What does a cheap "Beater car" cost in your area?

The talk about battery prices made me start thinking, Back in the good 'ol days, or about 20 years ago you could buy a running driving, halfway decent looking car in my area for about 1000-1500 bucks, nothing special mind you, just decent basic transport but in good shape. You could at that time also spend as little as 3 to 5 hundred dollars and get a running driving, true beater car.

Now it seems around here the rock bottom cheapest you can buy a running driving roadworthy car is 800 dollars, and thats on a good day. Overall you better have 1200 to spend minimum if you want something that might run for more than a month. To buy a decent looking used vehicle, you better have at least 2200 bucks. I remember when 3000 bucks would buy you a really nice used car.

For example in 1995 I bought a 1985 ford ltd midsized fox body station wagon with 3.8 all power, with clean interior with 68k miles for 750 dollars, it had left rear side damage but it was only cosmetic, I drove it for 40k miles and then sold it for 700 bucks.

In 1996 i bought a 1987 Ranger with 2.9l 5 speed with 107k miles in good shape for 1300 dollars. i drove it for 20k miles. Traded it for an 86 5.0 mustang.

In 1995 I bought a 1987 Dodge caravan cargo van, 2.5 auto with 88k miles for 1500? It was in really nice shape.

In 1998 I bought a 1990 escort gt in great shape for 1800 bucks and it had 72k miles. It was cherry.

I know we make more money now, but we don’t make THAT much more…

My last two acquisitions, vehicle wise, were a 1996 Honda Civic for the low-low price of $1200, and that was last Saturday. It runs and drives perfectly and the interior is mint, but the exterior cosmetics leave a lot to be desired. It appears the previous owner didn’t realize how big this subcompact really was and kept running it into things. All four corners of the car have been dented and/or scraped, and the hood is buckled. I promptly replaced a broken taillight lens and the timing belt/water pump/tensioner and did a secondary ignition tuneup and valve lash adjustment. Body work is back-burnered for the time being since the car is already doing a superb job of doing what I expected of it: getting 30+ mpg. Vehicle I bought before that was a rust-free 1998 Ford F-150 Super Cab with over 200K miles for $900. It needed about $300 worth of parts to put it back on the road. That was a year and a half ago. The last $500 car I bought was a 1995 Ford Windstar with rusted out brake lines. That was about three years ago. I used it for a daily driver for a little over two years (after replacing all the brake lines, of course) before giving it to a needy family. They still drive it.

It all depends on who you bought it from. If from a legit dealer, each state has certain requirements that will definitely make the car more expensive. You want a beater, fine. But if inspect able in your state, it will cost more. For one thing, in our state, it can’t be too badly rusted. That is definitely more expensive then the rust buckets of old.


Here in Indiana, just about anything goes, we actually desperately need saftey inspections. You would not believe some of the stuff on the roads here.

My question is how cheap can you get on the road? You can still find the 500 dollar car here, however it is usually needing something to make it half way drivable.

A customer overheated his 1994 Pontiac Sunbird with 122,000 miles to the point of damaging the cylinder head. I bought the car from him for $100, installed a rebuilt head, spent an afternoon with my kids detailing the car and put it on craigslist for $2000. Sold it the next day for $1750.

So I guess you can still get a beater car for $1750.

In that case, here is the first place I would look around here.

I haven’t bought a beater in about 20 years, but the last 2 I bought were $100 and $275 respectively. The $100 car was a 1979 Chrysler Newport, which had some collision damage to the front and some electrical issues caused by an incompetent aftermarket stereo install. The powertrain was solid though and I drove it for years until it got rusty enough that I got rid of it. I got $75 for it from a junkyard. The $275 car was a 1980 New Yorker, similar to the last car. It was a coworker’s grandfather’s car and it had been sitting for about a year. Bought a battery and it fired right up. I drove it for about 6 years with little trouble. It was one of my favorite cars.

Nowadays I think you’d be lucky to find something that does the basics–runs, stops, steers, for $1,000.

Here an older car in good running condition fetches $700-$800, $1200 with a clean body, but the air may not work. I’ve sold off 3 cars for this amount and all would have passed a safety inspection.

If you are looking for a beater, not all windows need to wind down, and the cruise may not work, and the air may be out, and the radio may not work…

My first ride (a beat up moped, 92’ RAZZ) was $350, needed a little work but repairs were cheap

My first four wheel ride (that I still have a 92’ GMC C1500 V6 was $850, needed some work but again all is (almost) well with it.

