How My Beater Car Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars

For almost four years, I have been driving a car that cost me $600 Canadian.(494.33 US dollars) I call it my “One Payment Wonder,” as I paid it off when I bought it. It is a 2001 Nissan Sentra. Yes, Rosie turned 20 years old this year. Her full name is “Rosie the Golden Rocket.” Since 2017, she has driven me almost 140,000 km (nearly 9o,000 miles). 

Finding Rosie

Four years ago, my Ford Focus was clearly on its way out, needing massive repairs that made no sense to spend on, and I needed a new car. I was pretty unhappy that I had spent over $3000CA (2,471.67 US dollars)on the vehicle, and it had only lasted four years. I got a call from a car-savvy friend that he had a potential car for me. It was a well-cared-for car of a specialist physician’s wife. When he had passed away over a year ago, she had not had the heart to sell it. Seeing a good deal in her driveway, my friend had talked to her, bought it, and then sold it to me.

 

Getting Rosie on the Road

Because she had been sitting for so long, I realized I was assuming some risk with this car. However, I had been disappointed with how my investment in the Ford Focus had turned out. So, I decided to take a chance with Rosie. I felt that the money I was saving could be used for some repairs.

To get a safety certificate, Rosie needed a few things. First, she had an exhaust leak. I had a friend who was a welder who welded that leak for me in exchange for help with things he needed. Second, she needed new windshield wipers. I installed those myself. She needed a couple of tires, which I bought used from a local wrecker and had my mechanic balance and install. The cost to get Rosie on the road was less than $200. (164.78 US dollars)

One extra investment I made was in a trailer hitch setup. Unfortunately, there were none available used for a Nissan Sentra, so I had to buy a new one and have it installed. It was very important to me, as I wanted to buy a trailer and eventually haul stuff for the homestead. It was an extra investment of about $500, so I felt lucky that Rosie was already paid for!

Buying a Parts Car for Rosie

At the time I bought Rosie, emissions tests were required to relicense. When an emission indicator light went on after about a year, I was devastated. It appeared that a particular valve in the intake manifold was seized. When I looked into buying the part through the dealership, it was no longer in production. Oh No!!! My friend and I were able to unseize the valve using a spray-in engine treatment, but I preferred to have the part, just in case. So, what did I do? 

I decided to buy the same car on the same platform and take it apart myself. I had never done anything remotely like this before. I had a local teenager interested in cars help me in exchange for some of the parts I didn’t want or need. I had no garage; I used my aunt’s garage and then had the shell towed away by an auto wrecker in the next city. The parts car cost as much as Rosie herself: $900 minus the wrecking fee of $300 was $600. However, I now had lots of extra parts, especially the hard-to-locate swirl valve. I really enjoyed the process of taking the car apart, and I learned a lot.

Not long after this, Rosie’s alternator blew. No problem! I had the virtually new alternator from the parts car. That alone saved a few hundred dollars. When Rosie’s trunk latch failed, I was able to pry it out of the parts car trunk sitting under my maple tree in my yard. I used the parts car’s rims for my winter tires.

Here’s one way an old car with backup parts could be worth its weight in gold: recent reports on The Organic Prepper website broke the news that there is a worldwide shortage in microchips. I recently heard a local radio advertisement encouraging people to “buy now” before the chips ran out. I felt pretty happy I was ahead of the curve on that news, thanks to the OP. 

Over the past four years, Rosie has required very little in terms of repairs. However, she did burn out another alternator. I couldn’t find another used one, so I bought a new one and had my mechanic install it. That was about $400 total. Other than that, it’s just been the usual tires and oil changes. 

My Other Investments in Rosie

Although Rosie is old, I take the best care of her that I can. I have met two people who have owned this make of car. One got 400,000kms (250,000 miles) out of it. Another got almost 600,000kms (375,000 miles) out of his. The problem is rust. Rosie could rust out long before her engine quits working. I am on a budget, and rust spraying is too expensive. So instead, I buy a couple of cans of rust-proofing spray for under $20 (16.48 US dollars) and crawl under Rosie two or three times a year and spray her myself after taking her through the car wash. 

