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



  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    That would be awesome....the light on the display is lit, but it says 'code' or something like's the cassette with the equalizer. The current owner (I haven't picked it up yet, she's waiting on her new car) says it worked perfectly until three years ago, when the car died and after it was towed, it didn't work. After that, she took it to the Saturn dealer, they told her it was 'fried'. Sounds experience has been that you just have to enter the code after the battery dies or is disconnected and it works, though I did have one experience with a SAAB radio (the first year they had theft codes--1986!) where it wouldn't come on for sometimes days at a time, then would suddenly start playing. Either way, I'd love to try to have it fixed, rather than put $100-150 into the radio on a car that only cost $400 to begin with. Thanks for the e-mail is
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    ...but I did pick up the Saturn today, it 'seems' fine, for what it is...I would never have chosen it, but for a hoopty, it looks fine, runs fine (no smells, no dash lights lit, no bad sounds, though tires are a bit thin and needs an interior cleaning), brakes fine...I knew the sunroof was fishy (electric--works horizontally opening, not closing, won't close back down, and apparently leaks) and the radio and a/c don't work, but is what it is...we just bought a house, I didn't 'need' a car, but this is the perfect city car/grocery-getter, I think. It's the best-looking and running $400 car I never wanted. ;)
  • british_roverbritish_rover Posts: 8,458
    What year and how many miles on the saturn??

    I took a 1996 Saturn sedan manual in trade not long ago that was really worth 25 dollars. If I didn't have a demo car to drive already I would use it as a commuter.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    It's a '95 SL2, automatic (which isn't so bad, I'm usually a manual guy), blue/black with tan leather, all options except CD player (unfortunately, the sunroof is glitchy), just passed 160k. It's not worth much, but I still see these (and any other non-beat up running car) all the time with silly asking prices (over $1000, which to me is silly for an 11-12 year-old domestic econocar with 160k).
  • british_roverbritish_rover Posts: 8,458
    Yeah the one I took in was the same just a manual.
  • stuartfstuartf Posts: 8
    OK, I need a car for a year, mostly around town and in-state. For the fun of it, I thought I would try to spend what I spent on my first vehicle (adjusted for inflation), a 1960 Renault Dauphine purchased in 1966 for $300; kept it two years and had to put a salvage engine in it ($75) but it ran and ran for all its 36 HP.

    I think I will stay away from the Koreans on this go round, see that the Escorts and Mazdas from the mid to late 90's might fit the bill. As always, I guess condition of the vehicle is most important.

    IMHO, buying from the private owner is the best strategy. I am going to see a 1988 CRX-si with 64K miles asking 2350 this afternoon.

    Any other suggestions??
  • Kirstie_HKirstie_H Posts: 11,024
    I'm a big fan of the Protege. My '96 ate little gas, was fun to drive (manual shift), and I think magic elves performed maintenance while I slept, because it cost almost nothing in repairs. You should be able to get a later model Protege for the same $ as the '88 Civic you're looking at, though the 64K miles is an attraction.


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  • gussguss Posts: 1,181
    I would be willing to bet that 64k miles is followed by a parenthases. As in (on rebuilt engine). The ain't no one driving a commuter car 3000 mile per year.

    If I had to get a car for under $2k, I would be looking at Buick Century's ,Chevy Lumina's and on the smaller side Mazda Protege's The 2 American cars are plentiful,parts are cheap, and every mechanic in North America knows how to work on them.
  • stuartfstuartf Posts: 8
    I am rounding it up to $2k, I have an allergy to US designed iron... so far, the Prizm and the Escort seem to be the best for the $$, near replicas of the Corolla and the Protege for 20% less. Finding a 5 speed has proven to be the problem, lots of autos out there.

    BTW, I was the mistaken one about the CRX, it had 102K, it was genuine, but it had been modified to the taste of an adolescent, not the thing for me.

    I have also taken to heart the suggestion about putting word out in my networks; just missed by a week or two an older Protege that was sold for $100 (my, that beats the 1966 price of the Dauphine).

    Keep the suggestions coming.
  • asafonovasafonov Posts: 403
    Over your limit, but I would be all over this car had I needed a commuter vehicle:

    Toyota Corolla 2000 for Sale - $3299
    Reply to: see below
    Date: 2006-08-23, 11:29AM CDT

    U. international grad student, returning home in mid Sept, want to sell car before leaving.
    White toyota corolla, 2000 model, manual transmission, ~64,000 miles, good condition, everything in good working order (AC/heating, cassette player/radio, power windows, power steering, cruise control etc.)
    price somewhat negotiable ...
  • stuartfstuartf Posts: 8
    I agree, this would be worth a look. Today I drove a 98 Protege, it was quite beat. The unfortunate young man who owned it was desperate to sell it, bargained himself from $1500 to $750 without any intervention on my part, but I couldn't rescue him from the disaster if his vehicle. My neighbors just bought a 1997 Prizm, 137 k miles, paid $1900, a smooth riding vehicle but it has an automatic.

