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Getting the most out of a beater car is frugal. It means driving with no payment and consciously limiting the money you’ll spend on repairs and, especially, knowing when saying goodbye to say goodbye to an old car.
Dear Frugalites, I have some sad news: Rosie is no more.
As some of you know, I have been driving a beater car named “Rosie the Golden Rocket” for four years, and she has been very good to me! Sadly, not long after her first taste of fame in her feature article, Rosie developed a strange noise and totally conked out about a week later.
In this article, I share the frugal tips that help me get the most out of my beloved Rosie. I will also share the factors I weighed to make the momentous decision to say goodbye to an old car.
Be (Emotionally) Prepared to Say Goodbye to an Old Car
Despite my deep attachment to Rosie, like a good Boy Scout, I am prepared. True to my Frugalite ways, I know that Rosie can only stay as long as she is a good financial choice. In that sense, I hold lightly to her steering wheel. I am ready to pivot. I am emotionally prepared.
In a more practical sense, as the driver of a beater car, I always carry an AAA/CAA membership with the Premier level. That way, if Rosie had a problem, I got a tow back to my mechanic with no extra cost to me. Especially with COVID, I didn’t drive outside the range of my Premier level, which gets one tow of up to 320 km. To me, that is peace of mind all year long!
Have a Good Mechanic
I love to support mechanics who own small garage operations, are family-owned and operated, and employ multiple generations. I am still in touch with my mechanic in a city I have not lived in for almost 20 years! They say a good mechanic is worth his weight in gold, and that is true. Whenever I move, I use local word-of-mouth references to find a mechanic that I trust without hesitation.
Because I drive beater cars, my mechanic is a crucial member of my Frugalite team. I keep an open, ongoing dialogue with my mechanic about the state of the car and its life expectancy. I am clear with my mechanic about what I hope to get out of my current car and why. That helps them understand more clearly what I want. Some of the questions I ask my mechanic are:
- What repairs does the vehicle need NOW?
- What can wait?
- Can I pay in cash?
Not long before Rosie’s troubles arose, I had asked my mechanic to look at Rosie with an eye to safety when she was up on the hoist for an oil change. My mechanic came back with the good news that she was looking safe and adequately solid. That was important to me. I want to be frugal AND safe!
Set a Repair Limit
Living a frugal life requires that you create a budget and stick to it. A good budget should include all the most important items, like food, utilities, rent and, in some cases car repairs!
For clarity on the decision-making around keeping or scrapping, I set a repair limit for my current car. If you are not sure what your repair limit could be, this is an excellent discussion with your trusted mechanic. For Rosie, I had set her repair limit at $400, which was the amount I keep in my cash emergency fund.
My mechanic had endorsed Rosie as a safe car, and her engine had a reputation for going well beyond her current 193867.812 miles. So, I was initially willing to put some cash into a repair, but only the cash I had on hand.
Assess the Context and Do What you Can
One day, Rosie developed a new noise that did not sound good. Immediately, I called my mechanic and asked if I could stop by that afternoon and have the computer reader see what repair/problem codes were on her online computer system. However, the codes we got were not indicating any major problem: an oxygen sensor, the catalytic converter. The junior mechanic told me the head mechanic would call me the following week to discuss the situation. OK, maybe it was nothing…
I tried a cleaning treatment for the top of the engine that previously loosened a seized valve in Rosie’s intake manifold. It was my first time doing this by myself, so I watched a few YouTube videos and instructional videos for the engine cleaner. The treatment seemed to work, but it didn’t stop the noise.
A few days later, on a Friday night, Rosie’s engine seemed to be having more difficulties. I barely made it home from work and then made the difficult judgment call that she was no longer safe to drive. I know the dreaded moment had come. I knew when to say goodbye to an old car.
I had a decision to make….what to do?
I live in a rural area where we are all entirely dependent on our cars. I needed to drive to work on Monday. One friend that might be able to help me was working on Monday. I didn’t want to ask my elderly aunt to drive me to work. It was becoming clear to me that going without a car for any period would be difficult.
- I could use my CAA to have Rosie towed to my mechanic’s garage for an assessment of the problem. The garage would not be open until Monday. They would likely assess the problem on Monday, but there was no guarantee they could fix her on Monday. There is a cost for the assessment and risk that the repair might be more than my repair limit of US$400.
- I could rent a car for the week, have Rosie assessed without any time pressure, and decide what to do after hearing back from my mechanic. A friend would have to drive me to a neighboring city to rent the car and pay about CA$30 per day for a car. Realistically, this would be coming out of my repair limit money, too. Pretty quickly, this wasn’t looking like a good choice.
