• Buying Guides

What is a Beater Car?

By Autolist Staff | April 25, 2019

If you're looking for a vehicle and on a strict 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 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 from point A to B.

What Is a Beater Car?

A beater car is a vehicle that you run into the ground. They are typically older, high-mileage cars that still run well. They may not look pretty, but they do what they were made to do. A beater car may have cosmetic issues or minor malfunctions, but if you maintain them properly, they can provide years of service. On average, beaters cost around $500 to $2,000.

Beater Benefits

Saving money is the most apparent 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 buy a reliable vehicle without breaking the bank. Beaters are great because you can typically pay for them up front in cash. If you don't want to have a monthly car payment to worry about, buying a beater car is the logical choice.

Beyond improving your financial situation, driving a beater gives you peace of mind. Dents and dings are no big deal, and if the car has a problem that's not worth fixing, you can buy a new beater. While driving a nice car like a brand new Mercedes or Lexus may be enjoyable, you're probably going to be paranoid parking in a crowded lot.

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 save you thousands of dollars in car insurance expenses.

Beaters have also already gone through their depreciation phase. 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. You may even be able to resell your beater for close to what you paid for it.

Compared to a newer car, an old car will typically use cheaper gas. Many modern vehicles require premium gas, and the cost of filling your tank can 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 1990s 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.

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 resale value. 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 the Right Beater

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 well-maintained can last as long as 200,000 miles (or even more). If the vehicle in question has 200,000 miles on it, you should 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. 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 vehicle 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 put the word out on social media that you're on the hunt for a beater.

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 more substantial than Craigslist and Cargurus, giving you fast and easy access to the best deals in the country.

Buying a beater can be a gamble, but 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.