Because buying new is for suckers.
September 11, 2007 11:06 AM   Subscribe

BeaterReview was formed to help the depreciation-averse enthusiast and automotive bottom-feeder alike find gold in them thar' mountains of rust.
posted by punkfloyd (49 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Mister_A at 11:51 AM on September 11, 2007

Awesome. (on preview, snap)
if you're trying to decide between an iPod and a car, the early S-series Saturn is an ideal choice
Reminds me of a time in a Safeway parking lot - I was backing out in my Toyota Van, (an excellent beater, who's only fault was bad visibility) when I bumped, gently, into a car behind me. I craned around to see what was there, saw what it was and turned to Travis in the passenger seat and said 'bah, it's a Saturn'. Then just pulled away. This incident was the cause of some mirth among my friends for a while.
But damn, I do miss my beaters - this just makes me want to move back to Canada and pick up another cheap Toyota.
posted by Flashman at 11:53 AM on September 11, 2007

Wait, what? Cheap Toyotas abound in Canada?
posted by the dief at 11:57 AM on September 11, 2007

The early S-Series Saturns were also dead easy to steal, as a friend of mine found out.

Three times.

That damn car got stolen three times and would always appear on the other side of town a few weeks later, in the same shape that it was stolen in.

Turns out that you could basically jam a file into the key slit, file it down a bit, and pop it open. (Or something similar to that)

My friend finally gave up and bought a Toyota, which she promptly wrecked less than 6 months later. I think the Saturn was haunted.
posted by drstein at 11:58 AM on September 11, 2007

Wait, what? Cheap Toyotas abound in Canada?

Maybe not in your neck of the woods, where road salt will destroy the undercarriage before your car has a chance to become a beater, but in Vancouver you can't spit without hitting an '87 Camry that someone is selling for under $1000.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:04 PM on September 11, 2007

Awesome, they've got the CRX. Mine's in the shop for its semi-annual cap-and rotor-and-or-other-cheap-weird bug, but that thing's a runnin' son of a bitch.

Once, I powershifted it halfway across the country (with no radio, to boot!), because the clutch needed replacement. Another time, doubled the speed limit in Colorado, and on the same road trip gave it a homebrew lowering via what was a road in name only - broke a coil off all four springs. For 2.5 years, it was my work truck - you haven't lived until you pull into a jobsite with a Yakima roof rack full of unistrut and SCH 80 pipe, and pull out two tool bags, four power tool boxes, 200 feet of extension cord, a reel of hydraulic hose out of the tailgate, and a water softener in the passenger seat, while the other construction guys just stare wide-eyed.
posted by notsnot at 12:15 PM on September 11, 2007

Cool. Buying new is for suckers.
posted by maxwelton at 12:18 PM on September 11, 2007

Beaters make for some of the best motoring fun to be had.

For example:

- no need to fix broken things; vise grips that double as window cranks add a touch of charm
- a roll of duct tape fixes the more serious problems. Like body damage or windows that don't seal correctly
- you can use bumpers for their intended purpose: ramming yourself into and out of a tight parallel space.
- runaway shopping carts in the grocery store parking lot: the hunter becomes the hunted.
- clutches, especially in old Hondas, are entirely optional. Replace only when the motor revs helplessly and the car no longer moves forward.
- who needs 4 matching tires? Scavenge old tires and wheel sets from craigslist. Again, works better with old Hondas since most use the same sizes/bolt patterns.
- when you finally manage to kill one, which is no small effort, you get to find a new one and start all over

Beware, however. Your girlfriend will never want to ride in it.
posted by ninjew at 12:40 PM on September 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

The POS Saturn I've been driving for the last three years has impressed the hell out of me. I've put probably close to 40k miles on it, all I've replaced is tires, a muffler, and a thermostat (car ran fine with the broken one, but would overheat if I wasn't moving).

I paid $3000 for it.

Buying new is, in fact, for suckers.
posted by quin at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2007

And following ninjew's lead I'll suggest that a $250 Ford Escort, a $300 Datsun, a large parking lot, and a complete failure to fear injury can lead to some great games of bumper tag.
posted by quin at 12:46 PM on September 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Excellent reference. Thanks for the post.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 12:50 PM on September 11, 2007

Good commentary, great reviews, nice selection of cars, what a neat site. And the writer is right, broken timing belts on Hondas will produce carnage well beyond what you might expect from what is otherwise a bullet-proof engine. I'm pushing my current one as far as possible (over 100k on it) because I'm not sure I want to spend the money or just buy another old Civic when this one dies.

