Good, Cheap Beater Cars & Inexpensive Commuter Cars - how to find one?

fishinjoshfishinjosh Member Posts: 1
edited August 2014 in Acura
if there's already a board for this, I'm sorry... I searched and couldnt find one. so anyways here it is: say you have, oh, $1200 to buy a car. it has to be some semblance of reliable (no early 90s Hyundais), some semblance of fun to drive (no Buick Centurys or pickups), and some semblance of economical to own (no Camaros!, or Benzes). I know the best thing to do is scour all classifieds and ghetto car lots for the best deal, but if anyone has any experience with buying these suckers I'd love for you to share your wisdom!

ideas: older Jettas/Golfs/Rabbits, any mid/late 80s Honda, VW Beetle (!), older Corolla/Prizm/Nova, Mazda 323, MX-3, K-cars, Escort/Protege, first Saturns, 80s Celica, Stanza... ? I think the older Benzes, Volvos, and Saabs are too expensive to keep up at that age, but I could be wrong.

As much as I'd love a late 70s Camaro with a 350, I'm afraid that wouldn't be practical. Oh, and happy driving, and enjoy your nice cars; one day you may not be able to make payments and you'll be in my situation!!!



  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,326

    I have some experience with old beaters, so maybe my insights might help. If you want something cheap and more-or-less reliable, I'd say just about any Chrysler product with a 225 slant six or 318. The bigger engine cars are pretty reliable, too, but would be anything but fuel-efficient! My cousin just bought a '75 or '76 Valiant for $1200, and it only had about 50,000 miles on it. I've seen the car, and my grandmother told me how much he paid and the mileage, but I don't know all the details. Unfortunately, my cousin tends to tear the hell out of cars, so it won't be in pristine condition for long :-(

    Most GM RWD cars from the 70's and 80's are pretty reliable, too, and when they do break, parts are plentiful. I've heard bad stories about the Buick 231 from that era, but then I've also heard of plenty of them that have lasted hundreds of thousands of miles, so I guess it mainly depends on how well it was taken care of. I had one that lost all oil pressure at 73,000 miles, though. There was so much debris in the oil from the engine wearing out, that the shavings tore up the oil pump gears! A friend and I changed the pump gears, but I knew it was on borrowed time and got rid of it. I've also heard bad things about the Pontiac 301, but otherwise, most of these cars were pretty reliable and predictable.

    If these cars are too big/old for you, then I'm sure a Honda or Toyota would do fine. Just remember, the further back you go, the more prone to rust they are, and I think the older engines needed frequent valve adjustment because of solid lifters or something like that. I think an older Japanese car would also be harder to find parts for than an older American car, and when they do break, will probably cost more.

    As for K-cars, they're not TOO bad, if you get one of the more basic models. We had an '88 LeBaron turbo, though, and it was totally shot by about 108,000 miles or so. Among the problems: trip computer, paint, a/c compressor, power antenna, radiator, engine compression, turbo, head/gasket, major suspension work, leaking tranny fluid, etc. It was a good looker and performed well, and got good gas mileage, but after the first 65-70K miles, it started causing plenty of trouble. Somehow, we trusted it enough to drive it from DC to Washington State and back, when it was in the high 70/low 80K range. They are fairly easy to work on though...the distributor and spark plugs are right up front, so tuneups are a breeze.

    I understand your situation, too. When I bought my Intrepid, I was delivering pizzas 20-25 hours a week in addition to my full time job, and the prosperity of the stock market seemed like it would go on forever. On a good week of delivering pizzas, I could easily make the monthly payment on the car. I could make the car payment, make the mortgage payment, not worry about budgeting, and still have money left over.

    Well, that came crashing down a few months ago. I finally got sick of delivering pizzas and having no social life, so I quit on the spot one night after they got me mad. Well, suddenly, I had to budget my money, the monthly payment on the car started taking a bigger chunk of my income, and, well, let's not talk about income taxes ;-) So I'm back to delivering pizzas!

    Trust me, there's no shame to driving a beater...check out my profile and you'll see that I've had plenty of 'em! Good luck to you!