As for my Mom’s car can’t remember price, was around $700 I think

In Denver and many other areas, the key is will it pass an emissions test…$1500 to $2500 if it will, depending on model…Emissions tests can be had on demand, so when selling a car, I always go and get a fresh one the the buyer can use to register the car. It makes the sale much easier .

An amazing number of cars go to the shredder because the CEL is on…No other problems…Nobody can fix some of this stuff economically…or any other way…

The affordable beater car died with the Cash for clunkers debacle. My neighbor (a GM mechanic) would come home almost in tears with the stories about the nice cars and minivans he had to destroy. Beaters immediately jumped a couple of thousand dollars in our area. All cars the working poor and single mothers could afford. Another Obama disaster.


I agree that cash for clunkers killed many good cars and trucks and also raised prices. I guess the market has never caught up with the 690,000 cars destroyed.

The thing that got me with CFC is that you could trade in a vehicle that got bad gas mileage and get the credit to buy something else that got only slightly better gas mileage, but was still a gas guzzler.

And the Cash for “clunkers” was a misnomer, actually it was cash for gas guzzlers.

That program certainly did do a number on the used car market. Increasing gas prices has also driven up the prices of anything that gets decent fuel economy. This may be why Edmunds says the “true market value” of the Civic I just bought is nearly triple what I paid for it (and probably because it’s a Honda and this is Edmunds we are talking about).

Probably my favorite Cash for Clunkers story is the one about the guy with more money than common sense whose environmental conscience hit him hard enough to want to utilize the program. He decided to scrap his current gas guzzler ride, a two year old Cadillac Escalade, and replace it with a Prius. The dealership offered him enough trade-in value to cover the cost of the Prius, but he refused, saying he would take the tax credit instead because he didn’t want that gas guzzler polluting the Earth any more than it already had. Makes sense: reduce pollution by ordering manufacture of a vehicle, using it for a tenth of its usable life, scrap it, and order manufacture of another vehicle.

I still wonder how many people that bought into that CFC hated their tiny cars after they got out of their trucks/SUVs.

I’m sure more than a few people went out and bought a $500 beater car and got their tax credit on a new vehicle. Hell, why not? If you were in the market for a new car, but didn’t want to really give up your current ride, scour craiglist for a beater, but it, trade it in and get your new car

A guy at work kept telling me to take advantage of that program when I still had my Civic. I told him my car was too good on gas to qualify for that, or I would have taken advantage of it. Then again, the car I bought gets worse MPG than my Civic, but I don’t really care; at less than 4k miles per year, MPG isn’t a top priority for me

Here’s something to consider

I heard this on NPR, by the way

Auto manufacturers are no longer producing more models than they can sell. They are only producing what they estimate will easily sell. I’m assuming the number crunchers were involved.

So this means there aren’t entire lots of unsold vehicles which must be sold off at great discounts to make room for the new models.

That apparently affects the price of new and used cars.

@db4690 Car manufacturers have always restricted car production to balance the costs between inventory that must be discounted and the cost to idle production reduce the pipeline. An idled factory cost money to just sit and employees cost money to lay off.

Its also cheaper to pay overtime than add another shift until the overtime starts to cause quality issues, then you hire to add a shift, with all those issues (pee in this cup, please). Guys called “production control schedulers” get gray hair over these kinds of issues.

And this WILL increase the cost of used cars since new ones won’t be sold at deep discounts.


Let me add something

On that same radio segment, it was also stated that the manufacturers are straight out producing LESS cars than in the past.

That will definitely affect the price of ALL cars, new and used, creampuff and beater.

I would have said $500 to 1000, but on Saturday morning, on one of those call in auction radio shows, a guy had a 95 Buick with over 100K he said in good shape but wanted over $3000 for it.

I’ve never bought a beater, but I’ve driven cars that became beaters while I owned them.

One was a 1985 Buick Skyhawk with about 35,000 miles my mother bought used in 1990 for $3,800. It was in pretty good shape when she bought it, but by the time I was done with it years later, it was a heap.

Now I’m driving a 1998 Honda Civic that has definitely become a beater. According to kbb.com it’s worth less than $1,000, but I just spent about $1,700 for a new clutch and to fix a bunch of little oil leaks, including the oil pan. Why do I put that kind of money into a beater? Because I know if I were to go out and spend $1,000 on a new car, I’d either have a car that is in far worse shape or I’d have car payments to deal with.

When you live in Florida, you only have to worry about the sun and sea air damaging your paint job and rusting your car from the top down. Structural rust is usually not an issue unless the car started its life up north. In fact, my 1998 Civic still has its original muffler and exhaust pipe.