Finances,  Financial Freedom,  Frugality

How to Acquire a Cheap Car

Shortly after the near-miss flood, Katie announced that she’d become tired of walking to work in the rain and wanted to buy a car.

I watched her scroll through posts and eye the selections at local lots before I made a suggestion: “why don’t you ask around at your job? Surely someone knows of a car that you can pick up cheap.”

It took three days. A gentleman at her work had an older one. He’d parked it, intending to fix it up but the task was proving to be more time-consuming than he could manage. If she would reimburse him for the new set of tires he’d just purchased, the car would be hers.

“It needs a lot of work,” he warned.

Years ago, a mechanic told me that any car that would start and run was worth at least $500. This car would not only start and run, it had a brand-new set of tires.

I encouraged her to go for it.

True to his word, the car did need some TLC. But the tires and battery were both brand new so she practically got the car for free. We drove it home and went to work.

One day was spent sorting the fuses. It took several hours and an entire package of the things but I managed to get the windows, door locks, and a range of other things to function once more. Katie spent that day scrubbing the interior.

I am far from a mechanic so I recommended that we have the car inspected. We used his advice to create a list of repairs, sorted by urgency and skill set and got to work.

You can do an amazing amount of auto repairs if you are willing to learn from videos posted online. While I lacked the equipment for some of the jobs, I saved her a small fortune on the things I’ve fixed so far.

Even better: Katie no longer has to walk in the dark for her early morning shifts. She has a car that will take her wherever she desires now, and will soon have it in good enough condition to weather the cross-country move she’s planning in the future.

She doesn’t have a car payment. The car is even old enough that the insurance cost is negligible, so her bills haven’t went up that much.

At first some of her friends called her crazy for following her mother’s advice. They told her she wasted her money on a clunker. But then she pointed out that their expensive cars, complete with car payments, were costing them far more in repairs than her vehicle was.

The critics fell silent when they realized she was right.

We have been programmed to believe that newer is better. We will bypass the older, “uglier” car in favor of the new and shiny as a general rule. Yet if one is willing to do the work (or hire it done as money allows) you can save a fortune by purchasing one of these unwanted vehicles. Provided that the frame is sound, everything else can be fixed.

The thing that most don’t understand about used vehicles is that, unless you can afford to buy one that’s still under warranty, you will inevitably spend at least a thousand dollars that first year as you work out the kinks, so why not spend that on an older vehicle that costs less in taxes and insurance, skip the payment, and enjoy the cost savings?

I learned that lesson the hard way after I financed my first vehicle. Trying to repair one when you’ve got a payment and full-coverage insurance can be almost impossible if you’re in college or work a low wage job. After that first mistake, I made it a rule to buy old, fix them up, and drive them until the frame died.

This one lesson has saved me a fortune.

While I do believe that it is better to avoid owning a car if you can, that can be a challenge in many parts of this nation. I see no point in giving money to finance companies if it can be avoided; older vehicles solve this problem nicely.

If you already own a car that is paid for don’t trade it off for a newer one. Fix it up and you will have something that will last for many years.

9 Comments

  • Kelly L Barrington

    My husband makes a very good living buying the old and ugly vehicles. Fixing & sometimes painting and reselling them. People think they are getting a great deal bc most of his sales are under 5,000. But we generally only have 1,000 to 1,500 into a vehicle before it’s sold. Do this enough and you make a good living.

    • Annie

      Oh yes! I’ve known folks in the past that have done just that. It’s brilliant in my opinion. It makes me wish I’d taken auto mechanic classes at some point because one can do quite well.

  • Kelly

    My husband makes a very good living buying the old and ugly vehicles. Fixing & sometimes painting and reselling them. People think they are getting a great deal bc most of his sales are under 5,000. But we generally only have 1,000 to 1,500 into a vehicle before it’s sold. Do this enough and you make a good living.

  • Essie

    Lots of good advice on car buying, Annie. So many young kids start off on the wrong path by financing a car purchase, setting themselves up with a lifetime of debt. Glad Katie has a smart mom. And the biggest take-away from your post- there are so many things we can learn to do ourselves vs hiring a mechanic. Saves a fortune!

    • Annie

      I wish someone had taught me before I bought my first car about the dangers of financing. I passed up several older vehicles to end up with a payment that I really couldn’t afford, and thankful that Katie took my advice.

      I must confess at first she thought she’d made a mistake but after the first round of work and a good cleaning, she realized that I was right. She now looks forward to every new round of work we do to it 🙂

  • Stacey

    If it starts, runs, and the frame is good – that is such great advice. Thanks for a great post!

  • Cathie

    Great advice Annie! I have a 20 year old tiny Toyota. Got it for peanuts a year ago. Cheap to replace tires and it runs on the smell of an oily rag! Why have huge amounts of money tied up in something that someone else can destroy for you in a second.