  • blyndgesser1blyndgesser1 Member Posts: 17
    Through graduate school I was dependent on a series of beaters--an '82 Accord, '79 Monte Carlo (Buick 3.8 V6) and '85 Monte Carlo (4.3 V6). Of the three I liked the Honda best--it handled well and was generally pleasant and adequately powerful despite being a 4 cyl/automatic combo. I would've preferred a 5-speed, but it was a hand-me-down so I took what I could get. When the car was new it was terrific, but after 100k miles it was not as cheap to maintain as I hoped. Two major issues: (1) not everybody knows this, but the timing belt MUST be changed every 60,000 miles in order to keep the engine from self-destructing, and the water pump should be changed at the same time; (2) as the miles add up, Hondas have a tendency to eat the little bearings that hold the distributor shaft. Pull the distributor cap off--if there's a fine gray powder inside, the distributor's toast, and it WILL leave you stranded. I sold mine when the distributor was going bad around 150k miles. I also had carburetor trouble, but I've been told that's unusual for Accords. A handful of little problems showed up--the switch that controls the engine cooling fans died, as did the fuel pump, the alternator, and the starter, but none of these disabled the vehicle because I got to them in time. And the power steering leaked, but that's manageable if you just look under the hood regularly and top it up. Yes, parts are VERY expensive if you buy new ones, but rebuilt parts will do for most folks and will save lots of money.

    The Monte Carlos provide an excellent example of the two extremes GM cars can reach. Both were one-owner cars when I got them, and both had been generally well maintained. But the '79 was never "right"--the valve cover gaskets leaked oil and had to be redone twice, and there were a lot of nickel-and-dime repairs. In one 18-month period we spent $150 a month on repairs (at the rate of one repair a month, regular as clockwork). Oil leaks, starter, alternator, water pump, rear springs (one broke), motor mounts, transmission mounts, etc. All cheap, but rather inconvenient just the same. On the plus side, the only time it actually had to be towed was when the starter died. I got it at 97k miles, and sold the remains at 150k.

    The '85 Monte Carlo was much more reliable--despite what folks will tell you about GM cars from the '80s having flaky electronics, the only such problem I encountered was a stuck knock sensor on the electronic spark control system. Just add premium fuel and no sweat. I bought it at 56k (!) miles and sold it at 120k. I spent nothing except for tires, brakes, and shocks. By the time I had it set up right, it actually handled well, believe it or not. Looked like Granny's go-to-church car, of course, but it cruised comfortably at 75 mph and got 24 mpg in my mixed commute. I wasn't crazy about the car, but it DID work quite well. I guess I got lucky with it.

    somewhere in south Georgia and looking for another good $2000 Honda
  • raybearraybear Member Posts: 1,795
    4WD stick shift. Paid $300 for it 4 years ago, had to put $600 into it right away. Not real powerful, but has low range 4WD so I can take it in the woods. My fishin' car.
  • cutehumorcutehumor Member Posts: 137

    I'm looking at purchasing a beater car for basic transportation only. Can anyone recommend reliable makes for this purpose especially those not asking for a premium price? I'm looking for a car or truck under the 5k range with low miles if possible up to 5 model years old. Do they exist? Does anyone have any experience with these kinds of vehicles? How should you look for one? only buy from someone with maintence records? Especially since reliability is the most important factor for me. Some people think I'm crazy, but I love low insurance costs, no car payments, and regular maintence is a plus which you would have to do with a new car anyway.
  • afk_xafk_x Member Posts: 393
    Buy a used Saturn. Private party you should have no trouble finding one in your price range.
  • rroyce10rroyce10 Member Posts: 9,332
    .... You might try a Toyota .. Ooooop's I mean a Chevy/Geo Prizm, perhaps a 96 or a 97, or a Mazda Protege' .. also a 96/97. These are great little vehicles, will run 150k+ with little or no headaches ..

    Should be in your price zone .. !

  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    That's hardly a 'beater', at least not to me. Finding a good $5000 car isn't difficult, finding a decent $500 car is, LOL.

    I agree with what Terry said above (and has said countless other times). Also, you might do OK with a Ford Escort or Chevy Cavalier, especially with a 5-speed; they're not exactly glamorous or state of the art, but you can find one (probably 97-99) for around $5k, and it should provide years of low-cost transportation.
  • hudraheadhudrahead Member Posts: 169
    trot on down to your local Daewoo dealer (if you can find one open)they have a large selection of instant beaters. You will really be in the "cat bird" seat if you are a cash buyer. Locally A new Lanos can be had for about 5K !!

    hud :):)
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    Drive around a marginal neighborhood, there should be some cars with 'for sale' signs in the window. Read ads in the local 'freebie' papers (usually found on the way out of the grocery stores), check the classifieds in a local newspaper (the one with the worst demographics, LOL). Check,, etc. Also, quite often there are cars for sale at local gas stations and repair shops. These cars are usually those with owners who can't afford to fix them, or pay for the repairs after they've been fixed.

