Author Topic: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car  (Read 5215 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« on: September 21, 2015, 01:41:40 PM »
So, obviously buying a new car is awful, but what about the variation in used cars? What do you think the long-term breakdown would be between buying a "newer" used car - up to 5 years old - vs a "beater" used car that's 15 or 20 years old? This would be for in-city living, not a lot of miles put on the car per year anyways. In either case, I would be buying the car outright with cash, so no payment.

Here's my current rationale for either choice:

"Newer" Car (in the $8000 range)

  • lot of life left
  • repairs less likely to be expensive, less likely to have catastrophic repairs
  • wouldn't be worried about it breaking down randomly
  • basically all the advantages of a new car, but with less depreciation and no payments

  • More expensive to buy
  • Insurance costs more
  • More worried about something happening to it

"Beater" Car (in the $1500-$2000 range

  • No depreciation. Literally none.
  • Insurance would be super cheap
  • If an unexpected catastrophic repair comes up that wouldn't be worth paying for, you could just sell it for scrap and get another car in the same price range without being out too much money
  • Could practice DIY car repair skills on it without worrying about screwing it up too bad (or being out a lot of money if you do screw it up)

  • Worry about it dying at any moment
  • Problems figuring out when to stop repairing it and just scrap it
  • Might be more expensive to keep scrapping cars and looking for new ones (both in terms of time and in terms of money) depending on how often they break down

Thoughts on this?


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2015, 01:44:59 PM »
Unless you have a hair-on-fire situation I don't see a reason to torture yourself trying to find and buy a $1500 car--especially if you need to depend on it to get to work, etc.

Get yourself a decent used car and drive it until it's worth $1500.


  • Stubble
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2015, 01:47:49 PM »
I agree with Jags. Unless you are in a dire situation go ahead and purchase a "newer" used car and drive it until the wheels fall off.  I've had the best luck buying 2-4 years old. Often the recalls will already be handled and any weird quirks with the car will be worked out.


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2015, 01:50:30 PM »
Do you have a garage?
Do you need the car to get around daily/weekly?
Do you enjoy fixing cars?

If you have a garage, don't need the car, and enjoy fixing cars, then buying a beater is probably a good choice. Otherwise, buy the more reliable used car.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2015, 01:55:28 PM »
I would buy a good used car and then drive it as long as possible.
No way would I buy a beater unless I knew how to fix it myself or had no other choice.

The whole purpose of a car is reliable transportation at the lowest amount of repair cost with low fuel cost and low maintenance cost.
A beater is nothing but a hassle and a perpetual problem unless you owned it already for ten years plus and still feel safe driving it, because you take good care of it.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2015, 01:56:18 PM »
We don't need the car for work - I take the train or ride to work, and my husband walks. We actually don't have a car at all right now. The car would basically be for getting to public-transit- or bike-inaccessible-places, to make getting out to the suburbs to see the inlaws easier, and other miscellaneous things like that. We'd use it once or twice a week, max.

However, we don't have a garage or anywhere to work on it really.


  • Bristles
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2015, 01:56:31 PM »
I believe it depends on your personality. I've always tended toward the beater end of the car-price range even though I'm not in a hair-on-fire situation. There are a few variables to keep in mind.

Do you enjoy working on cars? Lots of people try to convince me to get a newer car because then I wouldn't have to work on it myself as much (in theory) but I personally enjoy the satisfaction that comes from being able to fix things that break and for me that's more important than the slight bump in piece of mind that may come from a newer car. Granted, when you *have* to fix something because you need the car the next day it can get stressful, but those situations aren't nearly as common as some people make them out to be if you do preventative maintenance.

Do you have some flexibility in your car use? I'm able to deal with an occasional break down if I had to because of carpooling (I can ask one of my carpool mates to fill in on my usual driving day and I make it up later), being able to share a car with my wife on some days, having a motorcycle and bicycle at my disposal, etc.

EDIT: Since you posted that you don't really *need* the car on a daily basis, I would definitely tend to getting something quite cheap and learning to work on it yourself. My wife's car was bought for $1600 and has only had one sensor problem in the 3 years she's had it.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2015, 01:58:25 PM by Posthumane »


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2015, 02:26:57 PM »
I actually disagree with your first statement of new cars are awful.  I have found that unless I get past 10 years used, the new car right now can be cheaper over the entire lifetime because I can get a base model.   


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2015, 10:22:54 AM »
I say dodge the beaters. From a value perspective (assuming they both last to 200K miles)  a 1500$ car in my area is usually a poor value compared to a 5500-7500 car on a per mile cost.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2015, 12:08:36 PM »
So that's 3.5 for a medium-tier used car (counting KCM5 as a split decision), 1.5 for the beater, and 1 for a base-model new car.

I was trying to get a good idea of if people thought the maintenance costs of a beater would outweigh the reduction in insurance and initial cost - looks like most people here say "yes" to that, with the caveat of if you like fixing cars and have the time/space to do it.

I'll have to keep thinking about this some more. I don't really want to buy a car right now because I don't think we need it, given that public transportation and bicycling are doing "good enough" for us right now, but my husband is seriously considering getting a car, and I was hoping to maybe sate that desire by getting the cheapest semi-reliable thing we could get. (You can get a 2005 suzuki for around $2000 around here, if that's a reference for anyone.)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Buying Used Cars - "Newer" used car vs "Beater" used car
« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2015, 01:49:31 PM »
If you buy a good used car it will last a long time with few repairs. I just don't buy the line that old cars are beaters and will require a lot of work. I've had good luck buying off of craigslist, cars that have been well cared for and have many more miles left. I paid $4150 for an 10 year old Audi A6 wagon with 150,000 miles on it, we had it for four years when I sold it for $2500 with 210,000 miles. It needed a few repairs but nothing major - alternator, CV joint. I kept careful records on that one and overall it was cheap to own and operate. Now we have a VW GTI, we bought it when it was 10 years old with 90,000 miles for $7000, and it has needed a few things (transmission, exhaust). We've had it for 4 years and it has 150,000 miles, still runs great, and is an absolute blast to drive. We also have a ford ranger that is 15 years old, we paid $2800 when it had 210,000 miles on it 2 years ago and it runs like a champ. The key with that one is it had been owned by Ford mechanics and was well cared for. In my opinion the older cars with more miles have been more reliable and cost less overall than the "newer" VW. I have never been left stranded by any of these cars. I have a completely unfounded theory that on a well maintained car after 150,000 miles most of the important repairs have been completed and you have 50,000+ miles of super cheap driving.  But I'm sure some folks can prove me wrong on that one.