- I could buy a “new” car. If I did this without having Rosie towed, I could put the theoretical money it would cost to have her assessed into my new car. I talked to a good friend to see if he would be willing to drive me to a more distant and much larger city with a solid used car market. He was.
My Final Decision to Say Goodbye to an Old Car
In the end, I decided to leave Rosie where she was on my land and proceed with buying a new car right away. Part of this was trusting my “gut instinct” that what was happening with her engine was a more significant issue that would require more than my repair limit to assess and fix.
The tipping point for this decision was that I quickly located my used “dream car” in the larger city for a great deal. When I talked the seller down $795 on his price, I committed to come and get the car on Sunday with my friend.
I will share my tips on identifying and shopping for a good deal on a used car in a future article. I promise!
RIP Dear Rosie the Golden Rocket, 2001-2021
A happy outcome, the next week, I scrapped my dear Rosie for about $435 when I had bought her for around $475! They even came to get her! So, not including buying a parts car, I was able to drive Rosie for 87,000 miles for $40. I consider THAT a WIN!!!
She was a good car!
Have you ever driven an old car until it no longer made sense to do so? What was the breaking point that finally made you say goodbye? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
20 thoughts on “When to Say Goodbye to an Old Car”
I once had a mechanic friend tell me that he just could not fix my car any longer, and I HAD to get another. It would no longer pass state inspection (taxation is theft!). He asked if he could have my car, since I had to junk it. I gave it to him, and my car had a second life in Demolition Derby for a bit! My friend/mechanic took a picture of it all ready for a derby race- I still have the picture somewhere.
MiselaS, That’s a great story about the second life your car enjoyed. How nice to give that to your mechanic friend to enjoy his derby. When you come across that photo sometime, I’m sure you will smile, as it was win-win for everyone!
Ahhh..no! RIP, Rosie! 😢
Thanks for your kind thoughts, Daisy. Yes, there were some tears as that flat bed tow truck pulled her away. But, she was a good car AND I had a big pile of cash in my hand. Here’s to the memories, Rosie!!!
In this day and age, I actually don’t drive. I gave up driving in 1982 for good reason and haven’t looked back. It does have its inconveniences, ie cab fare is expensive, but I arrange my life accordingly so that my cab fare accomplishes more than one errand. At the very least, I get a huge grocery run out of it! Other than that, I work from home. Most of what I need is within walking distance and my grocery store delivers for about half what the cab would cost. When I lived in the country, people would call and ask if I needed anything or would like to ride along when they went to town. It’s a very different way of thinking but it IS entirely possible. And it’s frugal! I’ve saved a ton of money on the cars themselves, maintenance, insurance, gas, the list goes on.
Hi Jayne, Good for you! Yes, I know someone in our rural area who gave up her car. We actually have a network of people here called “Helping Hands” who will offer drives to people without cars. I used to volunteer for them before COVID to drive people to their medical appointments. Because I work off my homestead right now, I feel I need my car, but who knows in the future?
Here’s a tip from Eric Peters (I’m sure some of your readers are familiar with him, but if not, do a web search for Eric Peters Autos – libertarian and a knowledgeable car guy) – when you buy a used car, particularly a beater, the first thing you should do is have every single fluid in it changed. I mean everything – radiator, brake fluid, transmission fluid, the works! This is for a couple of reasons – one is so that you can start fresh and keep an eye on your fluids as you go along (see discoloration in your transmission or brake fluid? get ready for problems!), and two is that you have no idea how well (or not so well) the car was cared for before you bought it. They could have let things go far too long, so you’re taking care of it up front. Another thing I’d do as well is have a trusted mechanic check all belts and hoses and replace what needs replacing. These moves will give you a little more confidence that you can drive your beater for a while longer without major issues.
I’ve been driving my 11 year old car since it was new, and hoping to continue for at least a few more years,
Thank you Jim for this fantastic tip! Not only a preventative, but also diagnostic! I hope you get many more years out of your car. I will check out Eric Peters online. He sounds like a useful source of information. Thanks again!
I found my old 1969 Alfa Romeo 2-door coupe, piled full of parts (some, not all, that even belonged to that car) in a wrecking yard. Because I wanted a 2-liter engine that was Weber carb (non-electronic anything) capable, I had to find an Alfa Spider from that era with a good engine with a smashed body. That took a while. Because I was living in an apartment at the time, I spent a few months in some borrowed garage space (from a buddy) putting the pieces together to make a road-worthy car, after which it went to a paint shop for cleanup … red of course.