    I was shocked at how relatively easy it was to find beaters (a true 'beater' costs under $1000, IMO). I wanted a Honda, Toyota or Mazda for under $1000 recently, I found probably two dozen that technically fit the bill.

    Some advice from one who has owned many beaters, good and bad:

    1. Know what cars are desirable and/or acceptable to you. Don't buy a beater car just because it's cheap or looks good. Even at an advanced age, a car that was a good, reliable car when new will likely be a better, more reliable car when old. Pick a car that meets your needs: reliability, gas mileage, space? Keep it simple, don't buy a 'complex' car when something basic will do the job better. From there, narrow down what kinds of cars you want to look for.

    2. If you absolutely have only $1200 to spend, do not look at $1200 cars. Remember, it generally costs about $200 in taxes and registration to 'put the car on the road', etc. Also, it is fairly likely you will have to put *some* money into the car soon after you purchase it. Leave a couple hundred dollars, at least, in your coffers for emergencies.

    3. Swallow your pride a bit and accept a car with some cosmetic problems. Last year, I bought a really nice looking Saab (avoid) for $1500 that turned out to be one headache after another. It currently needs about $1500 in repairs just to make it safe to drive. I bought the car for looks instead of for its real purpose, basic transportation. Big mistake.

    4. If you find a car you like, don't be afraid to make a 'low-ball' offer. If the seller is asking $1000, it's fairly likely they'll take $750-800, so offer $600. The worst they can say is 'no', and you can either walk away or haggle/counteroffer. It's not that painful or lengthy a process on a cheap car. If the car is too expensive or has issues you can't accept, it's OK to say 'no thanks.' Kinda like with dating, 'there will be others out there.'

    4. Have the car looked at by a mechanic, or at least bring a friend who knows something about cars, to look at it with you. Having someone along to offer a 'second opinion' isn't a bad idea, especially if you're an impulsive person or one who tends to make emotion-based buying decisions.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    Books and repair records are always nice to have. If it has them, great, but don't necessarily 'expect' them on a beater. Don't necessarily 'trust as law' what the owner tells you has been replaced, fixed, etc, but ask anyway. Often it's easy to see what's new on a car, and ask the owner to show you if he/she claims something has been fixed or replaced.

    Above, I said 'don't be afraid to walk away', which is fine on a so-so car. If you see a car you like, even if it's the first one you've looked at, that is remarkably good running or nice and checks out OK, snap it up. In other words, don't be afraid to buy a car that you like. You may look at six other cars that day only to end up wanting the first one you looked at, which has already been sold when you get back to it.

    Oh yeah, about the cosmetics. I just bought one beater car over another because one was factory-looking and the one I didn't buy had dark tinted windows, non-standard rims and metallic-flecked paint. Classic 'polishing a turd' stuff. Don't buy a car that doesn't fit your personality or one that you'll be totally embarrassed driving. Nobody is in love with driving a beater, but the car need not be 'all wrong' either.
  • rroyce10rroyce10 Member Posts: 9,332
    .... $5,0 for a beater ..?

    I remember when my 1st car was $100 .. well, we won't go there .. l.o.l..

  • hudraheadhudrahead Member Posts: 169
    once had a service tech that worked for me. As such they had the option of a company car or reimbursment on the "Rhumhizer Plan" for their privately owned car. This guy always went with the private plan. He favored early 60's Ford Falcons. He lived on a small farm and had plenty of room to stockpile his fleet of beater/parts cars. He could keep one going for about a year at a time all the while building up a replacement at the farm. When the current one finally destructed he'd simply pull the tags off it, jump on the bus to get back to the office and the next day show up with a "new" one. I bet the city wondered who the heck always dumped those Falcons off in the middle of town. Heck, he didn't even have to pay to get the thing towed off. LOL !!

  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    I don't classify a car that is actually worth $5K to be a beater - that's insulting.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    I just paid $495.59 for my 87 Accord ($500 cash, minus the $4.41 collected from the ashtray, coin tray and under the seats (-;

    $5k for a car to get banged up on the streets of Chicago seems extravagant. If it's as used up as the $1800 Saab I bought less than a year ago, why bother?
  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Member Posts: 4,883
    I got friends in the UK.. Land of the cheap car!

    Here's 3 that have blown me away:

    1) 1978 Vauxhall VX 2300 GLS Very clean, 60Kish genuine miles, 300pounds, only needed some minor repairs to the rear wheelarches.

    2) 1989 Vauxhall Senator 2.5i 5-speed 151K miles. Dark Blue/Blue velour. A bit bigger than a Cadillac Catera. Runs and drives well, needs hubcaps, a few little bubbles on the rear wheelarches..etc.. Get this, FIFTY POUNDS! That's $75-80!

