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



  • My dad bought a '81 Mazda 626 with 125,000 miles for $50.00. It has a 2.0 4 cylinder and 5 speed manual. Just dump a quart of oil a month, brakes once every so often, 4 tires 50,000 miles later, and a yearly inspection.

    When we were driving it in 1998, WE WERE BLOWING THE DOORS OFF OF BRAND NEW CARS AT 75 MPH!!!!

    Highly reliable, highly dependable, rarely broke down and when it did, it was for small stuff. We put 16,000 miles a year on that car and junked it at 250,000 when the rear shaft broke. On, I saw someone having a car like that and was smashing it into a Subaru station wagon at the beach.

    Built in 1981, and here it is 25 YEARS LATER.... THE DAMN CAR IS STILL ON THE ROAD DRIVING????? You know how people say Ford= Found on Road Dead or Fix or Repair Daily? I say: Mazda= "Don't Need to Fix or Repair" or "Still on Road Driving!"

    Why did Ford buy Mazda from the Japanese just so that in the later models they can destroy its quality?
  • I found a 1987 BMW 528e in very good condition for $950.00. Just add a new windshield, 2 tires, an instrument panel, and a driver's seat for a total of $300 extra. The car is practically brand new. Even all the accessories, the interior, and paint job was pristine. Little to no rust at all! Performs as good at was made 20 years ago! Even while driving on the highway, the tires anchors themselves the road from the stiff suspension.
  • I found a "brand new" 1987 Ford Escort EXP with a stick shift, 87,500 miles, and I think its had only 1 owner for $900.00.

    I heard about several people having problems with Escorts, but would these problems still be there even if the original owner maintained the car extremely well, including all wiring and wiring harness?

    But I heard the Escort engine itself is powerful, dependable, and reliable. And I've been seeing a lot of Escorts being sold cheaply for low miles. But, is it to make a quick sale for 16 to 20 year old Fords that were forgotten about or are they cars that you dump money in?

    To buy or not to buy?
  • Here's a tale to beat all! Top Gear is a British car enthusiast show and they gave Jeremy Clarkson and his 2 co-presenters, James "Captain Slow" and Richard "Hamster" Hammond 100 British Pounds ($160 American Dollars) and were told to find a cheap car and they tested them to see if they could handle usual daily commutes. Jeremy bought a Volvo 760GLE fully loaded for $1.60 American dollars!!!

    If you don't believe me, check for "Top Gear cheap cars" and watch more funny and exciting Top Gear episodes!
  • VERY good buy! I am big into E28s (I have an 88 M5, 86 535i and an 88 528e) and they are absolutely fantastic cars.

    A 528e will last.. oh.. the engine should make it to 400k at least, automatic might hit 200-250k, diff at least as long as the engine.

    They are indestructible and easy to work on. Buy the Bentley Manual on eBay.

    Check out

    Change the timing belt!!! Unless you have PROOF that it's been done, do it and do the water pump too. It's easy DIY and there's lots of guides online to show you how to do it. The process is the same for any gasoline-engined 6-cyl BMW that uses a belt.

    If you need any info on the car, let me know.. I've grown up around them and know them in and out. If it's clean it's a $2k car, you did very well. Oh, it only needs regular and if you use the cruise it gets 30 on the highway. Make sure you use 20W50 oil tho! 10W40 is winter oil for those, 10W30 for Alaskan winters.
  • oldfarmer50oldfarmer50 Posts: 10,695
    My son may have come up with the best beater car I've seen. He rescued a 1988 Plymouth Reliant from a trip to the junk yard and it runs just fine. It looks like hell but for $350 you can't go wrong. Took less than $150 worth of repairs to pass inspection.

    Sometimes you can get decent transportation cheap if you don't care about looks. I second that recommendation about Craigslist. Even though my son didn't go that route I've seen some pretty cheap cars on there. Sometimes the seller will tell you the whole life story of the car too.

    I have a soft spot for beater cars. On the one hand if it blows up next week what have you really lost? If it runs for a couple of years you feel like a car buying genius.

    2015 Mustang GT, 2009 PT Cruiser, 2004 Chevy Van

  • Kirstie_HKirstie_H Posts: 11,042
    Hey, where are you finding all of these deals? Do you just shop local ads, or do you have other resources?


