A few things you need to know:
1. I am an incorrigible cheapskate, from my self-cut hair down to my holey underpants!
2. The one and only car I’ve ever owned is an '82 Corolla Wagon given to me by my folks when I graduated college. A fellow cheapskate named Tom Magliozzi told me that cars DON’T cost more and more to repair as they get older–the repair costs level out after a few years–and I’ve ridden that rationalization for 250,000 miles and twelve times across the country, until now when rusted chunks of the car’s body fall off with a hard stop!
I know the engine in this Corolla is legendary for it’s staying power, but the body–not so much! Didn’t help that I used to launch our canoe with this car, driving through high tides of salty Biscayne Bay! So here’s my question:
I hate spending money on expensive things like cars, and I’ve gotten awfully spoiled by this Corolla. What newer car can take me to my life expectancy–or at least my retirement age? Or should I do a body transplant on this rustbucket?
Oh, and while I’m asking for miracles: my family has built a “green home”, which is secret code for “we’re too cheap to pay the power company for electricity.” Could any of the hybrids or electric vehicles that are out there qualify as a worthy successor to my old Corolla, and also provide battery backup power to our house during a power outage?
A few things you need to know:
I suggest you investigate a newer Corolla. They remain one of the most reliable vehicles on the planet.
The most direct replacement for an '82 Corolla wagon would be a Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe. They are mechanically identical. Both are 5-door hatchback versions of the Corolla, and earn high ratings for both fuel economy and long-term reliability.
Hybrids don’t qualify as a replacement for your '82 Corolla because of their enormous complexity. One of your Corolla’s virtues is its simplicity. You pay a LOT more for a hybrid upfront, and the payback period is long. I don’t think they generate enough power to run a house.
If you want a back-up generator, buy a back-up generator.
Keep the two separate and keep things simple.
You are not the only one who believes cars should last longer and stay “repairable” for a very long time.
My younger brother still drives his 1987 Honda Accord. That’s a 22 year old car. Mileage about 350,000. Still in good condition with some rust.
In order to drive a car affordably for a very long time, some basic rules apply:
Buy from a manufacturer known for good design quality, who is large enough to stay in business during your lifetime, and sells enough cars to enable you to get parts 30 years from now.
Select the simplest car model in the best selling line, so the requirements in (1) can be met.
Maintain the car by the book or better. Don’t skimp or skip on maintenance
Drive sanely, and give the car a good workout once a month at least, so the engine does not sludge up.
In view of the above requirements, some models come to mind:
Toyota Corolla, 4 speed without any extras other than air, if you need it.
Honda Civic, 4 speed without any extras other than those you absolutely need.
Hyundai Elantra, with same specs as above.
Mazda 3 with same specs as above.
Since manufacturers are downsizing, the following would also be of interest: Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent
The above vehicles are assumed to be bought new. If you buy used, the same applies, but you will need a qualified mechanic to inspect and judge that the car has been properly maintained and treated well.
There is another way to drive cheaply. Buy a beater with a rough body, but in good mechanical condition for next to nothing, only do basic maintenance and drive it till it needs a major repair, then junk it and buy another beater. You will have very low depreciation, cheap insurance (no collison coverage), but your friends may have a low opinion of your cheapness.
A few months ago a 64 year old lady in the US was interviewed about her car, a 1966 Ford Galaxi, I believe, a very popular full size Ford. It was the first car she owned and bought new, and wanted it to be her last one as well. She lavished good care on it, and it looked like it would go another 20 years or so.
So you have some choices for driving cheap. Driving less is of course a good way to start.
P.S. In the car recommendations I should have stated “manual transmission”, not 4 speeed, since all cars now have 5 speed manual boxes!
While the hybrids have proven themselves very reliable over the 10 years or so they’ve been running around, I think over the time-scale you’re looking at the jury is still out. If nothing else they just have a couple more big-ticket items that can go out at any time.
I think there’s a couple of ways to approach it. If you really want to be a cheapskate, I can practically guarantee your lowest overall cost would be to buy a 90-something car for a couple grand, drive it for the next 10 years and then look for a 2000-something car and so on.