When her wheel well on one side and rocker panels started to rust out pretty severely last year, I invested some time in my car. I had done some bodywork on my Ford Focus, so I decided to try and rebuild Rosie’s rocker panels with mesh and fiberglass and repaint myself. It took a few days of work, spread out over a couple of weeks. The results are not perfect but are much better than if I had left them alone. The materials to do this were about $100 (82.38 US dollars) or so.

Finally, because I own an older car, I invest in CAA (AAA) every year, the premium kind with the long-distance tow included, so I am never out of range of getting towed home for free. I had used this service twice when the alternator blew and ran low on gas during a power outage. I feel the peace of mind is well worth it.

I hope this story of my “One Payment Wonder” gives you some inspiration. I don’t have a background in mechanics; I never took a course in high school, even. However, I have learned a ton by having this car and being willing to try some new stuff on her. She may not turn heads as I drive, but she has got me from Point A to Point B for four years. As a result, I have saved thousands of dollars compared to carrying even a modest car payment.

If you’re now inspired to review your own spending, check out this article where Daisy offers her example of 14 radical budget cuts she made to reduce her expenses. 

I recently had my mechanic take a closer look at Rosie, as I’m hoping to get at least another year or two out of her. He declared her “safe” with no major issues. Hurray! Wish us luck!

From Point A to Point B….to Point C? 

What do you drive? Would you be willing to downgrade your vehicle to save money? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments!

About Colette

Colette is a seventh-generation farmer and homesteader. She grew up in the suburbs of a large Canadian city, but spent summers in her childhood visiting her family farm. She has worked professionally as a researcher and writer for decades, all the while travelling the world. She always knew she would return to the area near her family farm in Eastern Ontario, Canada and is now happily living not far from there on her Half-Acre Homestead. Soon, she will be launching a website full of tips for Frugalites and homesteaders alike.  If you subscribe to the Frugalite email list, keep an eye on your inbox to be one of the first to see it!

How My Beater Car Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars
Colette

Colette

Colette is a seventh-generation farmer and homesteader. She grew up in the suburbs of a large Canadian city, but spent summers in her childhood visiting her family farm. She has worked professionally as a researcher and writer for decades, all the while travelling the world. She always knew she would return to the area near her family farm in Eastern Ontario, Canada and is now happily living not far from there on her Half-Acre Homestead. Soon, she will be launching a website full of tips for Frugalites and homesteaders alike. If you subscribe to the Frugalite email list, keep an eye on your inbox to be one of the first to see it!

24 thoughts on “How My Beater Car Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars”

  1. I bought my 2006 Lexus hybrid suv new, but it was the best financial decision I have ever made. At over 250k miles, I have experienced only a couple of mechanical issues. I don’t think the two issues totaled $2500. I keep it maintained, I don’t stress about cosmetic issues (window trim came off one window, for example), and I continue to drive it to this day. My mechanic tells me I can easily expect 400k miles out of it. Best car ever.

    1. Barbara, good for you! It sounds like you have a real gem in your hybrid. I agree that not sweating the cosmetic issues is a good way to be frugal with a car. Here’s hopin’ that you’re driving yours to 400k and beyond!

  2. A long time ago in a different mostly pre-electronics era I used to buy wrecked Italian cars and make one good roadable one from wise selections of those parts. I had acquired a good set of metric tools even before I ever saw Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” stupidly run a ‘67 Alfa Romeo Duetto out of gas before abandoning it. In those day people were not thinking about EMP strikes, international just-in-time parts supply networks shutting down, pandemics, being blocked from public travel (airline/train/bus/cruise line, etc) going homeless or nomadic, or short term or forever bug-out issues.

    These days Daisy’s readers have a more complex variety of issues to consider as to what kind of vehicle to own — if any. Some people can even get by without owning just be occasional use of Uber (instead of using a taxi) to keep their expenses down. Here are some issues:

    1. If preserving or acquiring a vehicle (car, van, SUV, truck, RV) that can survive (or recover from) one or more EMP strikes, this article plus a ton of comments addresses that:

    Top 10 Vehicles For Your EMP Survival, by Cache Valley Prepper, 24 Feb 2015, plus 152 comments

    https://www.survivopedia.com/best-emp-bug-out-vehicles/

    2. If trying to economize and keep your vehicle running well for as long as is financially reasonable, these two articles might provide a little inspiration:

    How long cars last — infographic

    https://blog.nationwide.com/how-long-cars-last-infographic/

    Plus

    20 Cars That Have Gone 1 Million Miles, by Eric Schaal on October 8, 2019

    https://www.motorbiscuit.com/going-the-distance-7-cars-that-have-gone-1m-miles/

    3. If one wants a backup strategy for going nomadic (as millions have lost jobs that are never coming back, and the eviction moratoriums may end soon), two channels on YouTube are a wealth of knowledge about that lifestyle and how-to issues of living in different kinds of vehicles. CheapRVliving (from Bob Wells) is one; Creativity RV (from Robin Barrett is another). Their videos, books and courses are a wealth of knowledge that “might” help you decide on what nomadic-compatible vehicle to acquire BEFORE spending your money.

    4. If (as some of my friends have done) one might be considering going the expat route and moving to some other country completely, a little prior research is a good idea because the vehicle you already have in the US (or are considering buying) may not have a matching parts and trained mechanics network in that contemplated destination country. Advice I’m hearing is to to learn in advance what kind of vehicles can be maintained in such a country first before deciding whether to transport yours or buy there locally.

    –Lewis

    1. Thank you for sharing these interesting resources, Lewis. It is true that there are a lot of factors to consider regarding vehicles these days that were not on the radar before. I have already checked your recommended sites to see if a Nissan Sentra went a million miles…not yet, but perhaps Rosie will be the first. I have some homework to do checking out these other resources…looking forward to it.

  3. When I widowed and had an income of $0 I despetatly needed a car. An older lady was no longer driving so gave it away. Friends hauled it to me. It needed tires- $20 from a secondhand tire shop and a battery- $10 from a wrecking yard, I walked 17 miles each way to get the battery. I sold some thing in the yard to buy the parts, register, insure, and license that car. It lasted 5 more years of driving 400 to 500 miles a week on the job i was able to get once I was able to get around. 4 years after getting that car I bought an older Subaru that was fully restored. A guy bought it for his wife but she didn’t learn to drive the stick shift so I bought it for what he had put into it. It was my back up car when it’ll things needed work on the other car. I drove it for another 10 years.

    Two years ago I needed a second vehicle. My husband’s truck is now 18 years old. I’d saved up $1500 but all I was finding was ugly refugees from junk yards that were going to be expensive repairing. I saw an add while I was in the city looking at cars. The cab company was selling off all its vehicles. My neighbor was in town so I called and asked them to come take a look with me. I found one I liked. Its a 2003 with a much newer motor and new driver seat. Well maintained as a fleet vehicle and good tires. My neighbor was needing a second vehicle as well. They found a 2002 car they liked. I made an offer of $1400 for both. They countered with $1450 for two cars. They were asking $1200 each. I bought both cars. I gave the neighbor the car they liked. I’ve put in a new battery and found a radio in an old car my ex daughter in law left here. Its installed where the cab company took out their radio system. They left the good two way antena that I’m considering hooking up a CB to. I live over an hour out of the city so I’m thinking of adding the CB. I used to enjoy one I had. It runs like a charm. Not great mileage but better than the F250 pick up. The truck was down for 7 months while I saved up for a repair. So glad I had the yellow monster. I hate yellow cars. I’ve though about painting it like a lush garden with bugs and bees ect. Haven’t done that but I still might. I still have the 88 Subaru. I’d given it to a son. He traded it to another brother for an unpaid loan. He gave it back to me when he was moving. All it needs is a steering clip and the front CV joints. Motor still sounds as good as ever. I may repair it one of these days.

    My husband likes yellow cars. I’d always said I paint it with a brush if he ever got a yellow car. Lol I bought the yellow car. I should keep my word shouldn’t i?

    1. Dear clergylady, these are great car stories. I’m frankly amazed at your 17 mile walk to get your battery. This would count as excellent physical training to prepare for SHTF, so relevant to the OP post today! I had to chuckle at your yellow car…I hope you get to paint the garden on it…that would be so fun.