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  • 1990 BMW 735i. Runs and drives great, 225k miles, ice cold AC, nice paint and interior, no major problems.

    $800 cash off of craigslist.

    I used it as a loaner until some nitwit rear-ended it. Oh yes.. the guy's insurance co gave me a check for $4500.
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 22,645
    ~640% return. Nice!

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

  • Yikes does that count as capital gains??? :P
  • kyfdxkyfdx Posts: 70,300
    Of course.. the trick is finding someone to rear-end you.. ;)


    Prices Paid, Lease Questions, SUVs

  • oldfarmer50oldfarmer50 Posts: 10,695
    "...$800 cash off of Craigslist...the guy's insurance co. gave me a check for $4500..."

    Hey, will you give me the name of the guy who sold you a $4500 car for $800? I'd like to buy one too.

    2015 Mustang GT, 2009 PT Cruiser, 2004 Chevy Van


    Well, I do mostly internet searching, but you can probably find a lot of Philly cars for about $300 or $400 to under $1,000. Check,,,, and keep researching and comparing one car to another and its condition. Also,
    if you are PHYSICALLY going to check cars and not INTERNET SEARCH, here's a few tips:

    1. Check for cheap cars for sale in "rich people" territories, based on your geography. Some guy who unloads $87,000 in his NEW Mercedes S550 isn't going to care about losing $500 on selling his 1982 Mercedes 300 Diesel so you can get a luxury car for about $1,300

    2. Check junk yards for cars in good condition and ask the scrap dealer if he has the title and if it is a Clear Title. Cars with "Salvage" or "Junk" on the title is as good as parts only.

    3. Keep in mind what junk yards have what. Philly junkyards may have cars or parts for cars that are normally used: Ford Explorer, GMC, Chevy Lumina. Other junkyards, based on speciality- Large Semi Trucks, trailers, foreign cars, luxury cars might help you out if you're looking for a discount specialty car or parts for a specialty car you bought.

    4. Check police impounds for cars being sold to the public. There's more $300 cars available, or you can get them for maybe $50.00 And that's a BIG MAYBE. Don't confuse police impound auctions for auto auctions because some might look to make a profit. What'll help get a better selection of cheapos is this motto: "THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM!" Need I say more?

    5. Check the top 4 before you check a dealer's lot because keep in mind, he is looking to make money off the deal. So, he could jack up the price an extra $300 to $600 more because A- a car sitting on the lot is costing money because it's not being sold and a car that could get sold should be sitting there; B- Dealers need to make some profit off of selling ANY cars so what isn't getting sold might absorb higher prices to recoup discounts on sold cars; C- the dealer might've had to spend money fixing it before selling it.


    Also, when you arrive at the location, it's best for you to thoroughly check it out without the dealer hovering around you. With cheap cars, chances are he isn't going to look because NOBODY ever really buys them. When you think you've found a solid buy, see if you can knock a little off the price, but if the car's $300, unless it is really crap that you can swap parts out with another car, you might not get much discount.

    As for the 1987 BMW 528e I bought (it had an original sticker of $1,500 but I got it for $950 as a clearance sale), it was involved in a minor front end accident and it used to have a car phone until some dipstick ripped the console apart, but I lucked out and found EXACTLY what I needed for the car and it was simple repairs I can do at home, so that saves alot of money. And, I think they wanted to sell the car for $1,500, but couldn't find the parts it needed, which I think helped its overall value since its in great condition.
  • gsemikegsemike Long Island, NYPosts: 1,983
    It' a shame that this went down but I did free ads for a couple of weeks and got no interest. I had two calls from people that were interested but neither called back when they said they would.


    I really hoped that I'd find a working guy that could really use it because it served me pretty well for two years. Instead it went to the junkyard for 200
  • Loved the 480 and a case of beer comment.

