15k-20k car purchase, but it would have been very tight and the payments would have been awful at times. My current volvo ($3200.00 with 93k miles now at 130k miles. ) went over 2 years with little cost, but recently puked a cam seal that cost $1600.00 to fix. Luckily I was able to cover it thanks to some mileages checks from work and some savings. But there has been times where I wouldn’t have been able too and would have taken the entire weekend and done it myself. Most of my 20 years of cheap car ownership I had a spare car, for the last 5 I haven’t which makes it harder luckily this was only the 2nd major break down requiring I borrow a relatives car in that time. (they have a small fleet of beaters do to ” hey that’s a decent looking cheap car I think I’ll buy it”) For a time when I lived away from all my relatives and had a beater, and for a while a roommate with no car, when mine went down that involved some begging as there was no public transit in the sticks. Luckily I only had a 2 mile commute at the time.

    Being poor is expensive there is no way around it.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    BTW, Great job, Bark! Really interesting editorial which I defiantly recommend.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    We inherited a 2005 Buick with a Series III 3800 engine, in 2014. Less than 60,000 miles on it. It should have been in great shape but it hadn’t been highway driven in years, had sat for about 6 months prior to our getting it, and had been used on short runs mostly to and from the veterinarians prior to that. Also due to poor eyesight a bent rim and some bumper damage.

    Still an Oshawa built Buick with a 3800 and fairly low mileage should be a fairly risk free drive.

    Since then have had to replace all 4 tires (cracking), the rim and wheel cover, all brake pads, 2 rotors, the ECM (died on the highway and left us stranded), the catalytic converter, a fuel line. Regular maintenance included changing the transmission oil, coolant, all filters (the interior filter was original), some bulbs, a healamp lens which was busted while parked at a shopping mall and now it needs a new driver’s side door handle as the existing one snapped in my hand when I went to open it on a cold day. According to websites this is a recurring problem with that model of Buick.

    Overall well over, including the cost for the required safety inspection and plate transfer, well over $3,500 to drive the car a total of just over 20,000 miles.

    So I could have leased a new vehicle for about the same price and not had to spend nearly 90 minutes sitting on the narrow shoulder of an 8 lane highway or have to get in the passenger side and crawl across to drive the car.

    • 0 avatar
      operagost

      Dude, the car was on, at best, its second set of tires in 9 years. Of course they dry rotted. And it was likely due for its second set of brake pads, too. Regular maintenance. I don’t see anything out of the ordinary except the ECM, door handle, and cat. You’re complaining about changing the cabin air filter? That’s not a critical part!

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        “You’re complaining about changing the cabin air filter? That’s not a critical part!”

        The hell it isn’t! Ever hear of Old People Smell?

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          The Truth About Old People Smell:

          https://www.agingcare.com/Articles/old-person-smell-174839.htm

          “Nonenal”, the name given to the smell, is the product of too-rapid oxidation of normal skin oils. Not water soluble, it can’t be removed by normal hygiene.

          Dryin’ won’t help you, sprayin’ won’t do you no good. One of God’s Gratuitious Indignities for old folks.

          But wait! There’s hope!

          The Goog has shown that the accepted clinical way of dealing with nonenal is parsimmon oil soap. Only a couple of brands exist that I’ve seen.

          Guess who has a lock on the market for both clinical and personal products… Japan!

      • 0 avatar
        56BelAire

        The cat might still have been under warranty if you had taken it to Buick. I believe they had 100,000 mile warranty.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Bark, this is a great piece, and should get the same attention as Jack’s million mile Lexus piece, which was also excellent.

    • 0 avatar

      I expected I would hate this article, as Jacks Lexus piece was one of my least favorites of his. However Bark has done very well here in going into the reasons why people do what they do, something Jack seemed to have left out of his post. Thanks Bark.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    It is a viscious cycle. I don’t know how people make it on only $15k a year. I worked for several years at a job making $20k a year as a full time 40 hour employee and I had to move back in with family because any halfway decent not unsafe apartment was unaffordable on my own. you had to have a roomate. I had the luxury of still having my car from high school, a car which provided reliable affordable transportation up until I was able to afford to replace it. The only solution for those who don’t that I see is better/more viable public transport. I came very close to taking the bus to work when gas prices skyrocketed in 2008 but my commute was short and the math didn’t work out.

