What cars make good beaters?


What cars make good beaters?,i.e. Toyotas, Hondas, Saturns??..What years? Is it only manual transmission cars that make good beaters? What’s the price range for a good beater? I live in New Jersey…and so used cars aren’t that cheap here.


Any car can be a beater. It is the condition and asking price that seals the deal. For a ‘desirable’ beater (meaning one I’d put my $3000 or less on) would be a car that was pretty common, so parts are available, and fairly easy to work on. The first things I generally check for is ease of reaching general maintenance items, like spark plugs and filters. And if it looks like it would need special tools or procedures to do simple tasks, like water pumps. I generally rule out most small cars with special engines or V6’s. These can be a pain to work on and have expensive parts. For instance, I had a 1990 Mazda Protege with the 1.6L SOHC engine. Parts were fairly cheap and it was easier to work on, compared to the DOHC 2.0L version. The DOHC was jammed in there so tight, a lot of maintenance required undoing motor mounts to shift the engine, like CV joints and Timing belt.

Also, stay away from anything from the years 1976 to 1985. These cars had really bad emissions systems that made for bad reliability. If the beater has had these systems professionally disabled, I might consider it. And really question anything from 1985 to 1993. If it had EFI, the computers are really simple, and the ODB systems were not as helpful as they could have been. And stay away from 1994 to 1995. These years were the transition to ODB-II, and some things got really weird for the ODB systems until 1996. Some 1994 GM models required special code readers that neither ODB-II readers can’t read, and ODB-I techniques do not work on.


And stay away from 1994 to 1995. These years were the transition to ODB-II, and some things got really weird for the ODB systems until 1996. Some 1994 GM models required special code readers that neither ODB-II readers can’t read, and ODB-I techniques do not work on.

Yep, I used to have a 1995 Chevy S-10 that fell into this category. The PCM data port was designed for an OBD-II scanner, but the system was actually OBD-I and so these scanners were useless. Purely by luck I figured out which two terminals to jump together for the ignition-flashing-CEL method.


My 87 Accord is a manual and it’s frame is rusted beyond repair. Probably isn’t safe to be driving around. But it’s reliable. I like my beater.


I think Chevy Cavaliers make great beaters, but maybe some of the mechanics here would disagree?

Reason I think they are good is that you can get them dirt cheap (lots in the $500-1000 range), parts are easy to find and are cheap, a lot of stuff is easy to access, and they aren’t even that ugly. My little brother got a 97 Cavalier for $1000 and hasn’t had to do a thing to it except oil changes, and he’s had it now for almost a year.

Plus, I would rather buy a beater car for cheap (i.e. $500) and put $2000 into it, than buy one for $2500 and cross my fingers and hope nothing goes wrong. Besides, that $2000 you put into it are parts/repairs you hopefully won’t have to do again, or for a very long time. So in a way, the $2000 wasn’t given away, it was “invested” (haha) in your vehicle. That’s how I look at it anyway.


I’ve got an '89 Accord Automatic with 184,500 miles and it’s got some rust but it isn’t too bad yet. But it’s extremely reliable and the parts are easy to find. I’d definitely recommend one of these as a beater! :wink:


I would say that any vehicle that gracefully turns into a beater. By that I mean something that you can expect to be working on one or two things at a time rather than having say 100k of semi-reliable service and then everything tanks. I would stay away from anything that has one or more turbos.

Look for something that hasn’t changed much in many years. Also look for manual everything; door locks, windows, transmission, et cetera. Basically a KISS car (Keep It Simple Stupid). If it is debatable to people when the car is a beater or not as it ages, you probably have a pretty good choice.

My beater (No baby, you’re not a beater. You’re as beautiful as the day you were manufactured.) is a 99 Ranger base model. I plan of keeping her until the bed is made of plywood.


For what kind of driving?


I have three Ford Tauruses, 2 1997’s and one 1996. Purchase prices eranged from $800 to $1100. Bought all three at around 130k miles. Bought a 1987 Bonneville last month for $200.00. It has 45,000 miles on it. Bought a 1992 Dodge B350 van two years ago for $1200 with 148k miles. These have been good beaters. I drive one of the Tauruses, my wife drives the other, and my kids drive the other vehicles. They just keep going and going (my daily commute is 130 miloes round trip). Here is the method I follow when buyiong these cars:


A beater is a vehicle that just keeps running with only a minimal amount of attention. My brother had a construction company way back in the sixties. He used a 1956 Chevy stovebolt 6, power nothing, to go around the jobsite, sparing his own T Bird. This thing, like the Battery Bunny, just kept going.

Some ingredienst for a Beater:

  1. Simple construction, rear drive preferred
  2. Good rust protection, especially if the car has no frame
  3. Easy availablility of parts from after market or “recycling yards”.
  4. A minimum of electric, electronic gear.

A favorite beater was the rear drive 2 door Chevy Nova of the sixties and seventites. A totally basic car that went forever. My neighbor liked them so well he restored one and dropped a small block souped up V8 in it.

Older Toyota Corollas, Honda Civics, Mazda GLCs and 323s, Toyota Tercels, etc. are good beaters.


H-1 depends on your budget.


Old Toyota pickups make good beaters. The 22RE engines, the drivetrains, and the chassis are virtually indestructable and when something needs fixing it’s easy and affordable. Full frames are forever, longitudinal engine mounting with rear wheel drive makes engine and drivetrain work easier and shocks instead of struts are a real plus…and there are no CV joints!


An old Acura Integra (1990-1993)is nearly indestructable even when abused, is affordable and is definitely ready for beater status. Also probably has the nicest interior you’re going to find on an inexpensive beater. I could never tolerate the atrocity that is an early 90’s American car and its playskool interior.


Oh yeah, +1 on the Toyota Pickup. Probably the most bulletproof truck ever to travel the face of the earth.


Mine were. My '89 was still a reliable daily driver when I gave it to my daughter with 295,000 miles…and she drove it daily until it got hit and totalled at 338,000 miles. I miss my truck.


It depends on what you mean by beater. Some people think a beater is anything that’s not a new flashy car-- I think it’s something you pick up for less than about $750 or so with an aim of keeping your transportation costs to a bare minimum.

In my definition, I think domestic cars are definitely the way to go-- any car in that price range IS going to have a fair amount wrong with it and that is going to go wrong with it. The difference is that parts for older domestic cars are incredibly cheap new and widely available in salvage yards, whereas parts for older imported cars tend to be very expensive new and can even be pretty pricey used. Repair costs in general are also generally lower for older domestic cars and, honestly, most of the plain old cars Detroit built from about the late 80’s on were close enough to their Japanese equivalents in reliability that at this point the condition of the individual example you’re looking at is far more important than the specific model.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the transmission-- it’s true that an old automatic is much more likely to have problems with the transmission itself, but a clutch can go out at any time on a beater with an unknown history. And realistically, if we’re talking about a car in the beater price range, even a clutch replacement will usually end up exceeding the replacement value and will “total” your wreck just as surely as a blown automatic transmission. I prefer a manual due to slightly better mileage and because they’re more fun to drive, but this would be irrelevant to the beater philosophy of the cheapest transportation possible.

My all-time favorite beater was a 1988 Ford Taurus MT5, which had the 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual. This was a cushy car that got 30+ MPG and had very cheap and infrequent repairs. I’m also partial to the 1986-1992 GM Celebrity/Century/Cierra/6000’s with the very reliable fuel injected 2.8L V6.