I'm also a reasonably competent shade-tree mechanic because of my succession of beaters, and it amazes my friends to no end when I can do simple fixes to their cars in the time it takes a six pack to cool off. So the only thing I'd add is a link to the DIYer bibles: Helm Manuals. If you own a beater, you need one of these in a big three ring binder. It is the true soul of the innocent looking beater car, the stained and dogeared pages revealing the hidden darkness within.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:58 PM on September 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

OK. That was pretty amazing how quickly the page broken by 1f2frfbf got fixed. Question: Was it on-the-ball mods or an autofix?
posted by spock at 1:12 PM on September 11, 2007

From the article about the 240 SX:
Through the 1980s and much of the '90s, Nissan served as the slightly off-kilter black sheep of the mainstream Japanese auto manufacturers. It wasn't the drunken uncle (Mitsubishi) or the gay yoga instructor (Subaru)...

I'd say those comparisons still hold true.
posted by kickback at 1:17 PM on September 11, 2007

or the gay yoga instructor (Subaru)

Not that there is anything wrong with that...
posted by spock at 1:22 PM on September 11, 2007

I miss my '63 Valiant. Now THAT was a car. (It was the same year as this one, except a four door. Sigh.)
posted by jokeefe at 1:22 PM on September 11, 2007

I doubt I'll ever enjoy driving anything as much as I did the (extremely) old Chevy pickup that belonged to the golf course maintenance crew I worked for when I was in high school and university. It was rusting to pieces, had no door on the driver's side, and the shock absorbers were shot to shit, but it's seats were the springiest I've ever sat on, so every time you hit a bump you hopped into the air (which was a problem for taller guys, who tended to hit their heads on the ceiling).

Good times.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2007

While I realize that Your Favorite Car Sucks, and that Your Suck Car is Your Favorite (or something) I am absolutely astounded at the inclusion of the late 80's Nissan 300zx. I got mine for free and it still cost me too much. Its original owner got 40k miles out of it before it simply stopped going faster than 48 mile per hour. After sending it to mechanic after mechanic in search of the problem, after throwing money at an issue that simply refused to be fixed, he sold it to my father-in-law for $500 in 2001. That's 15 years of trying to get the damned thing working. He got sick of it pretty quickly and gave it to me against my wishes. I spent another $2000 on it and the fucker still wouldn't run. I even took the 300zx to a mechanic that specializes in that model.

Anecdote is not the plural of data, but everyone I've spoken to about this model hates 'em. When they run they're fantastic, but they break down more than Jaguars.
posted by lekvar at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2007

+++ on their recommendation on the Maxima. All-around best car I've owned so-far.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2007

@lekvar: Our 1987 300zx had an engine fire.
posted by punkfloyd at 1:33 PM on September 11, 2007

I'm pushing my current one as far as possible (over 100k on it) because I'm not sure I want to spend the money or just buy another old Civic when this one dies.

BAAAAAAAAH! That car's just getting broken in!

I totalled my '87 Civic wagon at 87k miles, had the shop stick it back together, then drove it through several rather severe New England winters (Berkshires) all the way to 225k miles.

Then I sold it to a guy from Bridgeport for $1,200.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:34 PM on September 11, 2007

1977 - 1982 was the golden age of Japanese cars, and you can still get them for next to nothing. They take unleaded, usually pretty economically, they're reliable as hell (which their predecessors weren't), they're stylish as hell (which their successors weren't), and honestly, please don't buy them in the UK and drive the prices up for me.

Colt Sapporo
Colt Celeste
Toyota Celica
Datsun 120A
Datsun B-210

confession: that's my 120a.
posted by imperium at 1:35 PM on September 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not the car ZenMaster, the timing belt. The car's near 200k and running like a top. I have recurrent nightmares about the possibly cracked and frayed condition of the timing belt and the horrible noise and chaos it will create when it dies. Not bad enough to force me to deign to visit a mechanic yet, though...

spock: I owned up to my shortcomings and emailed the mods
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2007

The best thing about the Datsun B 210 (or the Sentra wagon for that matter) was that the degradation was gradual . . . It took years of falling apart before it was finally non-drivable.

My current beater is a 16 year old Volvo wagon. I wish them Scandinavians knew how to engineer for Texas heat
posted by ahimsakid at 1:47 PM on September 11, 2007

My second-to-latest car was a Golf from its tenth through sixteenth years. At the time of its donation to charity, an LED flashlight taped to the console was the dashboard light, which I only put there because up until its last days the engine ran so well it was far too easy to go over the speed limit and not know it. That was two years after the oil lines were overfilled, leading to the engine blowing smoke and oil out of every orifice and seal. Hooray for AAA's free 200-mile tow range for stranded autos, and for sturdy German manufacture.

