Buying a car is a major financial decision on our lives.
Most of us go into debt to purchase a brand new car, and that debt makes our lives more difficult.
Saddled with a monthly car payment, making ends meet every month just got tougher.
What if there was another way?
Obviously, most of us can’t go without a car, though that is an option.
The better option is to look into beater cars.
If you are interested in having a car without spending a lot of money or going into debt, then consider a beater car.
For a few thousand dollars, you can buy a reliable car that won’t cost you a lot of money to drive.
This will result in less financial stress and less stress in your overall life.
In this post, I will walk you through the best used cars you can buy for your money.
The Best Beater Cars For Your Money
What Is A Beater Car?
A beater car can be defined as an old, high mileage car that’s legal to drive and still in working condition.
They are known for being affordable as they cost about $2,000.
You can, however, find some cheaper options as well.
Beater cars are not always good or impressive to look at but they do what they’re designed to do, which is to last a long time.
Why Buy A Beater Car?
There are many advantages of buying cheap beater cars.
Here are the biggest reasons why you should consider buying one.
#1. Helps You Save Money
Beater cars are not only cheap to purchase but they’re also cheap to run.
The average beater car will cost you 80% less than a traditional or new car.
These savings mainly come from the lower purchase price and insurance savings.
#2. Less Financial Burden
Research shows about 85% of passenger vehicles are financed.
The average monthly payment for car loans is $452 for leased vehicles, $550 for new cars, and $393 for used vehicles.
Overall, Americans owe around $1.2 trillion in auto loan debt.
And this makes sense given the average new car price is close to $39,000!
By purchasing a beater car, you avoid a high monthly car payment and you save a lot of money overall.
For example, if you buy a cheap used car for $2,000 and it lasts 5 years.
In 20 years you spent $8,000 instead of close to $80,000 for 2 new cars.
While there is the potential for higher maintenance costs with used cars, if you pick reliably ones, you shouldn’t have this issue.
#3. Require Little Care And Maintenance
This might come as a surprise to some but beater cars require less care than a new car right out of the showroom.
A CEL on a new car can cost you thousands of dollars.
You typically won’t run into this issue on older cars as there are fewer computerized operations.
Also, if you do have this problem come up with an older car, you can choose to get rid of the vehicle instead of fixing it.
The money you get for selling it can go towards the purchase of your next car.
#4. Good For Learners
Are you or someone close to you learning to drive? It might be a good idea to try your hands at a beater car.
It is common for new drivers to come back home with a damaged car due to a bad parking spot or other reasons.
Even a small dent can end up costing you a lot to repair.
With a beater car, you will have no such worries.
The driver will be able to learn freely without worries. The entire trip will be worry-free.
Also, if you do get a dent in your older car, you won’t worry as much because you paid so little for it.
Finally, insurance for teen drivers tends to be sky high.
By driving an old beater car, you will be able to insure your teen driver for a lot less money.
#5. Easy Insurance
Insurance is a must to drive your vehicle, but we know that it can be very costly.
I mentioned before how insurance costs less for teen drivers of used cars.
But driving beater cars can help all driver save money on insurance.
Not only will it be less costly to insure because it is much less valuable, but you can skip certain insurance coverage.
For example, you can opt to not pay for comprehensive coverage.
This is because most times with old cars, the cost to insure against these incidents is more than what the car is worth.
So by being selective with your insurance, you can save a lot of money on car insurance.
Finding The Best Beater Cars To Buy
You know you want to buy one of these cars, but where can you buy a beater car?
The best place to look is online.
Start with Craigslist and go from there.
You should also see if there is a Penny Pincher magazine in your area.
This is where locals put classifieds for sale and can be a great place to find a cheap car.
Next, go to some small repair shops locally.
These places might fix up and sell used cars. At the very least, they might be able to point you in the direction of where to find a car for sale.
Lastly, let your friends and family members know you’re looking for an old car. They might suggest one to you.
13 Best Beater Cars For Your Money
There are a lot of vehicles out there.
You might think that you can buy any old car and save money.
But you are wrong.
There are some car brands and models you want to avoid at all costs.
This is because they have poor reliability and cost a fortune to maintain.
Likewise, there are used cars that you want to seek out.