    I continue the search
  • foonafoona Posts: 18
    Keep an eye on Craigs List automotive sales, probably best location. Try to find one < 10 yrs old with around 100-150K miles from ideally an original owner, not a dealer.
  • guys, help, last time i checked,,2000 integra SE came with 1.8L engines., im trying to buy one and found a really nice one for 9000 at 160000 clicks with everything power except no sunroof,,but the engine is 1.6L? what does that tell you about what could be wrong with it if anithing at all, and isnt that price anyways a little too generous for a 2000 model?

    This is the description i found:

    2 Dr, 1.6L, 5 Spd, Pwr Steer, Pwr Door Lock, Pwr Window, AM/FM Radio, CD Player, ice cool A/C, ABS Brakes, Cruise Control, Pwr Mirror, Mag Wheels, Ext. Warranty Available. Certified, E. tested, 30 days Warranty.

    its a nice looking car too..helpp???

    THXXXXX alot : )
  • steine13steine13 Posts: 2,561
    If you can spend $9 on a 7-year-old car with 160k, I strongly suggest you check out Hondas LX Civics and the new Fit -- especially the Fit, since it seems to be a great little go-cart in the handling department. Good deals on Corollas abound, also. How about an "S" with a stick and a sunroof for (I'm guessing) $15-16? It'll last a couple decades.

    what could be wrong with it if anithing at all

    Well, that's about it: Anything at all could be wrong with it, and how would you know? At the very minimum, when buying used, take the car to a GOOD, KNOWLEDGEABLE mechanic and have it checked out stem-to-stern. The laundry list he'll likely come back with is going to make you think twice.

    Trust me on this, I recently flubbed one and flipped it to a local dealership for a few hundred $$ loss, just to get rid of the darned thing. And I've been buying used cars for a looong time, and kinda know what I'm doing.

    Small, good-quality, low-mpg cars are really pricey right now in the used market. That's what happens when gas goes up. New cars didn't rise nearly as much, because there is still more supply than demand. Also, people just won't buy an econobox for $20k.

    Only buy this Integra if you absolutely have to have it, and if you can afford to throw $4000 at it in the first year without going broke. There is nothing worse -- except maybe microwave popcorn -- than making payments on a car that needs repairs, and then not being able to afford those repairs. I've seen it happen to people, and the results are an absolute disaster that messes up your life.

    Given your taste, if you want to spend $9 wisely, look for an '02 Protege or better yet, Protege5. They come without the insane Honda/Acura markup used.

    Long-windedly yours,
  • civic4civic4 Posts: 33
    Always check with, The Better Business Bureau will have information on its members and non members that may be helpful if considering a used car from a used car dealer. Some are ethical sales people, and some will sell you junk even if you were a family member. Also, be sure to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau if you have unresolved issues or feel you are being treated unfairly as a consumer. By doing so, you may prevent another unscrupulous dealer from selling to an unassuming buyer. We have power as consumers but sometimes forget how strong a force we can be.
  • lemmerlemmer Posts: 2,687
    Did you sell the lowrider?
  • zodiac2004zodiac2004 Posts: 471
    The 1.6L is probably a typo. The '00 Integras had the 1.8 - as you pointed out.

    But 9000 for one with 160K - that's beyond crazy. That's a decent price for a 2000 with about half the mileage.
  • oregonboyoregonboy Posts: 1,653
    You might check with your insurance agent before the Integra purchase. Premiums will be high, and deservedly so. A Seattle area paper ran an article on the top 10 cars for theft in the region. Six of the 10 were Integras (of various years).

    Of course the market value of the Integra, and its desirability to thieves depends on the engine (which is an easy swap into a Civic).

  • steine13steine13 Posts: 2,561
    Wholesaled it to the largest Chevy dealer in the area for a $600 loss... long story, but that's the gist of it.

    I just didn't see myself spending $$ to get a decent exhaust, and then turning around and selling it on the street.

    Live & learn.
  • of Cheap...Cars

    Of the 53 cars I've owned, 38 were purchased for $500 or less. That's for the whole car, not a down payment. Only 4 of them were inoperable at the time of purchase. All but six of them lasted more than a month. The best ones (the two Buick Centurys, one Datsun 210, and two Celebritys) lasted over a year each.

    I would much rather buy a $300 car every month for the rest of my life than spend thousands or tens of thousands on a new or later model used car which I would be sick of in six months or so.

    I buy my cars from eBay, Craigslist, private sellers, abandoned car auctions, and the occasional small used car lot. I like to go to smaller wrecker services for the abandoned cars because they are more likely to allow me to drive the car home. They also have locksmiths and guys selling used batteries and tires on premises to help out. If I buy a car from a city-run abandoned car auction I'd have to spend $75 to $200 to have it towed home depending on which city.

    Typically, the $300-$500 cars I buy seem to run for three to six months before something major happens to it. By that point, I'll strip out whatever will sell on eBay (radios, headlights and taillights, computer, interior plastics, trim, etc) and send the rest to a junkyard. I'll get $50 to $300 for the junk car and still have stuff to resell. And if it still runs by the end of six months and I'm sick of it, I'll resell it and probably make money. 50/50 chance of making a profit and then I go buy another.

