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$1000 car for six months use - Am I crazy?

Hey CarTalk -

I need a car to get around the East Coast for about six months, Jan - Jun. I see a lot of roughly $1000 cars on Craigslist, early 90s Corollas etc. Am I crazy to think that I could just pick one of these up, drive it about 500 miles a month, then sell it on? Or is that asking for disaster?

I know you guys don’t have any crystal balls or anything, but I have no idea if this is a totally awful plan or something sort of doable. Any tips on how to make it go smoothly (dealership inspection?) would be great too.


That $1000 car could cost you way more in repairs over that 6 months in both time and money. $1000 cars are bottom feeders of the used car world and should be considered to be unreliable fixer-uppers at face value. You could get lucky and get one that basically runs with minimal repairs for the time you want and then you sell it for scrap. Might cost you $1500 total, might be much worse.

If you spend more, say $5000 for a depreciated used car with a good repair history and reliability record, you might just be able to drive it 6 months and sell it for close to your purchase price. Or sell it wholesale to CarMax or other used car lot and walk away for $1500-1000 out of pocket. Far less of a gamble than a $1000 clunker.

As for being crazy, your family and friends will have to answer that part of the question. You might just try to find one and assume that if it needs repair it will still be less that new vehicle payments.

There used to be firms called Rent-a-Wreck that rented used cars so that might be worth looking at.

I think that a good answer to the OP’s question requires more information from the OP.

Does “getting around the East Coast” involve having to be anywhere at a specific time, on a specific day?
If the answer is “yes”, then the idea of buying a $1,000 car is nothing short of ludicrous.
On the other hand, if the OP is a footloose and fancy-free guy who just wants to amble around at his own pace in order to do some exploring and sightseeing, then a $1,000 car might work, as long as he is willing to endure trips that are interrupted by breakdowns and the need for repairs.

…and then there is the cost of repairs on a $1,000 car.
How much is the OP willing to budget for repairs on a car that might not even sell for the amount that he paid for it six months earlier?


To make this work, you or a friend would have to check the cars thoroughly to make sure they don’t have expensive, must-fix flaws. Where you register it is important, too. Maryland, for instance, requires the car pass a safety inspection before they grant registration. You will need to supply a home address in the state you register the car to get license plates. If you don’t live too far west, you could register it at home and drive it to the East Coast.

Your odds of finding a reliable daily driver for $1000 are extremely small. Very, very small.

Your chances of finding a car that SEEMS reliable for $1000 and discovering it actually needs a few thousand dollars worth of work… or, worse yet, has serious rot problems… are high. Very, ,very high.

This is a risk decision. Your odds are very, very poor. Are you a gambler?

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I’d throw the dice on that one. It’s worth the risk I think. Otherwise you’d be looking at a long term rental, and w/that yo’ud be out $1500 at least right? I’d probably be looking for a car in the $2500 price range though, to increase the odds it isn’t a total break-down jobber. But if I spotted one for $1000 that tested out ok I wouldn’t turn it down either. Folks with cars like that they don’t use routinely often are willing to sell them cheap b/c if they don’t they keep getting parking tickets. Yes, early 90’s Corollas would be an excellent place to focus. Likewise Camry’s, Honda Civics, & Accords. Ford and Chevy econobox models probably a good bet too. Were I doing this , before writing any checks I’d

  • Test drive to make sure all the gears work, reverse works, no weird noises, doesn’t overheat on freeway or long idles, and runs well without engine missing up steep hills.
  • Check the condition of all the fluids, a good indication of how well the car has been maintained.
  • Compression test
  • Cooling system pressure test
  • Visual inspection on lift for problematic rust & suspension and steering components.

No offense, George, but in OP’s price range, I’d expect the vehicle would fail one or more of the items on your checklist

especially numbers 2 and 5


Thanks for the help, everyone! I’m pretty much convinced at this point that it would be a bad idea. But if for some reason I do end up with a $1000 junker, I’ll be sure to post here when it falls apart, for a healthy dose of ‘told-you-so’.


I like your attitude OP! Best of luck.

Me too. Had I been a bit crazier in my life I probably would have had a lot more fun! :grin:

I’d say do it. I bought a '95 Explorer for $1500 and have had it on the road for over a year with only a brake job.

I also had an Audi Allroad that I got for $1500. It has electrical problems, but all of the lights worked and it never let me down.

My friend got a Nissan Sentra for $750 about a year ago, and it actually passed a Rhode Island inspection with a $40 exhaust weld.

You get the idea… if you know what to look for, you will be fine. I just sold a Bonneville that ran and drove very well for $300. Look for cars like a Ford Escort, Toyota Corolla, etc… crap cars that can be neglected.

Might want to watch that language :frowning2:

I’m talking about the guy’s description of the Ford Escort and Toyota Corolla

I agree with all the replies here wrt to the risk of buying a $1000 vehicle.

However I, and I assume many others on this forum, did exactly that. I bought an old Dodge van for a cheap price when I was 19. Right after I bought it, I learned it needed a new engine. My only choice was to buy an old engine and put it in myself. I learned a lot and wouldn’t replace that experience for anything.

I’m not telling you it’s OK to buy a $1000 car. But if you do and something goes wrong, you will come out stronger on the other end if you invest in yourself to resolve it.

Buy a $4000 Toyota and sell it for 4k in 1 yr.

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