Categories
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.

Categories
Car-Free Frugality

The Luxury of a Vehicle

A few weeks ago a friend asked for some help. He needed to locate a vehicle that would start and run for $1,000 or less–in two weeks.

Considering that my days off rarely match up to the friend in question I considered this an almost impossible task. Not only can it take months to stumble on the perfect deal, the absolute best bargains are on vehicles that need immediate repair before they can be driven.

My friend vetoed those outright.

As we inched closer to the deadline I found myself having to reject vehicles that I would personally buy if I were shopping for myself. Vehicles that need some work can be bought for a song if you know how to do it. That was how I acquired the last van I owned. I paid $500 for it when the transmission went out and had a rebuilt one installed. For $2,000 I ended up with a vehicle that blue-booked for twice that amount and drove it for many years.

"You know, you may not be able to afford the luxury of a vehicle right now," I consoled after the last round of inspections failed to locate something suitable. "You could always walk to work and save up some more money while you look for something you like. It would be tough but you live close enough to your job to manage it."

He gave me the look that one reserves for the crud on the bottom of their shoe. "Cars are not luxuries," he sniffed. "Not if you actually go places."

I didn’t know whether to laugh or be insulted. While I understood that my friend was scared, what he didn’t understand is that in some cases a car is a luxury. When you live in town within walking distance to work and stores you can live without a vehicle, especially in this age of Internet commerce. I know; I’ve done it for years.

Unfortunately, most people have been brainwashed into believing that a vehicle is a necessity regardless of circumstances. I’ve seen folks go without food or hit up charities just to make their car payment.

"Well unless you get really lucky you might just have to," I countered gently.

Fortunately for my friend a few days later we struck paydirt. We located a car being sold for a song that was in desperate need of some tires and cosmetic work. We limped the car to a repair shop, scored a used set of rubber, and went on with our lives.

"You know, you should really buy yourself a car," my friend counseled when he caught me walking to work in the rain several days later. "It makes no sense to walk in the rain when you can afford not to."

"I’ll think about it," I replied as we said farewell. I would rather save money for the future instead of spending it on repairs, insurance, and the myriad other costs that come hand in hand with vehicle ownership. While I might buy another car some day, for the moment I am content.

What is the one thing your friends consider essential that you do not? Please share your stories in the comments below.