    You can get into a lease on a cheap new car for $200ish/month with little to no $ down (Honda is advertising Civics at $170/month with $2k down). The problem is you usually need better credit to qualify for good lease terms, which becomes a vicious cycle for those who don’t have it and are therefore unable to get a lease. The other problem is that it will typically only work for people with short commutes who don’t do much driving, and those sorts of people are more likely to have viable public transport.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Granted, this is The Truth About CARS, but, quite frankly, anyone who needs dependable daily transportation and can only lay their hands on $1000.00 would be better off going into Craigslist and spending $100-150.00 on an older bicycle from somebody who does fix and flip for the grins and beer money. Ideally some cleaned up 70’s English 3-speed with the fenders still on it. And then hit the local bicycle shop for a good lock, another $35-50.00.

    If you’re living five miles from your job, that’s a 1/2 hour commute, a rate reachable after about two weeks of riding to get the muscles into some kind of shape. For the first time rider, budget forty five minutes to an hour.

    Yeah, it’s got shortcomings: Your weather protection is what you’re wearing (rain gear can be found cheap at Goodwill), you’re winter protection is what you’re wearing (ditto ski jackets at Goodwill), you’ll have some limitations as to what you can carry – but that can be worked around with a reasonable amount on ingenuity.

    There are advantages, too. Like virtually no operating costs. Pump up the tyres once a week to proper pressure, a drop or two of oil on the chain every so often. And since the urban poor usually end up getting meals at McDonald’s, Burger King, etc., commuting to work on the bike also does wonders at fending off the insane calorie counts served by those establishments.

    Our society’s automatic deferral to the ICE anytime we have to go anywhere absolutely floors me.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      That’s a great thought but unfortunately the weather in too many areas of the country make it too hazardous a proposition. During the summer, the heat throughout much of the nation isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s downright dangerous, never mind most employers wont’ appreciate you showing up sweaty from 30 minutes of physical exertion in summer heat. Here in Florida, the rainstorms aren’t just inconvenient, they’re life threatening. You can count on very deadly lightning all around you during the typical afternoon commute home. There is also a cost. It’s hard to bring your own meals on a bike, especially out in the weather, meaning you’ll have to eat out more often, which is a pricey proposition.

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        First off, a simple rear rack with an old milk crate bungeed to it can carry a couple of bags of groceries. So packing one’s lunch isn’t going to be a problem. Heat? Cold? The human body can stand some pretty good extremes, and if 65 year old me had no problem cycling to the bank (2 miles each way) with the afternoon deposit for my place of employment in today’s 92 degree heat, certainly someone younger can do it. Yes, I keep a bike at work for the daily bank runs.

        Being smelly at work? Most places of employment have bathrooms. It doesn’t take long to do a quick sponge bath at the sink, and if the boss is real picky about employee appearance, put your work clothes in the milk crate along with lunch and wear something else for riding time. Leave fifteen minutes early to give yourself cleanup time.

        Yeah, there’s weather worries, but I never claimed that cycling is the perfect solution; what it is is the chance to have almost-free, reliable transportation while saving up the money for a more reliable car. And storms tend to pass. In Florida, they tend to pass quickly.

        You’re definitely wedded to the ICE, probably haven’t thrown a leg over a bicycle since you turned sixteen. Every objection you’ve come up with can be overcome – if the rider wants to overcome it. And overcome without difficulty. And both the financial and health benefits are worth it.

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          Hundreds of people die every year due to heat related illnesses. My Fire/EMS agency transports thousands of heat illnesses every year to the hospital, most of whom are simply walking and standing outside, not exerting themselves on a bicycle, and we’re a relatively small department. This happens throughout the year, not just the summer. It would be a serious problem for many people. Florida storms pass quickly but they do plenty of damage while they’re here. More people are killed by lightning in Florida every year than all other weather phenomena combined.

