You may have run across the term “beater car” in the past when you were looking for a new vehicle or talking to friends and family when they were doing the same task. If you weren’t entirely sure just what the term means, we’re here to help explain not just what a beater car is, but why you may want to get one for yourself.
Beater Car Basics
So what is a beater car? That’s the slang term applied to a versatile, reliable, and functional vehicle that gets the job done. While a brand new car off the lot might be the dream, it can’t always be the reality. Sometimes it shouldn’t be, either. If you don’t have the budget for a new car right now or your needs require a car that’s going to be driven hard, carry some heavy loads, or traverse rough and dirty terrain, a beater could be a great alternative.
Strictly speaking, a beater car isn’t just a used car, it’s a car you drive into the ground. It’s a workhorse and you need it to be reliable for as long as it’s physically capable of being that way.
How Can You Recognize a Beater Car?
There’s no one brand or model of beater car, but they do have common characteristics. For one, this is a car you get at a great price. It’s going to be more than a few years old. This is the kind of car you can pick up in a cash deal because it’s likely just a few thousand dollars at most. In fact, if you’re looking at over something in the neighborhood of $2000 it better be a real gem of a car because that’s pretty steep for a beater.
While $2000 may seem extremely low and put some fear in you, remember that the auto industry has been making exceptional cars for decades now. The Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car in history and you should be able to find a solid early 2000s model easily in that price range. High miles? Maybe. But a solid body and an engine that won’t give you too much trouble.
The big benefit here? You’re not going to be making payments, so your monthly budget won’t have to take that into account. Insurance and gas are going to be your main expenses.
A good beater car has likely hit that depreciation point already, so you’re not buying this as an investment or probably not as something you’re looking to turn over down the road.
Beater Car Benefits
Driving is meant to be fun, it really is. Yes, it has a very serious side and you need to be smart and conscientious, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy hitting the open road. A beater car is great for that. Unlike a brand new car, a beater isn’t going to make you stress over every mud puddle and pothole you hit. If a pebble chips the paint or you get a scratch, it’ll fit in with all the rest. This is a pure driving experience and is oddly stress-free because of it.
We’ve already addressed the price benefits to a beater, it’s cheaper upfront than a new car but a beater car is also cheaper on insurance. A low-cost beater only requires minimum coverage, so that’s a low cost monthly expense for you. Newer, more expensive cars will require costlier full coverage.
You can also potentially save a few dollars at the gas pump with a beater car compared to a new car as well. Some newer car engines are designed specifically for premium gas. That’s not going to be an issue with your beater car, and regular gas will get the job done. It may not mean much for one single fill up, but over the course of a year that can be a few hundred dollars.
You will also find a beater car is potentially cheaper on maintenance costs because you’re not going to care about those small dents and scratches. The point of a beater is first and foremost to save money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Cars are extremely expensive, so if you can get a functional machine at a low cost, go for it.
If the time comes and you do want to sell your beater car down the road, that lack of depreciation means that it’s entirely possible you can sell it for what you paid for it again, so long as it’s still in the same running condition. Try to do that with a new car.
Things To Be Watch Out For With a Beater Car
Remember when we said a beater car and a used car are not exactly the same? That’s a key point. A beater is used, sure, but it’s also solid. A good beater needs to run well despite its age or condition because that’s why you’re buying it.
That doesn’t mean your beater car is going to be a hidden gem. It may have some rust spots, it may need some upkeep and maintenance, but you need to make sure you have all that accounted for before you buy it. It’s not worth getting into it if it needs a ton of repairs to make it roadworthy. Tires worn a little thin and rusty trim are one thing, but if it can’t pass inspection to be road-worthy then all the money it was meant to save for you is out of your pocket again.
If you see a car that seems too good to be true, use a critical eye. While $2000 is a reasonable price for a beater, be wary of those newer cars that are being sold for around $500. A beater car isn’t a beauty queen, but it runs and you’re paying for that. A really lower price should make you extra cautious. The car may have more wrong under the hood than is worth dealing with. If you’re not skilled enough to diagnose some problems after a test drive and let’s face it, we’re not all mechanics, pass up the “too good to be true” options and go for the more reasonable ones.
Have access to the Kelley Blue Book value so you can compare what the seller is asking against what the market says it’s worth. If the seller’s value is significantly lower than the Blue Book, ask them to explain why. If there’s no good reason, that could be a red flag.
Watch out for ads that might tip you off about problems right off the bat. Sites like Craigslist are pretty common places to find a beater car, but they can also be a risky proposition. Industry experts will tell you to watch out for those really well-written and detailed ads. The nicer they make the car sound, the more likely it is you’re looking at a problem. People selling legit beaters tend to just say things like “2005 Ford Taurus, runs good, $1000.” Those with something to hide will go into great detail about the car and its features as a way to distract from what may be wrong. Go with your gut after making contact with the seller.