    3) 1993 Vauxhall Carlton (think Catera-Sized) 2.0i Automatic. 132K, very clean car. 500 Pounds ($800)

    THose were bargains..

  • cutehumorcutehumor Member Posts: 137
    Sorry guys

    I came up with 5k figure based on the new cost of cars now a days are almost 20k. My parents used to tell me they could buy a new car for 3500 bucks in the early 70's. ;)
    Anyway, how long do these 500-1000 dollar beaters normally last if you found the right one? Any out there last more than three years? How about the repair costs? How much is normally spent on repairs for a beater car in a year before you decide to get rid of it? I also think a second car like a beater car is perfect for emergency situations. How lenient are you guys with cars that have been salvage titles in considering a beater car? The only cars I found locally listed for less than a 1000 dollars were those that had something mechanically wrong like it need a new engine or transmission. Thanks for the advice so far, it's been helpful.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    Japanese beaters - several 150K plus miles Hondas and Toyotas.

    I write reports, go to court and inspect cars for a living - I can easily put 50,000 miles a year on a car. I'll be danged if I'll grenade the value of a newer car by miling it up like that. My 1990 Grand Prix has 98,000 miles, I got it for $500 and all it needs is a paint job to look sweet. It's probably the exception, not the rule, but I have no warning signs of pending failures in any major area.
  • stubborn1stubborn1 Member Posts: 85
    During high school and the early years of college, I always drove "disposable vehicles". I usually spent between $300-$700 for a car. I had free time back then and was fairly mechanically inclined so I didn't mind going to the junkyard to look for used parts. I would probably dump about $100 in parts in each vehicle to keep it on the road during its lifetime. The average life expectancy of the cars was about a year.

    The best disposable car I ever had was my 78 Delta 88 2-door coupe. I bought it for $300 (in 1995) and drove it for a whole year before the tranny went out on it. When it died, my neighbor bought some parts off me for $25 and I got $50 from the junkyard. $225 cost for the year + tax, title & license.
  • tboner1965tboner1965 Member Posts: 647
    My beater car story:

    I bought a 1979 Ford Fairmont for $100, drove it for three years and about 60K miles. Everything worked, including A/C and cruise. Did $1500 in maintenance and repairs (this included oil changes, new exhaust and a couple of sets of tires, only one breakdown, ignition module, imagine a Ford ignition module failing, what are the chances?) over the three years and sold it for $500. Cost to drive was about $0.018/mile + fuel and insurance costs. Estimated costs with fuel and insurance were about $0.10/mile at 20MPG and $1.25/gallon and evenly dividing my $1200 annual premium for three cars into a $400/year cost for this car, over the three years. How did I do? 8^)

    I'm currently driving an 87 LeSabre I purchased for $1000, but it cost me about $2K in reparis last year (New Tranny), still it is about $0.16/mile according the the AutoMobile app on my PDA that tracks my automotive expenses.

  • lemkolemko Member Posts: 15,261
    My first car was a 1968 Buick Special Deluxe 6 passenger station wagon I purchased in 1981 for $650. The car had 74,000 on it, had a pristine interior, and ran extremely well. About the only thing wrong with it was the teal blue mist paint had oxidized quite badly. A few dollars worth of polishing compound, Turtle Wax, and some elbow grease and I had a very attractive car for a very modest price. The car was very basic - had an AM radio, crank windows, and vinyl interior. It was powered by a very easily maintained 350 cid V-8 with 2bbl Rochester carb. I purchased my second car in 1984 and gave the wagon to my brother and he kept it for eight more years! By 1992, the body was pretty much shot as my brother hardly maintains his cars as well as I do, but the powertrain was still still reliable as ever.

    I suggest anybody looking for a beater car these days can't go wrong with a 1977-90 GM RWD full-size car with either the 305, 307 or 350 V-8. They are dirt-cheap to purchase. Parts are cheap and plentiful. Anybody with basic mechanical skills can repair and maintain them and fuel economy is reasonable and they'll be happy with 87 regular.

    Another car to consider is the Chrysler M-Body, (Plymouth Gran Fury, Dodge Diplomat, Chrysler Fifth Avenue). The 318 V-8 and Slant-Six have legendary reliability. The Torqueflite transmission is darn near bulletproof. Maintenance and repair costs are modest and parts are cheap and plentiful.