These are cars that are well built, reliable, and don’t cost a lot to fix.
In fact, if you look hard enough, you can find many of these cheap reliable cars for under $1,000.
Here are 13 beater cars you should keep an eye out for.
#1. Honda Civic (all years)
The Honda Civic is a perfect beater.
It is cheap to own, and with so many on the road, you can easily get replacement parts for cheap.
And if you need a little more room and the sedan offers, look in the Honda Civic Hatchback.
#2. Toyota Corolla (all years)
Another easy winner and a great daily driver.
Everything mentioned about the Civic applies here too.
With lots of Corolla’s on the road, you can find replacement parts easily and the maintenance costs are super low too.
#3. Honda Accord (1994-present)
The Honda Accord is on this list for the peace of mind it offers drivers.
Legendary reliability and low service costs make buying this car a no-brainer.
#4. Toyota Camry (2002-2006)
I feel like a broken record here, as the Camry offers the same benefits as the cars listed before it.
It really comes down to which one you can get the best deal on and which one you like the most.
#5. Ford Crown Victoria (2005-2008)
The Ford Crown Victoria are known for their bulletproof reliability.
I’m certain you’ve seen these on the road as they tend to look like unmarked police cars.
This is because the police had driven Crown Victoria’s for many years.
The bottom line is, if you can find one at a good price, take it.
#6. Mazda Protege5 (2003)
The Protege5 offers great cargo space and a low cost of ownership.
It’s a perfect combination of fun and practicality for anyone with an active lifestyle.
Add in you can buy these cars for a great price since most buyers are looking at the cars listed before it, make it a great option to consider.
#7. Volkswagen Golf (1996-2000)
The Volkswagen Golf has a solid reputation for being a car that lasts.
Even today I see this generation Golf on the road all the time.
Parts are not expensive and you can fix a lot of the issues you will come across yourself.
Add in good fuel consumption and the added cargo space from the hatch and you have nice car for daily driving or road trips.
#8. Lexus LS400 (1991)
The LS400 could be the perfect beater no one knows about.
Most people who look for cheap reliable cars firs think of the Civic, Accord, Camry, or Corolla.
Almost never does the LS400 show up.
For this reason, you can get great deals on this car.
And since it is built by Toyota, it will have very low service costs and rarely experience major issues.
#9. Mazda Miata (1994-1999)
The Mazda Miata is a nice car for people who don’t have families or have a lot of things to haul around.
The little roadster gets good miles per gallon and the cost to maintain it is low.
#10. Toyota Pickup (Early 90s)
If you need more cargo space than the cars listed offer, consider the early 1990’s Toyota pickup trucks.
They tend to be overlooked by other car buyers, making it easier to score a great deal.
And if you need more room, look at an extended cab Tacoma as an option.
#11. Nissan Sentra (1991-1997)
The Sentra’s of the 1990’s were fun cars to drive.
Lightweight, good gas mileage and cheap to maintain make them an easy choice for those looking for a low cost car.
You can still find these cars for a reasonable price, though it is getting harder and harder.
#12. BMW 318ti
Most luxury cars get axed from the list of cheap cars simply because of the high cost of parts and maintenance.
But the 38ti is an exception.
You can find parts and get repairs on this car for a reasonable price.
Add in decent reliability, and you have yourself a low cost luxury car to enjoy.
#13. Ford Focus (2008-2011)
This generation of the Ford Focus gets high marks for reliability, something that can’t be said for other versions.
And with it being a Ford, parts and service costs won’t break the bank.
#14. Jeep Cherokee
An older model Jeep Cherokee is a great option if you need a beater SUV.
The good news is this SUV has a great motor and chassis. Plus, there are tons of parts to repair it for a low price.
The bad news is it gets poor gas mileage and it isn’t a good option as a daily driver.
You will run into issues if you drive it all the time.
Also, avoid the Grand Cherokee. It is essentially the same as the Cherokee, just more expensive to maintain.
Finally, know that this older four wheel drive cars are not great in two wheel drive mode in slippery situations.
#15. Nissan Pathfinder
If you want a beater SUV as a daily driver, then an older Pathfinder will do the trick.
Low maintenance costs and good reliability make this a good larger vehicle to own, especially for those who like to go on road trips.