VW was briefly fond of a type of exterior door latch that operated by squeezing the handle. The latch lever broke off the driver side, replacements at the local yards were already thoroughly picked over -- breakage was common -- so for a couple years the only way to get into the car was by a well-placed whack with a screwdriver.

Its finest moment might have been when it was cited for a noise violation while driving past an industrial plant during rush hour.
posted by ardgedee at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2007

Interestingly enough, late 70's - early 90's BMWs are quickly attaining this enviable status. The E21 5 series, for example, has a strong reputation for rock solid mechanical reliability, and decent examples typically fetch less than $5k. My current dream beater is a '91 BMW 318is (E30 bodied); lowish mileage examples can be found for under $4k, they get nearly 40mpg on the highway, and are sporty as all get-out. Parts of that vintage are rarely more expensive than their Japanese or American contemporaries.

If you really want the ultimate sweet BMW beater, pick up a 1976 BMW 2002 from California. California just changed its smog rules, no longer exempting cars newer than the 1975 model year, so there's a glut of '76 2002s on the market there, with pristine examples often selling for under $2k. Plus, they're fun, sporty, rare-ish, stylish, cheap to maintain and easy to work on.
posted by saladin at 2:00 PM on September 11, 2007

84 GTI Rabbit. Those A1 Volkswagens are so rickety, so unreliable, so light, and drive like go-karts - in a good way. Crank the timing up to 12 degrees, and it will go "fast enough".
posted by anthill at 2:09 PM on September 11, 2007

A while ago a friend and I were discussing how car magazine reviews seem to mostly be $90,000 sports or luxury cars. And that if Auto Trader actually does sell so well, there's probably room for a magazine that does reviews of used cars. I'm thrilled to see this.

My only complaint is that it does not have pictures of the cars today - I like the vintage brochure pictures, but I think there's a lot of people (read: me) who want to see pictures of normal old cars with rust and broken stuff and mismatched panels and plastic/duct tape replacement windows.

And I do miss the narrative of the actual driving experience. New cars are a bit like being with someone who is heavily medicated - it's sort of upbeat, though completely boring. But the older cars - 10, 15, 20 years old - that's a lady. It provides a driving experience you can actually write about.
posted by milkrate at 2:10 PM on September 11, 2007

My current dream beater is a '91 BMW 318is (E30 bodied);
I had a new 318i when they first introduced the E30 body ('84?) Crank windows. Crank sunroof. Rev-happy 4-banger and that sweet, sweet 5-speed. I drove the snot out of that little car.

If it weren't for the fact that they were all but worthless in a midwest winter, I'd love to get another one of that vintage.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on September 11, 2007

1f2frfbf, if you don't mind taking off one motor mount, and your honda is a single overhead cam, doing a timing belt is as easy as buying the damn parts and the book. I swapped the timing belt in my crx in 1.2 hours - from jacking up the front tire to setting the car back on its own four wheels.
posted by notsnot at 2:34 PM on September 11, 2007

Their review of the 96-00 caravan is right on. Great bang for the buck for hauling stuff; boring as unbuttered white toast. The poke at the 3l is a bit mean though. The oil leaks are easily fixed over a weekend and you can get them cheap because they puff a little smoke. People who don't know them think the engine is about to die a horrible death which couldn't be farther from the truth.
posted by Mitheral at 2:36 PM on September 11, 2007

I once witnessed an 1986 Tercel Wagon suffer through 2 weeks with no oil at all in 115 degree heat in Phoenix, AZ. All it did was get sluggish and run hot. Real hot. Incredible.
posted by loquacious at 2:44 PM on September 11, 2007

Thorzdad, the engine in your '84 would have been an M10, BMW's workhorse single-cam 4-cylinder (which, in its wilder iterations, gave rise to the M12, the S14 and even their Formula 1 engine of the early 80's, which in qualifying trim produced over 1100hp from less than 1.5 liters). What made the '91 vintage of the 318 so special was, in addition to have the body-colored bumpers of the late 80's E30's (a definite improvement over the aluminum bumpers of the earlier cars), the '91 was fitted with BMW's M42 twin-cam, the M10's replacement. It's even more rev-happy than the M10, and a lot more fuel efficient, making for an incredibly engaging little car. Combine that with the "s" package's stiffer suspension, sport seats and limited slip differential, and you've got yourself one of the best beaters of all time.
posted by saladin at 3:18 PM on September 11, 2007

I took a $2,500 '96 Geo Metro from 65,000 to 140,000 over 4 years with next to no work and great gas mileage. GEO POWER!!

