Wouldn’t you love to drive a car that you can push shopping carts around with in an empty parking lot at night? Wouldn’t you love to drive a car that you can plough into a snow bank with and then park at home just like any other day? Need a ride for school and don’t have much cash to spare? Sounds like you want the $500 beater!
Most enthusiasts use the $500 beater to supplement their driving needs when it’s too harsh out for their precious garage babies. But, there aren’t any rules in the used car world and that doesn’t mean that you can’t drive one to supplement public transportation, or worse, your bicycle. Owning a car cheaper than a video gaming rig can be fun and joyous despite how terrible it sounds at first.
The first thing you have to remember when buying the $500 beater is that you are buying a complex and very heavy piece of machinery for the same price as the tires on said complex piece of machinery, in some cases less. Your standards should start low. The seats won’t be factory fresh and the paint won’t gleam in the Sun. This is what makes the $500 so good. Want to get into wrenching but didn’t want to muck up your Audi? Here’s your chance. Want something that accommodates your posterior for the amount of time it takes to get somewhere else and no more? You’re in luck! Just make sure to consider a few things first:
Buying the $500 beater means you will most likely have to fix some things. A car is only worth $500 when it is either A: not running, B: the seller is in a rush to move and needs it gone, or C: in great shape! (but needs a new alternator, battery, water pump, transmission, exhaust system, air conditioner, and wheels). For the purposes of this article, we will avoid situation A since that is pretty much useless to us. If you find yourself in situation B, that’s great because all you need to do is fix a few small items and you’re on your way. Situation C is a bit more complicated, however.
When you are buying the situation C $500 beater, you are going to want to check for two things and two things only, the powertrain and the wheels. If the engine idles roughly or varies RPMs randomly, that might be a simple fix like a new airflow sensor or maybe a new throttle body. But if it is spewing black smoke and takes a few days to get to speed, there are other cheap cars out there. If the tires are a bit worn, but the wheels are otherwise straight and vibration-free, then slap on some new rubber and get rolling. But if the car goes left when the steering wheel is pointed straight and if one of the wheels wobbles like a drunken otter, there are other $500 beaters out there. Air conditioning not working, radio not working, cigarette lighter not working, doesn’t matter. This is the compromise-mobile! You have to pay to play for such luxuries as working airbags and door locks.
Your $500 beater broke down and it’s going to cost you thousands to repair? No problem! Sell it to some other chap for $500 or scrap it and get at least a fifth of your investment back. Not a bad deal if your alternative is back to what you were doing before. Put a grand or two of parts and hard work into the $500 beater, and it can last you until that big promotion. Get fed up with one $500 beater, sell it, move on to another one, rinse, and repeat. There simply is no losing!
Just don’t buy the $400 beater, that’s a whole other ballgame.