    I'd stay away from older full-size Ford products due to transmission bugaboos.
  • mpynempyne Member Posts: 120
    anyone have any good websites to check out besides and

    im looking for something up to about $1400
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    try this, it's where I found several old cars I looked at:

    Also, check the Chicago Sun-Times (the Tribune tends to have more upscale used cars, and overpriced, IMO, older used cars).

    If you're interested in a car on this site, bear in mind the many Chicagoland area codes, as follows:

    219=NW Indiana
    773=Chicago city, except 'downtown'
    312=City, downtown
    847=generally NW suburbs
    630=generally West suburbs
    708=generally S/SW suburbs
    815='collar' burbs, as far SE as Frankfort, as far NW as Woodstock, as far west as at least DeKalb

  • jaserbjaserb Member Posts: 820
    A good way to go is to talk to neighbors/friends/relatives who are looking at trading in. When my next door neighbor just bought a new Liberty I asked her if that meant they had three cars now. "No, we just got rid of the Geo", she said. I didn't have the heart to ask her how much they gave her on the trade. This was an early '90s Prizm in fair to good shape - a perfect beater. If I'd have known she was getting a new car I'd have offered her a little more than the trade in and she'd probably have jumped.

  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,326
    ...on a cost-per-mile basis, was a '69 Dart GT. I really wouldn't classify it as a beater though. It only had about 49,000 miles on it when I bought it in 1989, and everything still worked on it.

    I figure it cost me about 7.5 cents per mile, + fuel and insurance. When it got totaled, the '68 Dart I replaced it with didn't prove to be nearly as reliable, but then it also had about 253,000 miles when I bought it, so that shouldn't be too much of a shock! Still, when I added everything up, it only came out to about 10-11 cents per mile.

    I also had a '79 Newport that I figured came out to around 13 cents per mile.

    Jason, I actually came kind of close to doing what you mentioned, about finding someone who's about to trade. A few years back, my co-worker's mom was about to trade her '94 Intrepid on a '99. It only had about 30,000 miles on it, if that, and there was nothing wrong with it, but she just wanted a new car. The dealer was going to give her something like $7400 for it. Unfortunately, I didn't move fast enough, and she traded. My co-worker's Mom did say "well, it's at the dealership, if you still want it." Yeah, sure. With a several thousand dollar markup, I'm sure. Oh well, things usually work out in the end. A few months later, I bought a brand-new car, which I probably wouldn't have done had I just sunk $7400 into a used one.
  • jaserbjaserb Member Posts: 820
    A coworker tried to trade it in but it had a salvage title - it had been rear ended and he'd bought it back from the ins. co. because it wasn't too bad - just a bent rear deck lid, cracked bumper cover and a busted taillight, which he replaced. Actually didn't look too bad. He bought an Echo to replace it and I got the Pro for $1100 - not bad for a '93 ES Auto with all the goodies, ice cold A/C and just over 100k miles. My sister still drives it.

  • mrdetailermrdetailer Member Posts: 1,118
    5K should not be a beater even though that's the direction of the discussion. What you want is a vehicle that is reliable and still has some life in it.

    1. In my view here is the best ways to buy an older used vehicle.

    Best bet is relatives, neighbors, and friends that you know well enough to know the strengths and weaknesses of their driving and repair styles by personal experience.

    Second best reliable references from this same group.

    Third best reliable lower cost used car dealers.

    Fourth Reliable vehicles purchased by a vehicle broker at auction.

    Fifth unknown third parties who have a batch of receipts or records that can be verified as having maintenance and repairs consistently done.

    Don't buy a tricked out car. They will have spent the money on the fun stuff and likely neglected essential repairs.

    Don't buy a vehicle that has some flood damage.

    Don't buy a vehicle that has serious body damage. I've done well with 2 cars that had dented quarter panels, however, there was no serious structural damage. The issues are if the motor still functions smoothly and if the frame was never bent.

    Don't buy an older persons vehicle with super low mileage. 2-3 thousand miles a year. No time to warm up the engine. Actually harder than road miles. 5-10K per year however can be acceptable since I have 2 drivers and 3 vehicles that's generally what I average. And that generally includes one longer trip a year.

    Never buy a vehicle without 1. getting a thorough mechanical inspection (one that costs about $100 to do), 2. Checking TSBs and recalls for potential problems. I prefer finding an independent mechanic who worked at a dealership, or who specializes in certain brands of cars. Their knowledge of strengths and weaknesses can save a bundle, and 3. making sure that it passes any relevant state and federal inspections and emissions tests.