    My wife doesn't get it, she drives a $4000 Lumina which we still owe half that and it's worth half of what we owe. But everything works but the cruise and it's a good looking car. So she's happy. And if she's happy, I'm happy. I just hope I can keep finding her decent cars in the sub-$5000 range so we aren't buried in some huge payment which will keep me from buying the beaters here and there when I need them. Right now I'm without a car because we made some repairs to hers and started buying Christmas gifts and paying off some old debts. But if all goes well, I'll be buying a pair of $300 cars off eBay and bringing them homein a couple weeks.
  • Just picked up a 1989 Celebrity for $300. Drives fine, looks much nicer than my other $300 cars, too. I think I got a winner here. Only caveat is the AC does not work, compressor is locked up tight. But I don't care, because it's almost December and it won't get hot here in TX for 3-4 more months.
  • jipsterjipster Louisville, KentuckyPosts: 5,441
    I use to be the King of cheap cars... now I'm just the King of Cheap. :cry: I think the best beaters would come in at around $900-$1,500. We sold our 1994 Buick Century wagon two and a half years ago, got around $1,100 for it. Still in very good condition... air, tires, interior and exterior very nice, good miles. Did have a slow oil leak though. But, older Buick Centurys are a good bet for a beater.
  • gussguss Posts: 1,181
    I bet your front yard looks nice. :)

    If you have the time and energy I am sure your system is one of the cheapest ways to get from point A to point B.

    The only problem with your system for me would be that when I used to drive beaters I would allways get that quesey feeling in the pit of my stomach when I would go out to start the car on a cold morning. I would think the cars in your wife's price range would be a ton more reliable, and still be worth something in a few years.

    Get a 98 Buick Century with 70-80k mile for $3-5,000 and drive the wheels off of it. But it sounds like you like the thrill of the hunt more than the actual cost saving compared to the time spent finding,fixing and re selling parts. We all need hobbies.
  • I just bought my mom a $1,000 1978 Ford Fairmont that was in *impeccable* condition. Since it was a North Dakota car, it had no rust of any sort and it took only minimal fixing to get it ready for the trip back to WI (it belonged to an old lady whose son was a mechanic). He replaced all the leaky gaskets and other niggling things and all we had to do is give it a good 10 point inspection. Only 63,000 original miles. No fading in the interior - just a wonderful beater car for mom and definitely her type of vehicle - fits her like a glove. It runs much more smoothly and silently than the '88 Volvo 760 that was previously being considered for a good bit more money. Thank goodness for older cars that are well-preserved.
  • definitely...

    I do the same thing for my friends as I do for myself. Friend "K" asks me to find him a $400 car, and I search around and make some calls and then let him know what I found. If he doesn't like any of them, I take him to an impound auction and let him pick the car.

    My yard looks terrific. The Celebrity I bought looks as good as it runs. It'll look better when I have time to detail it. Some people may call it polishing a turd, but I have beautiful turds.
  • kbtkbt Posts: 27
    I feel strongly about teaching my kids to drive stick, but don't have one. Toying with the idea of finding a cheap one to put 'em in to learn on. They'd be doing "around town" stuff but no real mileage, but the tranny, of course, will take a beating. ;-)

    Not even sure what the best models to look at are. Not many mom-vans with stick shift, it's been awhile since I've paid much attention to that.
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 21,987
    well, there are a ton of choices. Was there a certain style of vehicle you are thinking of? Does it NEED to be a mom-van? What is a mom-van, anyway? minivan? suv? cuv? wagon?

    anyhoo... how bout a pricerange?

    i'd suggest a Civic. But, if that's too pricey, then a Protege. If you want to go REALY cheap, there are a million 4-cyl manual tranny compact pickup trucks out there. $2k will get you a usable one.

    '17 F150 Crew 2.7; '67 Coronet R/T; '14 Town&Country Limited; '09 LR2 HSE. 44-car history and counting!

  • kbtkbt Posts: 27
    No, NOT a momvan. I just need something I can teach a teen on and not worry tremendously about her going to the grocery store with once she learns. And then her brother... then her sister. Just saying I've been in vans/SUV's for so long that I haven't paid one bit of attention to what models are reliable with stick, etc.

    And while I always buy used cars, my price range is a bit higher than what I'm hoping to pay for this little learning experience, so I was attracted to this thread.

    4-cyl manual tranny compact pickup trucks

    My dad had one of those sitting in his driveway for years and just last year gave it away to the yard guy. LOL! Thanks, dad.
  • If you just want training on driving a stick, check with a local driving school. Some offer training on manual transmission vehicles and would probably be a lot cheaper. If you need the additional vehicle, that's another story.

    You could also try some of the smaller car rental companies and see if they have anything with a manual.
  • My personal fave was a 1972 Skylark that I got for $400. Made it through two Kansas winters with that beast and it never missed a beat. I have a $1000 Infiniti right now that I love--Craigslist is a great resource for these things.

    Incidentally, and I'm only providing this as an information resource (not endorsement/advertisement), there's a site that does nothing but review beaters, but their criteria is up to $5000. It's called Beater Review at
This discussion has been closed.