Beater Cars To Avoid
Of course, here is the list of used cars you should avoid at all costs.
While the low sales price might look like a deal, the issues these cars have, along with their reputation for poor reliability make them very costly.
#1. Hyundai Elantra
This is car you want to avoid due to its unreliable nature.
While the purchase price tends to be the lowest, the materials and parts used are of poor quality and don’t last.
If you want to drive your car instead of always having it at the repair shop, avoid this car.
#2. Audi A3
Personally, I love the look of this car. So much so that I considered buying it.
But then I started to read online forums of the electrical gremlins and leaky parts and decided to stay away.
You should too.
#3. Ford Fiesta (2001-2014)
This car falls into the same category as the Hyundai Elantra above.
It’s a cheap car, but it is cheap because it is poorly built and doesn’t last long at all.
#4. Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen is known for some superior cars, like the Golf listed above as a great beater car.
But the Jetta for some reason is was never built as well.
It is an affordable vehicle in terms of purchase price, but it tends to have a lot of issues, making it unreliable.
#5. Audi A4
Basically you can read what I wrote about the A3 above, as this too is the same for the A4.
But in addition to that, repair parts for Audi’s tend to cost a lot of money.
So even if you get lucky and find one without a lot of issues, when you do have a repair, it is going to cost you a lot of money.
How To Keep A Beater Car Running
Beater cars won’t last forever.
But if you keep good care of them, they can be kept on the road for a long time.
Here’s how to keep your car in top condition.
#1. Stay On Top Of Routine Maintenance
To make sure you car lasts as long as possible, do not skip routine maintenance.
This means getting your oil changed at regular intervals and wear items replaced per your owners manual.
While this will not guarantee nothing goes wrong, it will reduce the likelihood.
#2. Pay Attention To Your Suspension
Pay special attention to tie rods, CV axles, struts, ball joints, and shocks.
Consider if these need replacement.
By having these items wear out, they can be a safety hazard to you.
Also, these can have a trickle down effect as well, wearing out your tires sooner as well.
The good news is many of these repairs can made with aftermarket parts, and some even performed by you to save money.
#3. Invest In Tires
Tires can be expensive, but this doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money on good tires.
In fact, many warehouse clubs like BJs and Costco offer great deals on new tires.
The reason you want to purchase good tires are for better fuel economy, a safer ride, and to help your car last.
For example, picking the right tires for where and how you drive can help you get better fuel economy.
Next, having proper tires is a good safety feature.
Tires help you retain control of your car in hazardous driving conditions like snow and rain.
This includes stopping safely.
Finally, a good set of tires take some of the pressure off the suspension system, helping to make it last longer.
#4. Check Fluid Levels
On older cars, the rubber hoses are more likely to wear out and rot.
This means you need to make it a point to check your fluid levels on a regular basis.
This includes motor oil, engine coolant, brake fluid, and transmission fluid.
Noticing a low level can help you save money by fixing the problem before it turns into a more costly one.
#5. Wash And Wax Your Car
This might come as a surprise to some but this small investment can be very effective.
The reason you want to take care of cosmetic issues is because these can have a major impact on how long your car lasts.
The engine and transmission may be fine, but the if the car is rusted out, you can’t safely drive it.
You don’t have to go crazy here, just wash it once or twice a month and then wax it twice a year.
Buying A Used Car Checklist
Before you start your research to find your next car, it’s important you are looking for the right things.
Here is a detailed used car checklist that you should follow so you can spot red flags before it is too late.
This will ensure you don’t get suckered in into buying a car that won’t last.
#1. Find A Local Independent Mechanic
While this isn’t always the first thing you’ll do, it is important that you pay special attention to this point as only a mechanic can tell you if a car is worth buying or not.
Consider hiring a trusted and third party mechanic.
You’ll have to pay about $200 for inspection but it’s worth every penny.
The mechanic can identify minor and major problems and suggest repairs as well.
Since visuals are not very important when it comes to a beater car, pay special attention to the engine and the underbody.
And if you are able to, find a mechanic that specializes in the brand of car you are considering.
By being highly skilled and familiar with the manufacturer, they will know things that tend to go wrong on these cars more than another mechanic.
