Beater Cars


I have a love affair with Beater Cars—in fact, I want to drive them for the rest of my life. Beater Cars are the best kind of car to own for all of the following reasons:

  • They’re so darn cheap you can pay cash
  • The depreciation has already occurred
  • Insurance premiums are lower

As my father used to tell me, a car is made for one reason and one reason only: to get you from Point A to Point B. They are not an investment, as they lose a substantial amount of value (starting from when you drive them off of the lot, where 20-30% of their value suddenly disappears with the new car smell). And if you are worried about comfort or the way that they look, there are relatively cheap fixes to the common problems that riddle Beater Cars: you can give them a paint job, purchase a new CD player, and get Freon added in to boost the A/C system.

In the Meantime

While you are enjoying a year, 3 years, or 5+ years without a car payment, make sure you sock away some money to a car fund each month so that when this beater car dies, you will have money to purchase a new one.

End of Life Management

So your beater car dies…now what? There are several options you have to tweak out some more money (which could help you recoup some of the original amount that you actually spent on it!).

  • Donate it to places like NPR’s Car Talk, who will pick it up and give you a tax deduction
  • Scrap it for metal
  • Sell it to someone who fixes up cars (we did this for $400 on my 1997 Chevy Cavalier)

Beater Cars Wall of Fame

Have a beater car? I’d love for you to share it here. Send me a photo and your mileage (email: frugalconfessions [@] and I will post it here. If you’d like to include the price you paid and any other information, feel free to.

Type: 1999 Nissan Frontier
Mileage: 122,518
Purchased Price: $3500 in 2009
Goal: To Last at least 5 years, 250,000 miles+


Here is almostanative’s Beater Cars
Type: 3 early 80s delta 88s
Mileage: 600,000 combined
Purchased Price: $650 for all three
Goal: When I can get lots of electric car parts at pick and pull I may consider a different car type. Why invest a lot in an obsolete technology? Who killed the electric car? etc.


Here is Miss Thrifty’s Beater Car
Type: Mazda 323, 1985
Mileage: Unknown….
Purchased Price: $0


Here is Bucksome Boomer’s Beater Car
Type: 1998 Ford Winstar
Mileage: 154,000
Purchased Price: $16,000 in 1998
Goal and Other Info: The fan only works on high, the door lock button no longer works and the paint is peeling off.  However the engine still runs great and we hope to have it for several more years.


Here is Greg’s Beater Car:
Type: 1991 Buick Regal
Purchase Price: $0-Handed down from MIL
Mileage: Unknown; odometer stopped working at 100,000
Goal: None; it stopped working six months ago, and he has been riding his bike to work ever since!


Here is eemusing’s Beater Car:
Type: 1990 Mazda Famila
Purchase Price: $1600
Mileage: Bought at 112,000 km, now about 132,000
Goal: Run for another few years, or sell after we purchase another, before the rust becomes a major issue


Here is Vikki’s Beater Car:
Type: 1994 Nissan Sentra
Purchase Price: $600
Mileage: 175,000, have owned for five years
Goal:  I plan on driving it until its totaled or quits running.



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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Springfield NJ car service

The most important part of looking for a beater vehicle is to talk to the owner and get an idea of how well it has been cared for. If maintained regularly, any of these cars should provide years more of service to you, but one wrong move and you could end up wasting money on a lemon. Overall condition of the exterior is somewhat correlated to the level of care taken by the owner. Assuredly since you are looking for an extra vehicle you can take the time to look around and find a good deal, and this will surely pay off in the long run. The best beater however is a car you know the history of, one owned by family or friends you can count on to have kept serviced.



Beater with a heater! haha! Well, beaters are a good idea if you don’t make or have lots of money. An older car doesn’t always mean it’s a beater. A properly maintained car will last a long time no matter the age or mileage. If you have money to burn, go buy a new Prius to save money on gas. It will take 10 years of driving it for the gas savings over a standard car to cover the entire cost of the car. But an example, you might buy a beater for $2,000 and over a 10 year period, you might spend $20,000 in gas, and with that money, could have bought a fuel efficient Prius or such car which would have saved at least $10,000 in gas over 10 years. Factors also to consider whether a formula like that would be worth the savings is how far someone typically drives and how much they actually spend on gas.



I didn’t even know what a “beater” car was until someone told me about it. I managed to get a car at a dealership for $200. Suffice it to say that that car lasted me about 6 months. It didn’t pass inspection so I took it to a salvage yard. I got $300 for it which I’m saving towards getting another getting another car.



Thanks for sharing your experience with us Martina! I’m sure it was a hassle since you couldn’t keep the car very long. At least you “made” $100 (though I’m sure some of that that was eaten up in sales tax, registration fees, etc.).


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