    I would have haggled over the type of beer and made that offer. :P
  • fezofezo Manahawkin, NJPosts: 10,333
    "Hey! This is Bud. I said a case of BEER!"
    2013 Mazda 5 Grand Touring, 2010 Toyota Prius IV. 2007 Toyota Camry XLE, 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999 Mazda Miata
  • gsemikegsemike Long Island, NYPosts: 1,983
    Since I only got 200 from the junkyard I guess I'm stuck with Meister Brau
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 22,645
    I guess this is really really really going to depend on your mechanical knowledge, but I just went to my first government/prosecutor's office type auction thingy yesterday. I was pretty entertaining. They had a few high-end items that went for top dollar, but they had roughly 100 other vehicles that were mostly junked or government owned. This included several plain-jane clean Escort wagons with ~100k miles and several plain-jane Crown Vics with ~100k miles ... most of these not clean, though. There were a couple of good ones. It seems (and it stands to reason) that the previous cop cars were pretty beat up, but there were other ones that were pretty nice. I'm not sure what they were used for, but they only had a small black number stuck on one fender (as opposed to all the other badging of a cop car ... most of which has been stripped away to leave nice shiney paint underneath to contrast the worn paint all around it).

    There were a couple of cars I was interested in. One was of the aforementioned Crown Vics. 108k miles, darned clean, 1998, 4.6 V8 (of course). CEL was on, but she started right up with a bump of the key, air blew ice cold, tranny responded (can't drive them), and no leaks underneath. The other was an S10 pickup with the 4.3 V6 and auto tranny and working AC with 93k miles. Unfortunately, we just couldn't stay all day and after 3 hours and still not approaching the cars I might have bid on, we left. Just as well since my driveway is full anyway. :)

    In general, the Crown Vics were fetching upwards of $1200. I figure if the clean ones stayed under $2k, it would be a pretty good beater. I didn't get to see what the Escorts fetched. Pickups seemed to be the hot item with the crowd that was there. A '97 F150 got $5k!

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

  • stickguystickguy Posts: 26,297
    since my son is just starting to drive (has his permit, can't get a solo license until next June), this is going to be a timely thread, given his budget!

    Probably going to look at a stick, depending on how he takes to driving my Accord. That's one reason to buy now, it will save wear and tear on my clutch!

    Mike, i would have given the $200 for that Buick, plus the case of beer. then caught heck from the wife when I got it home.

    Also, there is one other resource to consider (if you have one). My neighbor is the GSM at a local Ford dealer. i figure to talk to him at some point to see if he can intercept some cheap trade in that they won't retail and "divert" it to us, if it is just going to auction anyway.

    Or I will just ask Bill to find us an older but clean running (attractive not a requirement) 3 or 5 series!

    Actually, i saw a '92 5 series parked on a loawn yesterday, but wasn't able to stop. Not sure of the price, but it had "runs great" painted on the windows. Only thing I didn't like is it had heavy cheap tint on all the side windows.

    2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport (mine), 2013 Acura RDX AWD (wife's) and 2015 Jetta Sport (daughter's)

  • Actually, i saw a '92 5 series parked on a loawn yesterday, but wasn't able to stop. Not sure of the price, but it had "runs great" painted on the windows. Only thing I didn't like is it had heavy cheap tint on all the side windows.

    I'd be VERY reluctant to buy a 8+ year old European car. IT will cost a fortune to replace the normal wear/tear stuff versus a domestic, or even Japanese or Korean car.

    I started my driving life in 2002 with a 1996 Accord Automatic. Perfect car for a new kid behind the wheel, just make sure you find one with ABS (mine is an LX therefore it was a rarely-found option in 1996).

    I've been driving this car since then, put about 55,000 miles on it (plus 25,000 on my new 2006 Accord during that same time- I drive them both because my 1996 is so bulletproof!) I currently have 175k miles on the '96; the A/C is still cold, the automatic shifts like it always has, and I've spent about $300 a year on wear and tear replacements (brake master cylinder, cracked radiator, that sort of thing).

    Same transmission, same A/C, same alternator, starter, even original rear brakes and full suspension. Getting new shocks soon as the car is starting to have a little more "bounce" over big dips in the road.

    Depending on your budget, you could get a car similar to mine for $3,500 or so. An EX 4-cylinder (which would have ABS) with a stickshift would be a VERY nice/fun car with decent but-not-overwhelming power, safe handling, and stellar reliability. You know this, you have an Accord!