The sale decision and the process
I drove it for quite a few years until not only the excellent engine needed rebuilding (which I would have been happy to pay for) but in addition the Russian-sourced sheet metal had not been properly sealed from rusting. A complete rebuild of the body in addition to the engine I decided was too much so I listed it on eBay (with full disclosures of all the issues) in a way that I’d learned from selling antique furniture there so as not to get hurt by buyers who sometimes would take many many months before arranging for shipment. I learned to include a provision in the eBay listing that the first month’s storage rent (after winning the eBay auction) was free. The second month began a daily storage bill such that if by the last day of that second month the winning bidder had not yet arranged for shipping, that storage bill would have risen to exactly equal the final winning bid — which would thus double the price, which most buyers would rather forfeit than pay. I was careful to explain all that in the eBay listing agreement so I couldn’t be accused of surprise gotcha dishonesty.
My first buyer tried running the clock, and well into the second month of storage he claimed that he’s been called active duty from military reserve status to go into training for the Iraq War, and that there was a federal law that gave him exemption from such rental charges. I confirmed there was such a law so I said “no problem, just fax or mail me a copy of your orders, and that will scrap the storage charge.” He refused. I offered then that if he’d give me the the contact information for his legal officer on his military base, we could do the verification that way. Again he refused. My conclusion was that he was lying to me, and so I judged that he had forfeited on the storage rental charges. So I listed the car a second time on eBay and successfully sold it a second time.
That was a new experience — even though it wasn’t as funny as the sign I saw many years later that said “I just sold my pet homing pigeon on eBay for the 23rd time.”
Ha ha ha ha ha! LOVED that joke. Remind me not to buy a homing pigeon from you, Lewis, or from ANYONE for that matter. I enjoyed your story about your Alpha Romeo (red of course!). I bet that was so much fun to drive around. There certainly was a lot of drama about the storage charge. Good for you for sticking to your guns, so to speak. Thanks for sharing. It’s amazing how these cars stay in our memories, eh?
I needed another car a couple of years ago. I’d saved up $1,500. A neighbor and I went to town to look at vehicles. While following adds and looking at junk I saw a new listing come up on craigslist. It was for a cab fleet being liquidated. I decided to go check it out. There were cars from 2002 up to 2009. Prices started at $1200 and up. Cars with high mileage had newer motors and new front seats. All were well maintained. Crown vics with police interceptor engines. I talked with an owner and made an offer but finally asked for a price on two cars. He in turn made an offer of $1,250 for any two from the first block of cars. 2002- 2004. I agreed to that and picked out a 2003 I liked while my neighbor choose a 2002. I paid the $1,250.00 cash and returned the next day to pick up the second car. I gave it to the neighbor that drove me to town. We laughed that I paid $1,200 for mine and $50 for theirs. A few months in I needed an alternator and they needed a battery. The neighbor did the work for me. We still have the two cars. Mine is my usual driver. My other vehicle is a 2003 4×4 3/4 ton crewcab pickup. High mileage. I just spent $453 on a repair. Since I use it for hauling lots of sacks of feed or a ton at a time of heating pellets its worth saving the miles on it and to me it is worth some repairs.
Hi Clergylady, WOW! That was quite the deal the two of you got. I have heard great things about these Crown Vics. In fact, my brother owned one and swore by it. I hope you get many more years out of it. I can imagine that, with your way of life, a truck would be an absolute must. I had a cute trailer made out of the back end of a Chevy S10 that I hauled with Rosie. I used to go to the quarry and get 900 pounds of gravel for $20 and shovel it myself, go back for another and another. That’s how I built most of my driveway. I am not going to put a trail hitch on my new car. I have a good friend with a truck and he’s offered to help with what I need to haul. I paid more for the newer car and don’t want to burn out the engine hauling too heavy loads. Thanks for your story. I always enjoy reading about your frugal adventures!
Way back in 1993 I bought a 1991 high top conversion van with 4 captain chairs, table, and a folding couch bed.We needed it for my mothers comfort. We lost Dad in 1991. Mom stayed here in a tiny home we built for her then later moved her in with us for her last years. The van made travel easier on her. I paid $3,200 for a vehicle that had been $40,000 when new just 2 years earlier. Older couple weren’t driving anymore. The van had 30,000 miles on it. I drove it and pulled heavy loads from the city to home. One load of donated cinderblock for a mission project weighed 6,000 lbs. We made several long trips to visit family in it. I drove it till pulling another heavy load it threw a rod through the block. I was sad but didn’t feel bad retiring her. She had 414,000 miles on her.
