What is a Beater Car?
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What is a Beater Car?

By Melissa Spicer | October 9, 2021

Beater cars are usually older, high-mileage vehicles that still run. And although they may be a bit ugly to look at, they do the job of transporting their occupants from point A to point B, despite their cosmetic issues or minor malfunctions.

When properly maintained, it is not unheard of for a beater car to last for years and years. Beater cars range in price from $500 to $2,000, but might be more or less, depending on several factors.

A beater car has little intrinsic value and while not "easy on the eyes," a beater car is usually a smart choice for high-mileage commutes and general, everyday driving. Beater cars are seldom pretty, but they get "the job" done when it comes to transporting you and yours from here to there.

Some folks refer to their beater cars as their "daily drivers," which are cars that they use just for the trip to and from work, or even in the course of work, such as delivering food.

Getting Around On the Cheap

If you're shopping for a vehicle on a budget, you may want to look into a beater car. While there are plenty of reasons to prefer a brand new car, a solid beater can be an ideal option and totally worth it if you find the right one. Driving a beater may not feel as luxurious as driving a newer car, but the cheap price point lets you save money while still ensuring that you're able to get where you're going.

Beater Benefits

Saving money is the most obvious reason to shop for a beater car. Whether you have limited funds available or you're just trying to be a bit more frugal, you can absolutely buy a reliable car without breaking the bank. Beaters are great because you can typically pay for them upfront in cash. If you don't want to have a monthly car payment to worry about, buying a beater car is the logical choice. In fact, some drivers buy beater cars for everyday driving and put the money they'd ordinarily spend in savings so that they can afford their dream cars later on down the road.

Peace of Mind

Beyond improving your personal finances, driving a beater car gives you peace of mind. You don't have to worry about messing up your beater's paint job, and dents and dings are no big deal. If your beater car has a problem that's not worth fixing, you can simply buy a new beater. While driving a nice car like a brand new Mercedes, BMW or Lexus may be enjoyable, you're probably going to be paranoid about parking in a crowded lot. Most folks do not have that same type of affinity for their beater cars, so they don't have to be overly cautious with them.

Insurance Savings

Another beater car advantage is that you're able to get the minimum required insurance coverage, saving you even more money. If your car costs more than $5,000, you're going to need full coverage vehicle insurance, which can cost as much as three times more than minimum coverage. Driving a beater can actually save you thousands of dollars in car insurance expenses. That makes the low price of the beater car even more appealing. And because you're not financing your beater car purchase, you don't have to worry bout the bank or finance company demanding that you carry full coverage (collision and comprehensive) insurance on your purchase. With a beater car, you just need to make sure you meet your state's minimum insurance requirements (and that you also choose a sufficient level of coverage to hedge against potential loss).

No Depreciation Worries

Beaters have also already gone through their depreciation phase, so you know the car value of your beater is going nowhere soon. Their odometers may have even "rolled over" already. They say that a car loses 20 to 30 percent of its value as soon as you drive it off the lot. Older cars have already diminished in value over the years, so they're not going to lose much value during your ownership period. In fact, you may even be able to resell your beater for close to what you paid for it. It's hard to justify pricing a car for less than $500, even if you sell it for scrap at a local junkyard.

Lower Operational and Maintenance Costs

Compared to a newer car, an old car will typically use cheaper gas. Many modern vehicles sometimes require premium gas, and the cost of filling your tank can really add up over time. Driving an old beater lets you reduce fuel costs, and that means more money in your pocket. In addition to cheaper gas, beaters typically have cheaper parts. Cars from the 90s and 2000s have parts that are generally readily available, so if your check engine light comes on, you shouldn't have to worry about a massive bill from your mechanic.

Tax Savings

Finally, if you live in an area that requires you to pay vehicle taxes, you're going to save money by driving a car with a lower Blue Book value. Taxes are generally assessed based on the value of the car, so a beater car with a low book value is going to be relatively inexpensive from a tax standpoint. Again, beaters are just cheaper to own. It's not just the lower initial buying price that saves you cash — owning a new car is expensive, even after you've paid it off. Cheap cars keep your bills down.

Choosing a Good Beater Car

Not all beaters are equal. A beater can save you a whole lot of money, but it can also cost you a whole lot of money if you're not careful. First, check the mileage. A car that has been treated can last as long as 200,000 miles (or even more). If the vehicle in question has 200,000 miles on it, you should really only expect it to last for 50,000 miles or so, if you're lucky.

You'll also want to research the vehicle's ownership history by doing a car history report. The best beater cars have only had one owner. The reason why you want fewer owners is that if the vehicle has had multiple owners, there's a good chance that one or more of the owners didn't maintain it properly. A car that has been well-loved by one person is much less likely to run into issues in the future.

As you shop for a beater, be sure to compare the seller's asking price with the Kelley Blue Book value. If the asking price is significantly lower, make sure you find out why. While you might just be getting a great deal, usually if a price seems too good to be true, there's a reason.

Although it's not always possible, buying beaters from friends, family members, or even friends of friends is ideal. If you get a bad feeling from the seller, it's probably best to move along. Trust your instincts, and try to find a great deal from a seller who seems trustworthy. Ask why they're selling the vehicle. For example, if they're moving overseas or if they just purchased a brand new car, it makes sense that they would want to get rid of their beater. However, if they don't have a solid reason why they're selling the car, that's a red flag.

Before you buy a beater, be sure to have it checked out by a trusted mechanic. Even if the vehicle in question seems like a good car on paper and on the road, there's always a chance that there's a potential problem under the hood.

Finally, make sure you research the car's year, make, and model. Some vehicles are well-known for their dependability, while others may be notorious for being lemons. Spend some time reading about the vehicles on online forums. If you know any car enthusiasts, ask for their opinion.

Here are some of the best beater cars that have earned a solid reputation over the years:

Shop Smart

The key to finding an awesome deal on a beater car is to spend some time shopping around. As long as you don't need a vehicle immediately, time is your friend. Check local classified ads and junkyards, and put the word out on social media that you're on the hunt for a beater. Test drive the beaters that interest you and have a third-party mechanic check out your beater before you purchase it.

Autolist makes finding the perfect beater a breeze. You can browse multiple new and used vehicle websites and select cars that fit your preferred price point. Autolist lets you view a tremendous amount of listings with detailed information including the vehicle's Carfax report. Autolist's selection of used cars is larger than Craigslist and Cargurus, giving you fast and easy access to the best deals in the country.

Sure, buying a new vehicle is exciting and fun. And although purchasing a beater can be a gamble, you can drastically tip the odds in your favor by casting a wide net. As long as you proceed with caution, you can find a dependable vehicle for very little money. Do your homework, and stick with cars that have withstood the test of time. You may not end up with the prettiest ride, but you'll be able to get where you need to go on the cheap.