The basic things you want to check on your potential beater car are mileage and history. If the car has 500,000 miles on it, you may want to stay away. A car can reasonably be expected to make it to 200,000 miles and beyond if it’s well cared for. But once it crosses that 200,000 threshold, the chance for problems drastically increases, so be aware.
Knowing the history of a car is also helpful. Ideally, you want a car that had one previous owner. Fewer owners means fewer chances someone took poor care of the car and that increases the odds that it will last for the long haul.
Anyone driving a beater car needs to be aware that this is not a premium automobile. You’re going to have to be OK with some limited functionality. Things like your A/C not working is not uncommon, as well as tears in the upholstery, maybe washer fluid that squirts out haphazardly, and so on. As long as it’s still roadworthy though, and still street legal, you can overlook the non-essential functions.
Is a Beater Car Worth It?
If you’re from the school of thought that the point of a car is to get from Point A to Point B, then a beater car is more than worth it. At a cost of visual appeal and some non-essential functionality you can get a reliable car for thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars less than what you’ll invest in a new vehicle. There are definitely a lot of upsides to setting your sights on a beater car.
Having a strict budget and would like to buy a car? A beater car can be the best for you! In this article, you will find everything you need to know about beater cars starting with what is a beater car? Why should I buy a beater car? What are the benefits of beater cars? And much more!
What is A Beater Car?
A Beater car is an old, or high mileage car that is fully functioning and legal to drive. Most importantly, Beater cars are cheap, and their price range from $500-$2,000.
Beater cars are suitable for people who are not planning to keep their cars forever, do not really care about how luxury the car is, and their main goal is to get from point A to point B.
Tons of Benefits for Beater Cars
Besides being cheap, there are many benefits for beater cars that make you really want to get one. Here are 7 benefits for why to buy a beater car:
- No worry about monthly payments: when you buy a beater car, you only pay a one-time low price, most of the timeless than $2000. With that, you will not be worried about using up all your paycheck for the monthly car payment.
- Less stress about maintenance: what is cool about beater cars is that you will not feel stressed if you see a “check engine” or other maintenance problems in your vehicle dashboard. You can simply assess the value of fixing the vehicle problem, is it worth it? Or just sell it and get a new beater!!
- You can park anywhere: you will no longer worry about getting the car hit by a shopping cart or bump into anything! The value of beater cars makes it very suitable for newly licensed teens whom families are worried about their SUV!
- Lower insurance price: cars with a price greater than $5,000 will require full coverage insurance, which can be three times more than what you can use for your beater car!
- Cheaper gas: usually, older cars do not require the use of premium gas and you can fill your tank with a much cheaper gas!
- No drop-in car value: cars price drops by 20-30% right after you drive your car off the dealer parking lot. With beater cars, the car already passed the price drop issue and you can sometimes sell it with a very similar price to what you bought it with.
- Fits your financial strategy: whether if you do not have the initial budget or you are a frugal, beater cars can be a perfect fit for your financial strategy. And as you noticed from the benefits mentioned above, beater cars are money savers from all aspects!
With all the benefits mentioned above, you might be thinking now, why do not all people just buy a beater car? Simply, it is different from person to person based on their personal needs/goals. You need to keep in mind that beater cars might not be your best choice if:
- You care about how pretty the car looks.
- You would like a 100% reliable car.
- You want a one family car
- You expect to have everything functioning just perfect in your car
Which beater car should I buy?
if you decided to go with a beater car, you want to be very careful when selecting and maintaining your beater car. Even though you think beater cars do not cost much, if you do not follow the steps below, you might fall into big scams and end up paying a lot more.
Here are our suggested points to keep in mind when looking for a beater car:
- Check the car mileage: experts say that cars can run up to 200,000 miles. Although some cars might not make it to 180,000 miles while others can run up to 250,000 miles, you do need to also consider the other points below to decide on the beater car you want to buy.
- When is it worth fixing? You need to carefully assess is it worth fixing any issue in the beater car that you own? Or does it make more sense to simply buy a new one?
- Kelly Blue Book Value: Kelly Blue Book is a source that will tell you what a reasonable price for the beater car you are planning to buy. With this information, you can tell/put red flags at deals posted online. For example, if a car is posted to be sold for a very low price compared to Kelley Blue Book, then this might mean a scam, or the car has major issues.
- Vehicle ownership history: looking at the history of ownership will give you an idea about how many people owned it? The less the better, which means the car was taken care of by owners who loved it and maintained it. The more owners can mean that the vehicle had many issues that made people tired of fixing and decided to get rid of.
- Trustworthy used car sellers: best scenario if you can buy a beater car from a friend or a family member. This might not be the case most of the time, however. Getting more details about the owners and making sure they are trustworthy can be very crucial in used cars purchase deals. Ask them for example, why are they selling the car? Some convincing answers could be like traveling overseas, buying a brand-new car etc.