          Oh, and there’s no way I can clean up with a sponge bath enough for an office job after riding in the heat for 30 minutes. I will usually sweat through and soak an entire shirt just doing my vehicle checks in the morning at work, and that’s standing mostly in the shade and with minimal physical exertion. It has nothing to do with being in bad shape. It has everything to do with I sweat a lot no matter what, and Florida is hot and sticky even at 8 in the morning.

          You jump to an amusing conclusion. I have a bicycle, one that I’ve put probably $1000 into over the past year, and one that yes, I do ride, although it’s basically been parked for the summer. But go ahead and tell me more about how I don’t know anything about how wedded I am to the ICE, how I haven’t ridden in 16 years, and how I don’t know anything about the challenge of riding in summer weather.

        • 0 avatar
          robc123

          I love how the haters are trying to bring this guy down.

          bike is a great idea, sure bad weather happens, sure people die from heat- 157 people died last year because their tv fell on them- so what don’t watch TV?

          this must have own a house must own a car thing just replaced chains that slaves used to have- its just now these debt chains have AC.

          get a car sharing service, get a bike, carpool, take public transit. Best thing you can do if you are poor is stay fit.

          Sure being poor sucks but doing nothing about it and staying poor is worse.

          It’s about compromise, and hard self improvement to get yourself out of that situation, unless its about your age (elderly).

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “just replaced chains that slaves used to have- its just now these debt chains have AC.”

            You may need to read up on what exactly slavery was and entailed. It’s evident from this comment that you’re not informed.

            Also, capital letters – try them out.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Corey he makes a clever point.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think it’s a very poor comparison, and minimizes quite a lot what slavery was/is.

            Indentured servitude is much more accurate.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I agree the actual practice of slavery was a multi faceted issue, but through usury the banking system obtains free gains on the backs of others through debt created from nothing which is issued to purchase consumer products.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The consumer lifestyle isn’t exactly mandatory – nobody’s making you purchase huge TVs and lavish accommodation. People could live within their means in many circumstances, and choose not to.

            The slavery is self-inflicted. Usury is a constant – the difference is now that it’s limited via consumer protection legislation to some extent.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        For what you save with the bike, you can probably afford to get a rideshare ride on the few days (mostly snowy ones) when the weather is truly impossible for biking.

        The showing-up-sweaty thing is a real issue if you’re a white-collar worker in an oxford shirt. If not, not so much. I commuted by bike when I had a uniform job, and just arrived 10 minutes early and changed into the uniform in the men’s room. My hair might have been a bit sweaty but with 30 seconds and a comb it didn’t matter.

        The real issue with biking in America is that outside of big cities the roads are extremely dangerous for biking. American suburban and rural road design is as if the traffic engineers deliberately tried to be as bike-hostile as possible. Shoulders that vanish into wide-radius intersection corners or gravel, no place to go when there’s a right turn lane and you’re going straight, no way to turn left without forcing yourself into 45 mph traffic, and so on.

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          Your final point is a good and important one. I meant to bring it up. I actually did investigate biking to the aforementioned full tim $20k year job during the height of the gas crisis. It was an eminently doabl 7 mile trip to work. However, that was down a fast 50-60 mph road with bad traffic and lots of accidents. It would not have been a safe rid. This was compounded by a work condition I found and one oftentimes encountered by the low wage workers likely to entertain this sort of idea – your shifts are at odd hours. Our main shifts were 6a-2p and 2p-10p, with that 10p having a fair likelihood of being extended. The vehicular dangers of riding are compounded when done in the low visibility dark hours of the early morning and late night, and the threat of becoming a crime victim also goes up dramatically. And in either case, I would’ve also been riding in the hottest part of the day. My problem was not that I had a white collar job, but I actually worked outside, so I was already taking a heat induced beating at work. I didn’t need to start out a shift already sweaty dehydrated and tired, and a ride home at end of a shift would’ve been a strain.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Oh, sure. Just ride your bike through a foot of fresh snow or three feet of plowed ridges in 20mph winds and zero-to-ten degree weather three months a year. In the dark.