Yes I’ve had a couple of new vehicles but I bought a lot of used cars over the years. Twice I bought 2 year old Lincoln Continental Town Cars. Good heavy cars for traversing rough dirt roads on Native reservations. There wasn’t much resale for them so I negotiated great prices. New they had cost $25,000 and $27,000. I paid $3,400 and $4,000. Both lasted several years of hard driving and long trips.
I also bought and drove a lot of not so great vehicles. I kept a road service insurance with 100 mile towing coverage. And I used it enough to make that expense worth it. One fun vehicle was a 16 passenger 1 ton bus. I paid $110 at auction for it. We drove a lot of visitors around in it. Eventually I took out most of the seats and delivered bread to grocery stores after I helped a single mother start a specialty bread bakery. I worked with her a year without pay to get it off the ground. We paid off used equipment, rewound a motor on a 60qt mixer, and all supplies and an addition for a small mixing room. Then cleared $20,000. I quit and Mom, a teen son and a cousin continued on making a living for quite a few years. At the school I was operating I bought supplies for several young people to go into small businesses that eventually supported young families for a lot of years. My buying cheap vehicles was necessary to living on our almost non existent income and so I could invest in others. Not bragging. It was my joy. And Bargain hunting is still satisfying.
Clergylady! I love your stories! You certainly did get your money’s worth from that conversion van. What a deal! You must have been thrilled to find something that would help your mother be more comfortable. I am in awe of towing 6000 pounds of cinder block. WOW! We have a lot of rough dirt roads out here. Not easy for a lighter smaller car like mine. I am actually adjusting my route to work (milking cows) to avoid some of the worst pot holes. Other times, I drive in the middle of the road and put most of the potholes in between my wheels! I am sure that a heavier, sturdier car like the Lincoln Continental Town Car would help.
That is a lovely story about how you helped that single mother start her bakery. A $110 bus!! I need to go to some auctions, except I’m worried I would fill up Half Acre Homestead with vehicle projects!!! I can just imagine how wonderful that bus must have smelled when it was filled with freshly baked bread. Mmmmmmm!
Still driving my beater after almost 20 years, a 1997 with only 212,000 miles. Have made repairs over time, drive shafts, timing belt – done by mechanics. When they quoted something ridiculous for new struts, I replaced them myself.
Hi Mark, YAY!!! I’m aiming for 20 years with my new car, so your story is an inspiration. I agree that, with a long term vision for a car, it is worth putting some financial investment into some of these things that are bound to wear, like the timing belt. I do not yet have the capability to replace something like struts, so am impressed by your story. I hope to continue to improve my mechanical knowledge over time. Wishing you the best with your own beater!
My 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage is named Violet(inspired by Willy Wonka), but I usually refer to it as ‘the blueberry ‘ we have driven over 100k miles together and sustained body damage. I cashed the insurabce checks and made only minimal repairs. This has my overall cost down to exactly what I could sell it for today. My blueberry gets great gas mileage but doesn’t get me in trouble speeding with only 3cylinders. I just had to get it towed to replace the clutch cable so I’m going without a car this week. I don’t know what would make me sell Violet. Someday there will be a sorrowful goodbye…
Awwww Kathy, I love your “blueberry” story. It reminds me of Me and Rosie! I hope that the two of you have many more years and miles together. I did cry a few tears when the tow truck took Rosie away. She was such a good car! I hope that your week without Violet goes quickly. Thanks for sharing!
We have trouble saying goodbye to old cars and lots of other tried and true items. We now have a 1990 BroncoII with nearly 350,000 miles. We still drive it almost daily and use our neighborhood mechanic for repairs ( nothing major to date) and regular maintenance. We also have a 1988 BroncoII with just over 300,000 miles. That one required a new transmission about 100,000 miles ago. We do have an almost new car for trips but our favorite running around vehicles remain the trusty Fords. I appreciate keeping things going as long as practical not just to save money. RIP Rosie!
Wow! Linda! What a pair of workhorses you have in those vehicles! Between the two of them, they have gone to the moon and BACK and then some! the 1988 was sure worth putting that tranny in….you’ve already gotten another 200,000 miles out of it. Good for you! I appreciate your practicality. It is nice to think that folks like us get good use out of these vehicles and save them from the scrap heap as long as we can. Thank you for your kind words about Rosie. She sure was a good car!