    Also for older cars it is best to keep a reserve to cover known issues immediately after purchase. If I can I keep $1500 for that purpose. For example, I immediately flush and replace engine coolant, power steering, brake and transmission fluids as well as an oil change (unless a sticker shows when it should be changed). I generally do a tuneup unless I have proof of when it was performed. Tires will often be worn and alignments will also be necessary. Wouldn't be surprised if some brake work were necessary also. The money spent early on saves future repairs and evens out over the years. I did that on the last vehicle I purchased, and while the first year repairs were about $1500.00, the next year only cost $340.00

    In the long run, purchasing a vehicle that has already lost most of its depreciation, is in good condition, and reliable can save a lot of money over a new car purchase.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    The '93 Protege, do you mean LX? The ES wasn't offered til '95 (the first restyle) but had the features of the old LX (125hp DOHC engine, power windows/locks, height-adjustable seat, tilt wheel, a/c, cassette, alloys, sunroof, etc). If you got a '93 LX for $1100 in good shape, you did really well. They did offer an 'SE', which was a base model (crank windows, base engine). Either way, great cars.

    Mrdetailer, thorough and excellent advice in general. As far as the recall thing goes, I think that advice is relevant unless you're talking about a way-old car for which the recalls no longer apply. I just bought an '87 Accord ($500), and for the price I can't be bothered or worried about recalls. There are lots of people who sell their cars (unbeknownst to buyers) because they can't pass inspection, which isn't a problem til the new buyer gets the notice in the mail, at least in IL. This can happen quickly or several years later (our government at work). Of course, I would be quite happy if any $500-1000 lasts six months without total failure or a necessary repair costing over the car's value. That's always the gamble.
  • mpynempyne Member Posts: 120
    im thinking of getting a winter car but i dont want to spend too much. i would prefer something early to mid 90's or late 80's

  • steine13steine13 Member Posts: 2,789
    Well, that ties in w/ my question; maybe we can solve both problems...
    Our neighbors just bought an '00 Blazer (without asking me first, can you imagine)... they still have their old car, a '91 Honda Accord Wagon, silver, auto, 16V engine, 14x,000 miles, nice shape for a car that old in MI, but a few light rust spots starting around the wheel well or the doors here and there.. but really minor. Car will look good for another year, I'd guess. Interior is OK, not super nice, but not bad. AC works but the switch doesn't, so when it gets hot, they turn it on permanently, and off again in the fall... that's a new one to me. They were driving it until a month ago or so, BUT: it started to overheat on them on really hot days, and they don't want to spend money to investigate...

    So I checked it out; tailpipe clean, no evidence of oil in the coolant, no evidence of water under the filler cap, no smoke of any kind on startup... so I'm thinking they head gasket hasn't blown yet, and either there are plugged passages in the engine from not changing coolant enough... or it's something stupid like a stuck thermostat... I'm thinking minor.

    SOOOOOOO... what's this thing worth? In its present condition??? I told them to take it to a shop and spend <$100 to diagnose; it may be a really cheap fix.. What's it worth w/ the funky air if the overheating gets fixed? And for Mike: If you're interested, I'll put you in touch with them; I can even take a picture... I think they'll be realistic... where in MI are you?

    East Lansing, MI
  • stickguystickguy Member Posts: 47,869
    I still forget who's the stick shift Volvo guy (Lancerfixer)?

    Anyway, in the local autotrader:

    1983 volvo turbo wagon (the 240), 5 speed, good interior and body (picture looked OK), no mileage specified, strong motor, original star mags (all this is from the ad).

    Needs clutch, $350. If I had a place to put it, I'd tow it home and figure out how to replace the clutch myself (never done it, how hard can it be)?

    Heck, you could part it out for more than that (seats, wheels, etc).

    Could also be a giant money pit, but ya gotta be in it to win it. $350? how can you go wrong?

    2020 Acura RDX tech SH-AWD , 2022 Ford Maverick Lariat Ecoboost FWD. - sold. 2023 Maverick hybrid Lariat luxury pending build

  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    ...could be a money pit, but they're rare and desirable in Volvo circles, so fix the clutch, drive it a while and you'll get your money back.

    Mathias, is that wagon an LX or EX? Old Hondas sell really well, as you know, and the wagons are kind of rare. I'd say they could eeaasily get $2k minimum for that thing, even as is, here in Chicago. I'd definitely spend a few bucks and have it looked at, it's probably the thermostat (if radiator, gaskets, hoses are all OK).
  • rroyce10rroyce10 Member Posts: 9,332
    .. a thermostat too me .. but it's worth $2,0 or more if fixed. Some Ann Arbor kid, might go $3,0 or more with school startin'...