  4. I picked up an older Ford Ranger. It had been stolen and was in poor shape when returned to the owner. I’ve been doing some body work. It runs like a charm. The camper shell with ski racks is sound but the back window needs replaced. I have an odd but attractive window from an old car. I’m going to make a pretty wood filler where the window goes then inset that antique window. The slider window in the cab is missing the slider. I’ll add a 1/4″ thick plexiglass slider and cut in a keyedlock. I’m building it as a camping /fishing trip vehicle. What I can’t pull out in dents I’ll fill. Then sand and repaint it. The driver door handle is disconnected inside. I have to open the door from inside. I’ll try to repair that but if not then I’ll buy parts. Its a fun project. Who knew I’d find a new hobby by being a 55 year old widow with no income. I’m 74 now and enjoying playing with big toys. I’m also about finished with a 2005 Prius. It needed sew sections in the main battery. That was a $1300 repair. A light sanding and new clear coat, charge the little battery that starts it and it will be my “new” 50 MPG wheels. It isn’t as fast as the new electric cars but its an economy ride.

    1. Just fantastic! Too bad we aren’t neighbours, as we could trade body work tools. I remember the first time I took a palm sander to my Ford Focus! What a rush! I’ve never looked back. Do you use one of those suction things to pull out dents? Sounds like you’ve turned a new hobby into a way to save on your wheels. Very frugalite of you!

      1. From nothing to drive 19 years ago to 5 vehicles today. Two fine, 2 improcess, and one sitting but still easily repairable. One came back to me and I bought the other two after buying the two used yellow cabs. I may have a buyer for the Prius but I’m considering keeping it for the mileage it gets. The LittIe Ranger gets good mileage also. So undecided. I hadn’t planned on buying more vehicles but thats OK. It aIways works out. They were cheap.

  5. I’m currently driving a1993 gmc Tahoe which I paid $2000 5 year’s ago.Runs great! Most people I work with drive new or 2 year old trucks! They ask me when I’m getting rid of that rust bucket,My answer is when something major breaks.Also I tell them I’ll still have my truck and they will still be making payments. I invested $1500 for rear leaf springs.My daily round trip is 5 miles.My newest truck is 2003 2500 HD in mint condition.

    1. Wow! Your Tahoe is a great example of a Frugalite ride. $2000 for five years….what a deal. Your annual “payment” on that truck is likely less than their monthly payment on their new trucks that they pay….for years…..and years….and years! Hopefully, they will learn from your thrifty ways eventually!

  6. I bought a used Toyota Camry from a soon-to-be family member for $500 (US) with 46,000 miles on it. It lasted years doing 500 miles per week for commuting to & from work. I had almost 200,000 miles on it when a new neighbor plowed into it while it was parked. Completely totaled the car! I think it would’ve gone at least another 100,000 miles … constantly changed the oil & rotated the tires … 2 of the most important maintenance items IMHO😀

    1. Oh, Louise! Your poor Camry! I think I would have cried. I have heard they have a great reputation with mechanics as a reliable car. I hope you found another good deal to replace that Camry. Getting 300 miles for each dollar you paid for that car is pretty sweet!

  7. Nice job! I have a 2006 Hyundai Elantra that is rather dinged up and sun damaged at this point but she has around 220,000 miles on her and she still runs. She’s a standard (nearly theft-proof) and needs new shocks and struts but is otherwise doing fine.

    We have had a couple close calls with her – one time I was caught in a flooded road and the engine got water in it, but some searching online taught me how to dry out the cylinders and we got her going again before any rust could form.

    Another time I was due for an emissions test and the check engine light came on (of course). Got the light checked for free. Turns out it was the Mass Air Flow sensor – which could either be replaced for around $200 I didn’t have, or CLEANED for about $2 worth of isopropyl alcohol. The light came off, I passed. WIN!

    1. Thanks, RedBranch! I had to laugh out loud at your fix for the emissions test. Hurray! Total WIN. We don’t have those emissions tests in my region anymore, but I still have an automatic panic when I see that Rosie’s check engine light is on. I find I can settle her down by blowing some Sea Foam Spray Top Engine Cleaner in. Should probably get to that soon, actually! I will likely go with a standard vehicle after Rosie (SHHHHHH….she’s in the driveway and can’t read this). I find that the used market has much better priced standard vehicles….I’m thinking Corolla or Camry with a tow package.

  8. Collette
    I’m still seriously considering the paint job on the yellow cab. It will be fun. Maybe a mouse peeking out between flower stems.

