For cheap wheels, you just can’t beat a beater
Several years ago, NFL running back Alfred Morris made headlines for driving a beater car even though he was making millions.
Morris had bought his 1991 Mazda 626 for $2 from his pastor while he was in college at Florida Atlantic University.
Of course, that’s not a typical deal. And, you don’t have to be rich and own a beater to prove your frugality.
For you, this is that truck you use to pick up supplies at the local hardware store. It’s the car used primarily to get you back and forth to work. Or you’re a penny-pinching, do-it-yourself type who wants a cheap, no-frills vehicle you can repair as needed.
Or, if we’re being honest, it might be the only car you can justify buying right now.
They are vehicles you usually buy for a few thousand dollars, maybe even a few hundred.
What’s so good about a beater?
Beaters have a lot of miles, maybe some dents, missing paint, or a fender that’s a different color than the rest of the car. You put seat covers in because the upholstery is shredded.
But there’s a big benefit: they can save you a lot of money compared to a much newer car, even when you figure in repair costs.
You don’t have to worry about depreciation because it has depreciated practically to nothing by the time you get it.
That means insurance is much cheaper since the car’s value is so low. The decision to choose collision or comprehensive insurance is up to you. It’s a matter of doing a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the extra monthly charge for comprehensive insurance is worth it.
There’s also some piece of mind that comes with a beater car. You definitely can park close and not worry about someone dinging your door. Chances are it’s already been dinged – many times over. With a brand new car, you fret about the shiny new paint being nicked by a wayward neighboring car door, so you park far away.
Sure, the beater doesn’t have as much, if any, of the fancy computer stuff of today’s cars. Think of it as being more analog in a digital world. At least that reduces an area where problems can occur – no chip glitch that prevents the car from starting, for example.
OK, got it. Beaters are a smart choice. Any downsides?
The biggest potential negative: Repair costs.
Let’s say you buy the beater for a $1,000 and the engine blows on it right away. A new engine may cost much more than the car. That’s the same with a new transmission.
The flip side is that even if a new engine costs $1,500 or a transmission costs $2,500, that may still be better in the long run than buying a new or newer car if you have the cash for it. With either, at least you know those major components are brand new and will have a lot of life in them.
If you know how to do a lot of work yourself, that helps defray the costs. Most people, however, don’t have the skill. As Edmunds notes, you may be more of an inspector than anything to find potential problems.
But even if you don’t have deep expertise with auto mechanics, there’s still a lot you can do. Having a repair manual handy will help.
According to Edmunds, the first priority when you own a beater is ensuring the vehicle won’t lose control and cause an accident. That means checking the braking and steering system as well as the tires. This area is where Edmunds suggests initially spending your money.
Then there are all the hoses, fans and belts on the engine. A failed hose or belt could leave you stuck on the side of the road, or worse, ruin your engine.
Routine maintenance – oil changes, transmission fluid and coolant – helps the car live longer.
Finding the best beater for you
One key to owning a beater is buying the best beater possible. That starts with doing research.
Some cars age much better than others and stay on the road past 200,000 miles. And there are those that have better repair cost history over time than others. YourMechanic.com, an online service that books mechanics that go to your home or office, gives a good rundown on repair costs for the different automakers.
With a beater, you know you aren’t going to get a perfect car. But you still need to have an idea of what’s potentially in store for ownership and potential repairs.
You can inspect the car yourself by paying attention to some basic steps, such as looking at the undercarriage for rust, listening to the engine for any odd noises, checking the hoses for rot, etc.
You may not get a beater for $2 like Alfred Morris, but you can get one for a good price and drive it until the wheels do in fact fall off. Or, ideally, just before they do.
LendingPoint is a personal loan provider specializing in NearPrime consumers. Typically, NearPrime consumers are people with credit scores in the 600s. If this is you, we’d love to talk to you about how we might be able to help you meet your financial goals. We offer loans from $2,000 to $25,000, all with fixed payments and simple interest.