  • jlawrence01jlawrence01 Member Posts: 1,757
    With the economy as bad as it is, if you want to find a beater, hit the road.

    This afternoon, I drove 50 miles in the northern Chcago suburbs. I saw at least 100 FSBO cars on the side of the road, in shopping centers and in driveways facing the streets. It looks like there are a lot of folks who have taken advantage of the 0% financing and are selling their cars rather than trading them in. While the cars were not all beaters, some could be had for a decent price.

    One warning. Some of the owners have delusions of grandeur. I have a neighbor who is sitting on a car that is worth maybe $3200 at market who will not budge after 6 months off of $5k.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    What kind of car is it, jlawrence? Does he think this car is getting more valuable as time passes, LOL?

    I agree on doing a 'drive around', check the streets, there are cars all over for sale here.
  • rroyce10rroyce10 Member Posts: 9,332
    ***** I have a neighbor who is sitting on a car that is worth maybe $3200 at market who will not budge after 6 months off of $5k.

    He must be related to my neighbor .. l.o.l...

    He has had this vehicle for sale since "May" .. it's a 99 Maxima GXE, almost 60k, no options except auto, no Leather, no slider, no Bose, just a hi mileage cloth interior GXE that needs tires and some paintwork, it's in his driveway for $14,9 - was asking $15,9 back in May .. l.o.l...

    I have tried to "Splain" to him (Hey Lucy!) .. but it's his driveway and I don't see it but once or twice a month, cuz I go the other way ..

  • steine13steine13 Member Posts: 2,789
    '98 Prizm, black, 5sp, 130k miles... stripper, cruise, radio, rr defrost, that's it.... the guy already has a buyer, should go through tomorrow, he's asking $2900 and it looks like they left it at $2600 or so.
    He drives 125 miles to work and back every day, says no paintwork at all, clean, 3k oil changes... and he's taken a deposit, so waving $$$ in his face won't do any good... wow, a princpled seller.
    I hope it goes through, I need another Prizm the way I need mumps... just sold one of those last year... but sounds like a heck of a deal... I should get about that much for my '93 Corolla LE w/ 178k miles...
    East Lansing, MI
  • mpynempyne Member Posts: 120
    there was a 1995 prizm with 54k for $2000

    didnt get a chance to look at it or ask if there were any major problems. hey rroyce what would you recommend in the $1200 (maybe a little more) range?? i saw a 1992 prizm with $129,000 for $1400 seems a little high.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    At this point, almost anything running is worth a thousand, so here are my suggestions (not that you asked ME, but I am a seasoned beater driver now):

    90-94 (1st generation) Mazda Protege (the LX is actually fun to drive and well-equipped, too)
    88-91 Mazda 626 (nice car, good size, nice engine)
    90-92 Geo Prism (perennial fave around here); you're unlikely to find a 93+ for that price
    86-89 Honda Accord (I have one, good car); the LXi (fuel injected) is nicest, but the carb models are less trouble prone, apparently
    86-96 A-body GMs (Ciera/Century/6000/Celebrity) seem pretty durable, and are all over the place
    Cavaliers and Escorts aren't the best cars on earth, but are pretty durable, plentiful and CHEAP (if you get an Escort, get a 5-speed, the autos are dogs)
    90-94 Nissan Sentra, if you don't mind really small
    87-90 Toyota Corolla or Camry

    Any others?
  • jlawrence01jlawrence01 Member Posts: 1,757
    Again, I think that picking specific models of beaters is rather futile because the make or model is less relevant as the condition that the car is kept in.

    Also, mileage is less relevant. Some of the worst headache vehicles are the cars that some grandma drove where the car is 10 years old and has 20,000 miles. The dry rot on those are incredible.

    Some of the cars that I like in this category include:

    Older Chryslers (1970's era) that are pre-Kcars)

    Ford Escorts - the later models automatics are a simple and very easy to maintain

    A-body GMs (Ciera/Century/6000/Celebrity) - there are lot of them around. The Olds are a steal right now as they dropped in price substantially when GM discontinued the brand.

    The GEO cars seem to last forever although most consider them "throwaways"

    Cars to avoid:

    Any Neon
    Most Hyundais and Kias

    Cars with power seats, windows - those darn motors fail giving you a 200+ repair

    88-92 White Oldsmobiles - major rust problems

    I guess that my preference is for simple cars with few things that can go wrong.