    When all the kids,were still home we bought a 2 year old high top Dodge conversion van. It looked Iike new. $2500, and just 30,000 miles. It lasted me 414,000 miles when it threw a rod through the block. I’d treated it like a heavy work truck. A friend was the owner of the closest used car lot. He’d been looked for something for me. I bought 3 more used cars from him. I’ve had two new cars but when I could we’d mostly bought two yearold higher end cars. For years all I drove were Lincoln Continental town Cars.usually 20,000 to 35,000 miles when purchased. Usually sold with 250,000 to 300,000 miles. We were driving 100,000 miles a year between two cars or a car and truck. New with depreciation didn’t make much sense.

    Wish you were close enough to trade tools as needed. But I’m aquireing a good collection of basic tools.

    1. Have fun with that paint job. I have a friend who’s a beekeeper who painted black stripes on her bright yellow car….you can see her coming a mile away!

  9. I have a 2006 Honda Element that continues to rock and roll very well. I did buy a new battery last week and had the oil & filter changed. My car mechanic charged me $200. Not making high car payments has helped me do other things-especially getting out of debt. I intend to drive this baby until she falls apart-literally. Would I like a new car? Sure, who doesn’t? But I would rather, in these perilous times, have a paid for vehicle and be able to get prepared for an unsure future.

    1. Hi Sandra, Rock On in your Honda Element!!! You do a great job of connecting the dots here….paid for vehicle….no payments….getting out of debt…..prepping for an unsure future! Like you, I have other ways I want to spend my money. Not having a car payment these last four years has been on of the things that literally helped me build my little eco-cabin that I now live in. I do agree: sometimes I look wistfully at premium rims on a new car in the grocery store parking lot, but then I get into my paid-for-ride and give Rosie a pat as we drive away into the sunset. She’s been good to me! I, too, will drive her until she (sob!) falls apart.

  10. When my nephew turned 17 two years ago he came to us an asked if we could help him with a car. First thought was, “Oh no–he’s just like his parents. Going to be in debt all of his life just like his parents.” He then explained that what he really wanted was an older car so that his friends who were mechanically inclined could teach him how to take care of his own repairs! A proud moment for us, and the beginning of a journey for him.
    We were able to get him a 1996 Honda Civic that an elderly in-law owned and still drove (a wealthy man by the way) who was happy to see it go on to a good home. We wondered how he’d feel about a tiny dinged up car–he’s 6’5″. Well, My Nephew was joyful beyond words–driving a car older than he was and it was initially FREE. The Honda needed tires (we provided for Christmas to keep him safe in the snow) and a few minor things and he was on the road. To his job after school and weekends.
    Fast forward two years, that same nephew has just finished his first full year of college (in a REAL major) with a 3.9 GPA. He has learned how to save his money, then invest his money.
    And he still says he won’t let go of his little Honda until it can’t go any further.
    Thinking about his practicality, gratefulness and drive, gives me hope for our future.

    1. L M Bach, this was a heartwarming story! You really must be so proud of him. The image of your joyful (tall!) nephew in his tiny dinged up car speaks volumes. It appears that he is using it as a vehicle to reach for his future and his dreams. I adore my own nephews and hope I have a chance to help them in such a meaningful way as they grow older. One of our readers, Lewis, posted a link to a website with Cars that went over a Million Miles (see somewhere above in the thread). There was more than one Honda Civic on that list. I hope your nephew is also so lucky with his treasured car!

  11. Colette, being an author for TheOrganicPrepper, I should say, your article is superb.

    I have only had a brand new car in my life and was a Nissan, too, very similar to yours. They´re fantastic little battle horses. Taking care of them is a breeze, and they´re very reliable and simple to work on. I only changed it because of upgrading to a SUV, always with the idea of installing a totally mechanical diesel engine without any electronics as soon as I could. But couldn´t, and the story is there. LOL.
    Cheers!

    1. Jose! As one of your greatest fans on the OP, I am honoured to have you post here! Your compliment means a great deal to me. Yes, as I considered buying Rosie, I did some research on her engine, the QG18DE, and it is considered to be pretty decent. Here’s hoping she’ll be around for a while yet! I know some welders and am mulling over a complete replacement of her rocker panels if it is really necessary. Looking forward to your next post on the OP after you settle in back home. Thanks again!

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