#2. Avoid Rare Options And Cars
A lot of people go for rare cars that can attract crowds, but this can be a bad decision in the long-run.
Rare cars can be quite expensive to maintain.
You might face difficulty finding replacement parts.
And when you do find the parts, the price can be huge.
Additionally, if a car has all the added options, this simply means more things that can break, costing you more money.
Therefore, try to go for a beater car that’s popular so that you don’t have to face any problem securing parts in the future.
Also, know what options you definitely want and avoid cars with more than what you need.
#3. Ask For Service Records
Do not buy a vehicle before going through its history report.
You can generate one through vendors or online sites like CarFax.
These reports typically contain valuable information including owner details, title rebranding, incident reports, and wholesale transfers.
But these alone are not enough.
Ask the seller for service records to understand what kind of repairs and maintenance the car has had.
Read through them and stay away from cars that have been poorly maintained or have a history of needed repairs.
Of course, not all sellers or dealers may have these records.
This is where the help of a local mechanic comes in.
But you will have to make the final decision. Be sure to listen to your gut as it usually steers you in the right direction.
#4. Take A Test Drive
Driving a beater car before you buy it is a must.
This is because getting behind the wheel can reveal some hidden things you otherwise wouldn’t know about.
Maybe the steering is loose or the brakes are soft. These are important things you need to know about before you buy it.
We suggest that you go with a friend who can be an extra set of eyes, ears, and smell to help you make a smart decision.
#5. Pay Attention To Safety Features
New cars have a lot of safety features.
Blindspot monitoring, backup camera, lane departure warnings are just a few examples.
Luckily most older used cars have anti-lock brakes, airbags and other safety features to help keep you safe.
So before you buy a beater car, make sure you understand what safety features are important to you.
In some cases, like with backup cameras, you can add this to older cars.
But other options are not available.
While this can be a drawback to used cars, the truth is with some of the features, like active cruise control and lane departure monitoring, they are not required for a car to be safe.
In fact, many people never use these features even though they pay for them.
And if they do use them and the feature breaks, you are looking at a hefty repair bill.
At the end of the day, be sure any car you are considering has anti-lock brakes and good scores in the crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
For slightly newer cars, look for side impact protection and electronic stability systems.
Frequently Asked Questions
I get a lot of questions about buying a beater car.
Here are the most common ones that will answer your questions quickly.
How many miles do cars last?
In the past, getting 100,000 miles out of a car was a sign of success.
But with today’s cars, you can easily get 200,000 miles out of them, sometimes even more.
Many times the thing that forces you to get rid of an old car is the exterior starts to rust away.
This is why I mentioned early that it is important to wash and wax your car.
What are the benefits of beater cars?
There are numerous benefits of beater cars.
For starters, you can avoid monthly car payments, freeing up your income to go towards other bills or savings.
From there, insurance and service costs tend to be a lot less as well, saving you even more money.
In fact, you can probably buy, drive and sell 5-10 beater cars for the same price as buying one new car.
And if the cars you choose are in good condition, they should be able to last you 5-10 each.
What is the best winter beater car?
Aside from the Mazda Miata, any of the cars listed above are reliable winter cars and will work well in the snow.
This is because they are all front wheel drive.
If you really want to have success in the snow and ice, buy a set of dedicated winter tires.
Studies have shown that a front wheel drive car with proper snow tires will outperform all when drive cars with all season tires.
Of course, an all wheel drive car with winter tires will perform great too.
What are the safest beater cars?
The Lexus LS 400 and the Ford Crown Victoria are easily the safest cars on the list.
This is because they are larger in size and tend to perform well in crash test ratings.
What is the best beater car?
This is subjective, based on your needs.
If you live in a warmer climate and are by yourself, the Mazda Miata is a great car.
But you if require more space, look at the Ford Crown Victoria or the Mazda Protege5.
Frugal car buying is a great way to buy a used car and save thousands of dollars on the purchase price.
The hard part is finding beater cars for sale.
But with a little leg work, you should be able to find a good number to check out and buy.
From there, make sure you keep it maintained so it will last for you.
If you can get your car to last until 250,000 then you are doing great and saving money in the process.
The bottom line is, if follow the idea of buying cheap reliable cars, you will more easily reach your financial goals because of the money you save.