But I was pretty glad when, a month after I junked it, I was in a Golf when I got rolled twice down a ravine by a drunk.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:57 PM on September 11, 2007

I was in a Golf when I got rolled twice down a ravine by a drunk.

Using protection, I hope.
posted by found missing at 4:32 PM on September 11, 2007

Oh, I uh...*removes tank top*

I had a Toyota Celica in school. Midwinter looking at all the pampered kids trying to start their brand new wtfevers in the freezing cold, and my rusted out POS starts up without a grumble, yeah, that’s satisfaction.
I still get looks from the noob suburban cops in my POS pickup truck. Until I click my garage door opener, they probably think I’m lost.
I don’t know if buying new is for suckers, but 90% of it at least is ego.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:39 PM on September 11, 2007

My last car was a Volvo 240, my current car is a Volvo 240 and my next car will be a Volvo 240. They're cheap, reliable and styley. And because they don't depend on airbags for safety, they're a great choice for small people.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:42 PM on September 11, 2007

Best of the Web, punkfloyd.
posted by paulsc at 5:10 PM on September 11, 2007

This makes me miss my Ford Aspire :( Probably the most return I've ever gotten on a $400 investment.
posted by thedaniel at 6:42 PM on September 11, 2007

Thanks paulsc. By the way a Jaguar XJS will never make the cut here. I bought this one last year for around $5k (talk about was like $45K in 1986). It was in pristine condition but caught fire and soon returned to where it came from (hell).
posted by punkfloyd at 6:44 PM on September 11, 2007

My beaters aren't very dependable. One just died in a parking lot yesterday (victim of yet another battery cable problem fixed today), another shakes like a tractor and is held together by JB weld (it's now been three years, wish I still had the pictures) and the third is waiting for me in a garage (280z, runs but fuel wash past the rings will kill the idea of reusing any engine parts if I drive it).
posted by IronLizard at 7:58 PM on September 11, 2007

salidin.........One of the best dates of my life was with a girl who I met in San Francisco many years ago. I was there working on a tour, and she picked me up for our date in a 70's BMW 2002. Everytime we made a right turn the horn woulld blow and keep blowing until we turned left. We waived at everyone and took a very round about route to our destination. Man what a hoot!
posted by HappyHippo at 8:25 PM on September 11, 2007

Check out Bangernomics for a UK-centric take on old beaters (or "bangers" in Brit English). The site is sadly not updated anymore. Note that cars tend to live a lot longer in Europe than the US, mostly due to the price level of new cars.
posted by Harald74 at 12:55 AM on September 12, 2007

My last car was a Volvo 240, my current car is a Volvo 240 and my next car will be a Volvo 240. They're cheap, reliable and styley. And because they don't depend on airbags for safety, they're a great choice for small people.

You may want to have yourself a look at the latest episode of Fifth Gear (aka the British car show that isn't Top Gear), where they crash a late-80s Volvo station wagon into a 2004 subcompact to see which one does better in a head-on collision.
posted by chrominance at 2:19 AM on September 12, 2007

“Man what a hoot!”
posted by HappyHippo

Buddy of mine and I wired (ok, I watched) his ex-gf new bf’s horn to his brakes. Every time he’d stop - honk.
Made me shoot IBC root beer out of my nose.

When I was in high school the door on my old Buick fell off while I was delivering a pizza. Guy in a bathrobe and half smoked died out cigarette didn’t tip me any extra, just smirked at me. Had to throw the thing in the hatchback. So, started wearing my seatbelt for a while with the heat on full (it was winter). Got a new door from a junkyard so I had this big rusty white door on this bondoed maroon car. Yeah, chick magnet.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:24 PM on September 12, 2007

punkfloyd, what a fantastic find! Thanks! It made my night!
posted by lonemantis at 6:30 PM on September 12, 2007

"The Escort obliged by developing an oil leak which ruined a computer in the engine, causing the motor to kick out unexpectedly for up to five seconds and then roar back to life at frightening RPMs. Very unnerving, particularly on the freeway; this added a bit of spice to my introduction to Twin Cities commuting. "

thanks Cobra.... too funny
posted by celerystick at 10:20 PM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

My favorite was a 1982 323i I bought in 89 and drove until a tree feel on it in 1990. It was as rock solid at 18 years as it was when I got it and was as durable as the 320i and 318i from the era, but had the added boost of a 6 cylinder.
posted by Carbolic at 10:59 AM on September 13, 2007

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