- Checked by your own mechanic: Having a third-party mechanic can help you if you do not have good experience with the car industry and can not really tell if there are major issues with your new beater car. They can detect suspicious issues that can save you lots of money along the road.
- What is your goal? When you look for a beater car, you need to keep in mind what is your big goal of buying this car. For example, buying a beater car to use it in winter instead of scratching your expensive car or ruining it can have different shop search as compared to simply looking for a cheap car. If you want it for winter, you want to look for beater cars that function properly in winter.
17 best beaters cars less than $5000
Cool, this all makes sense! But which car should you be looking for? Is there specific car makes and models that tend to earn a solid reputation over the years than others?
Experts listed many beater cars under $5,000:
- Chevy Cavalier
- Ford Focus 2008-2011
- Honda Odyssey
- Nissan Versa 2007-2011
- Ford Escape 2001-2007
- Fiat 500, 2008-2015
- Scion tC, 2005-2010
- Buick LeSabre
- Jeep Cherokee
- Nissan Xterra 1999-2004
- Subaru Outback 2005-2009
- Nissan Altima
- Honda Accord
- Toyota Camry – 2002-2006
- Toyota Sienna 2004-2010
- Toyota Corolla
- Honda Civic 2006-2010
Beater Car shopping checklist
Whether you decided to buy your beater car from Autolist, Cargurus or Craigslist, here is the beater car shopping checklist suggested for you:
- Take your time: You need to be very patient when shopping for a beater car of even any used car. Patience is a key! Never think of urgency. It is better to pay for Lyft or Uber or even carpool than rushing your beater car shopping.
- Where to find beater cars: Beater cars can be listed on many websites. For example Autolist can be a good source to look for beater cars because it does not only give you what is out there for beater cars, but it also provides you with detailed vehicle information like CarFax. Plus, it is fast, user friendly and very easy to access.
You can even check available ads or simply put on social media that you are looking for a beater car and friends/family can help.
- Check the Vin Number: The Vin or Vehicle Identification Number is a 17 characters long number where you can look up information about safety issues.
- Beater car cost: as mentioned before, compare the listed price to what Kelly Blue Book is considering the reasonable price for this specific vehicle. It can be a gamble if you just go with the cheapest price.
- Check the car auto history report: Many resources can provide you with history details about your beater vehicle. For example, Experian's AutoCheck Report can give you information like:
- Major damages
- Damage linked to fire
- Was it rebuilt?
- Was it ever abandoned?
- Does it have a grey market record?
- Is there a salvage auction record?
- Was it associated with a NHTSA crash?
- Was there ever a frame or structural damage?
- Is there any hail damage?
- Was there any junk scraping?
- Was there a manufacture buyback?
- Is there water damage?
Another useful resource is the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). NMVTIS can give you more details from important sources like:
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Insurance providers
- Auto recyclers
- Your third-party mechanic: As mentioned previously, having your own mechanic is very crucial and can help save your money and get you the best beater car suitable for you.
- State inspection: insist on a vehicle state inspection. If the inspection was not done for any reason, make sure to put at as a condition of sale. This way, you save yourself lots of time, effort and probably money getting your state inspection done.
- Drive test: experts say that it will not take a whole lot of time to do a driving test with the beater car. They also mentioned that if the drive test took you less than 20 min, then it might not be enough, and you might be missing a lot of things to check. Some of the things you will be looking for when doing the driving test include:
- How does it feel when driving the beater car?
- Is there any funky noise?
- Do all lights work?
- Do windshield wipers work?
- Does the wiper fluid work?
- Request a spare key: requesting a spare key comes very handy especially for keys that have lock/unlock function that can cost between $100 and $300.
Basic Fixes for beater cars you can do
There are many simple fixes that you can perform to your beater car to maintain its function and help long-lasting beater cars. Some of them are fixes, while some are more tips and tricks:
- Keep a safety kit: by now, you already know that beater cars are not the most reliable car and it is a great idea to keep a safety road kit in the car.
- Radio not working: Many people installed their own stereo in beater cars with sucky radio. It can cost a couple of hundreds but is not as pricy as fixing the car’s radio.
- Missing or torn floor mats: If you bought a beater car and it doesn’t have the mats or the mats are torn, you could simply buy customized floor mats.
- No heat: some of the beater cars might have no heat and this is very critical in winter. A good tip from experts was to use a seat heater.
- Bad smell: if your beater car does not smell as pleasing as you want, you can buy the Ionic air purifier although lots of beater cars don’t have this issue.
- Steering wheel is worn: if you are too worried about the look of your beater car’s steering wheel, there are universal steering wheel covers that can be used to enhance the overall look of your car steering wheel.
Beater cars are cheap (~$500-$2000) high mileage or old cars that can function and run just fine. They are suitable for people who do not worry much about how pretty the car is, but their goal is to get from point A to point B. If you decided to buy a beater car, take your time, do not run after extremely low prices, make sure to have a driving test and most importantly, have your own third-party mechanic.