    I see so many great deals out ther right now in the under $2k market. Unfortunately, I have a 1996 that won't reach 150k miles until 2007 and my wife has a company car so I am out of the market for another 5 years or so.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    The care and maintenance a car has had is a lot more relevant when it's ten or fifteen years old than the actual brand. I do agree, jlawrence to stay away from Neons especially. They're temptingly cheap and not super old, but their quality is bad in general, and head gaskets tend to fail (repeatedly, sometimes).
  • jsylvesterjsylvester Member Posts: 572
    I would include the 89-95 Acclaim/Spirit/LeBaron, if you can find one with the 2.5liter and 3 speed auto.

    Also like an early 90's Crown Vic/Grand Marquis, and the GM intermediates mentioned above.

    The Horizon was decent the last few years it was built as well.
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
  • jlawrence01jlawrence01 Member Posts: 1,757
    Believe it or not, I still see quite a few of the old Plymouth Horizons even though it was one of the worst cars made. And they are in better than average shape. I see more Horizons than I see K-cars at this point.

    My biggest gripe with them was not mechanical as much as all the surface issues - the name plate fell of in months, the door handles, the carpet wore through in 3 years, etc. They were fun to drive and were great cars in the winter snows.
  • lemkolemko Member Posts: 15,261
    ...had a 1987 Dodge Omni. She really loved that car though us kids thought of it as a joke. True, the assembly and material quality was a joke and the paint came off in flakes, but that little car held up extremely well mechanically and could endure the worst a NE winter could throw at it. These cars are dirt cheap today and parts are plentiful and cheap. Maintenance and repair is a snap. If you aren't too proud, this could be the beater car of your dreams.
  • boredbored Member Posts: 300
    Also had a '87 or '86 Dodge Omni. It was Red. Bad decision on her part.

    She kept until it was totaled. Some high pothead decided to drive, and hit her from behind, and pushed her into another car. This happened on a freeway entrance ramp, going downhill, so it was at a pretty high speed.

    She was pregnant........................with me. She was able to walk out of the car, no injuries. No injuries to me, either. Darn good cars, IMO. She took the money the INS Co. gave her, and used it to buy another one. This time around, it was blue. They couldn't find one with similar mileage.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Member Posts: 1,711
    Any of the old GM full-size B-body "woody" station wagons (1977-90 Caprices, Safaris, etc.) would make excellent beaters. You can purchase them for next to nothing.
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    Although I wouldn't want to park or maneuver one in the city. I do see them constantly for like $500-1500, while the sedans carry a bit of a premium (they're big in the 20"/vogues/ghettoish circuit).
  • zueslewiszueslewis Member Posts: 2,353
    That is definitely a new one!
  • steine13steine13 Member Posts: 2,789
    I'm gonna post this over in Real-World too, but check this out, guys:
    Saw an '88 Audi 90 quattro Sedan today.
    121k miles, gold, good body, good tires, 5sp (yay!), sunroof, leather, locking rr diff, the works. It looks "OK"; the interior needs a cleaning, but there's also a baseball-size rip in the side bolster of the driver seat, and the exhaust looks like it's coming undone very soon. The car's been sitting for 3 years in a garage, being driven by the son when he comes home to visit... now they want to sell it. Engine starts up okay, the typical valve clatter but not much... exhaust is clean (no soot or oily residue), like all VW/Audis I've seen. No evidence of oil in the coolant or coolant in the oil. Tires are good, on nice alloys. No drips, but slight leaks/seapage around the head gasket and the steering rack. Dunno if the AC works, let's assume it does. They're "asking" $2,200 but are beginning to see the error of their ways... this is in a wealthy new subdivision where the houses are big square empty boxes, everyone has 3 garages and keeps the doors open so the neighbors can see the benz/lexus/whatever... I'd sooner live in a trailer park, I think. Anyways, I'm talking to an old buddy of mine who's an Audi nut; he may agree to work on it for me for an hourly rate; otherwise forget it... the driveline on the quattro has ten (10) cv joints plus a center bearing, and they DO need fixing.. but theyre' magic in the snow... So someone slap me silly and talk me out of it....
    East Lansing, MI
  • ghuletghulet Member Posts: 2,564
    Please see my post in Real World. Old Audis are typically nightmarish. Those with five cylinders and Quattro are even worse. Unless you're going to have outrageous amounts of snow, a good FWD car with decent tires should suffice. If you must have four-wheel drive, buy an early '90s American SUV, they're a dime a dozen used ($2-3k should buy you a decent '91-93 Exploder or Blazer). Or how 'bout an old AWD Suby wagon, early Legacys run $1500-3000, Loyales even cheaper, and should actually be reliable and cheap to own.

    Call Michigan State and tell them to bust those plows out if it gets too bad, OK?
This discussion has been closed.