    Let us know how your search goes!
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 22,645
    Personally, I don't see the added expense of parts on a euro car that people talk about. The brakes on our Honda cost just as much as my volvo. The tune-up on my mazda cost just as much as my bimmer. Etc. Etc.

    well... ok, the bimmer was a tad more expensive, but that was due to 2 extra cylinders, so 2 more wires and 2 more plugs. But you get my meanings. When it comes to brake pads, wires, plugs, fuel filters, air filters, shocks, struts, rubber bushings, or what have you, I have not found the make of the car matters 95% of the time.

    Now, the other 5% of the time can be a killer. $100 a pop for the shocks and struts on my Alfa is a bit out of line. But that applies to alot of parts on the Alfa. The Bimmer is downright cheap in comparison.

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

  • The Audi dealership I used to frequent (my ex-girlfriend's father was GSM at Tom Williams Porsche/Audi in Birmingham) had MUCH higher prices than Honda did; that will vary dealer-by-dealer though. (And, Audi IS a VW = $$$ in repairs!!).

    I'd steer clear of ANY VW at all costs!
  • qbrozenqbrozen Posts: 22,645
    oh well heck, of course dealership costs are higher. that ain't the car's fault, though. ;b

    For me, the parts have similar costs and the jobs take me about the same amount of time, so I am assuming a good indy shop will charge you the same for both cars for similar repairs.

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

  • Oh you can't compare Audi parts prices to BMW or Merc prices. Audi doesn't support a car after they are more then about 5-7 years old so the part prices go up at a near exponential rate.

    My wife had a Audi 100 years ago before we were married. The expansion tank tarted to leak where the return hose came in. The audi dealer wanted 800 something bucks plus tax for the tank. I couldn't find the part anywhere else so I repaired the tank using a bit of PVC pipe and the highest temp epoxy I could find.

    I got some PVC pipe that was just a bit narrower then the entrance for the return tube in the tank and epoxied it in place. Worked like a charm and only cost about 15 bucks plus a couple of hours of labor.
  • 2doorpost2doorpost Posts: 74
    My favorite beater cars- 2002-2008

    5) 1978 Monte Carlo (traderonline) 135k miles Ran and drove Southern Car 700 bucks

    4) 1974 Nova Coupe (Local Paper) 70k miles Ran and drove 500 bucks

    3) 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix (traderonline) 101k miles Ran and drove 300 bucks

    2) 1964 Impala 2 door (sitting down the street in yard) Ran and drove 800 bucks

    1) 1974 Nova Hatchback (on line ad ) Runs and drives currently 300 bucks
  • Hope this is the right forum for this,

    I recently hit a deer and it pretty much totalled the front of my car. I have bought replacement parts at the junkyard for $125 (hood, bumper, grill, condensor, headlite assy, turn signal assy, hood latch assy) and a new radiator ($150). I put the new radiator in and refilled the fluids with 1/2 water and 1/2 anti-freeze and started the car. Once running, I noticed a fountain of water coming from a little silver valve mounted on top of the manifold on the passenger side of the engine. It's right next to the fuel pressure line and i don't know why its spewing water. Any suggestions on what it could be? :confuse:
  • Cancel my previous posting, it seems the fountain is gas coming from the top of the fuel filter going towards the manifold. I turn the key and the gas starts flowing out the relief valve. Now I have to figure out how to stop the valve from leaking gas!
  • Kirstie_HKirstie_H Posts: 11,042
    Head over to our Maintenance & Repair board. Lots of knowledgeable members hang out there and might be able to help you.


    Need help navigating? - or send a private message by clicking on my name.

    Share your vehicle reviews

  • fezofezo Manahawkin, NJPosts: 10,333
    Nothing simple like just a cracked fuel filter, huh? Deer hits can be nasty.
    2013 Mazda 5 Grand Touring, 2010 Toyota Prius IV. 2007 Toyota Camry XLE, 2004 Toyota Camry LE, 1999 Mazda Miata
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    I just had a little scare with my 'newest' beater (1988 BMW 528e automatic, 150k miles, bought ~3 months ago for $800): transmission was slipping badly (not when I bought it, but after about a month). Checked fluid, it was full but looked nasty (thin/brown); clearly, if it needed a new trans, it was going away. Had the fluid, filter and gasket changed instead ($120) and not it's fine. Snoopy dance.
This discussion has been closed.