If you’re really serious about buying a car that will outlive you, you’re going to have to spend more up front. Your best bet might be to buy a simpler new car (like a new Corolla) and treat the maintenance schedule like gospel. Yeah, it’ll cost you a lot in depreciation, but it’s the only way you know you’ve got a car that’s been maintained well enough to go to 500,000+.
Or you could try to find yourself a well-kept early-80’s Mercedes diesel, preferably with manual transmission. If you keep up with the maintenance, these will run indefinitely and, even rarer, the bodies tend to hold up well. Plus these are much more appropriate vehicles for retirees.
Well in my book you have 3 choices/ maintenance and repairs, new car payment with extended warranty, or a bicycle. So If I had to do it all over again I would still have my 72 nova, any garage can work on it, I can fix it, I can get new or rebuilt parts anywhere, but for you a generator and a new corolla.
If you need a bit more room you might consider a Honda Element. They seem to be very reliable, some of the body panels are plastic so less rust. For a modern car Honda kept the Element relatively simple, meaning easier to repair as it ages. Get a FWD version to keep it simple. The only downside is less mpg than you are used to with the Corolla.
I recommend a Honda Fit or another Corolla. You should also check out the Ford Focus. Based on your history, I think you can make any one of these cars last just as long, especially if you keep it out of the saltwater.
You don’t need a hybrid if you never drive. Try a whole new lifestyle with a 2006 E-150 van. Cargo vans are cheap and seats can be installed. Nobody wants to pay for a new vehicle.
How about a new pair of shoes? Just say no to cars.
Purchase another Corolla(used or brand new) but make sure it has a manual transmission. I imagine yours has a manual given the age unless you forked some serious money getting it repaired or rebuilt over that time period.
If you want backup power buy a used generator. If you have natural or propane gas available even better for a generator for it as you don’t have to worry about storing/spoiling the fuel.
Fantastic feedback: what a great forum. Already got a few pair of “Crocs” [those are shoes] and twin “Jaguars” [by Schwinn].
Thanks for all the advice on gas-powered cars. We’ll gladly pass on the hybrids.
Given the fact that our house uses very little power, and that we wouldn’t be driving this new car very often or very far [two or three times a week, for two or three miles], I’m still wondering whether a golf-cart class of vehicle wouldn’t fit the bill, combining the minimal mobility we need with backup power during hurricanes. I’ve got bad memories of noisy generators running for two weeks after Hurricane Andrew.
Maybe you should look into a Prius. They are the most reliable Toyota.
I wouldn’t count on much in the way of backup power, small batteries in those things. My vote? A base Corolla, but I’d get the AC.
I’m the same age as you
Here’s a few pointers I’ve learned over the years:
- Buy a reliable brand. Of course you know Toyota is a good choice.
- Buy one of the last years of a particular generation. I had really good luck with the '81, '85 and '88 Accords. I now have an '06 Matrix, second to the last year of its generation.
- Buy a used car with less than 10K miles. You save on the initial depreciation, early problems should be fixed by then and the powertrain will be OK even if it has had no more maintenance than one oil change.
Not really sure where you live, but if you could find someway to make them legal to drive, since you won’t be doing it much:
there’s several places that sell these, but that’s one of the local places for me.
Keep the salt off of it and invest in a carport and follow a good maintenence scheduleand make sure to change the colant periodically-Kevin
If you live in a warm climate. consider buying a mid 80’s Honda CH150 or CH250 motor scooter. Or a Honda Helix. If you want durability, economy, high gas mileage, ease of repair, and smooth easy transportation, they can’t be beat. Not useful in cold or heavy rain, but perfect for 5 to 20 mile travel. For long trips (around the country) rent a car.
You need a bicycle, not a car.
Driving a modern car a few miles at a time, a few times per week, is the worst thing you can do to it.
You don’t need a car. Don’t buy one.
Why is it bad to drive a modern car infrequently?
Infrequently is not so much a problem as short distance. Once a week driving is not a problem, but only a mile or two is. Car engines produce water vapor as a product of combustion, this condenses on cold metal engine parts and contaminates the oil. If you drive the car enough to fully warm up the engine the water gets driven off by heat, but this take a good 10 or 20 mile drive. Also, something like 80% of engine wear is taking place in the first minute or two after starting. Short trips mean more wear and tear on the engine over time than someone taking longer trips.