      Hint, keyboard warriors: Not everyone lives where you do. In fact, most people don’t! Are you floored yet?

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Zero-to-ten degree weather? Ha!

        Northern winter riding tip: Shimano rear hubs stop functioning well at around -32C. The grease solidifies, preventing engagement. Flush the freehubs with motor oil and they’re fine for winter use. Quieter, too.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Scooter.

      I rode a motorcycle year round for a while include 25F rides home from a 2nd shift job. It was only 15 minutes so dressing right made it okay. The motorcycle windshield helped too.

      I’ll still suggest a scooter. Brand new you can get a 65 mph Kymco for $2500. For $1200 you can get a very nice Genuine Stella (old design Vespa scooter clone from India).

      Th ability to spin some very basic wrenches is helpful. parts are plentiful and affordable.

      I’ve owned alot of sub $2K cars. Most need TLC to get the previous owner’s neglect taken care of and then you’re golden for a long time. The previous owner either didn’t understand that additional repairs were necessary or they sold it to avoid dealing with certain maintenance items.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    It is what it is and what it will always will be. But it’s relative. Today’s $1000 cars are infinitely better than the $100 cars of 40 years ago and thus the lowest rung is better off.

    The horror of this lifestyle is really about one’s desperate fear of being poor.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Back in the early 60s I bought a 1957 Plymouth Savoy 4dr sed for $20.00. It smoked like hell(needed a ring job). I did several round trips from NJ to Ohio for college with it. I sold it for $20.00 after freshman year. Probably put $40.00-$50.00 of oil in it in the 9 months I had it. lol

  • avatar
    nickoo

    The cost of buying a used car is 5000 minimum. Pay it up front Or pay it in repair bills and uber rides and possibly unemployment stints.

    Or even better, no money down lease. It sucks and will cost more, but being poor is expensive and there often isn’t a choice to forego a car.

  • avatar
    Paragon

    I recently (90 days ago) purchased a used car off of Craigslist for a daily driver. For the tidy sum of only $2K, I purchased a non-beater – a 1998 Dodge Stratus in almost immaculate condition with only 111K miles. I willingly paid the asking price as it had new brakes, tires, and a few other things. No wear and tear at all; no interior rips, no tears, no cigarette burned fabric holes, no coffee nor Big Gulp spills. No cracked dash nor blown airbags. Nothing broken nor damaged inside or out. No scrapes or dents on the body and no visible rust aside from a very tiny amount on either side. Besides the interior, the trunk was also clean with no junk or trash in it. And, everything works as it should, including the A/C. It came with the original window sticker, and receipts for most of the maintenance over the years.

    Have been using it for my (work) daily round-trip of 70, nearly all highway miles. No problems at all. And, getting 30-34 mpg. What many may not recall or know is that the Cloud Cars, Cirrus/Stratus/Breeze, were highly regarded and won a number of awards when they debuted 21 years ago. I previously had a used one for 14 years and over 200K miles so I already knew how good they are. What I learned years ago from my dad is to try to find and buy well-cared for cars from their original owners, who will often have the receipts to document what has been done to the car. However this one came from the second owner who hadn’t had it very long.

    Not so much trying to brag about my score as to demonstrate that it is not necessary to blow $10K, or $5K, or even $3K to find a clean, dependable, reliable, great-running car. My dad liked to find clean, well-kept Chrysler or Dodge sedans that had been owned and cared for by older people. For some of you, it might be a car that somebody’s grandma or grandpa can no longer drive because of age or health-related conditions. Maybe a Buick, Oldsmobile, or Pontiac with the highly-regarded 3800 engine. Someone not so mechanically inclined should take a possible purchase to have the car inspected before plunking down the hard-earned cash. Or, have someone else go with them when checking out and driving the car before a decision to make the purchase. The summary is that if you can do your due diligence, you CAN find a decent-running car for a rather low sum.

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