Forget Hybrids – Buy a Cheapster!

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If you’re really serious about saving money on transportation, the very last thing you should do is buy a new car. Particularly a new hybrid car. It’s as counterproductive as trying to lose weight by ordering a diet Coke with your triple Angus Thickburger.

The car companies – like the fast-food places – don’t want you to realize this, of course. Their business model depends on you losing money (or gaining weight – or both).

Luckily, we’re not yet forced to buy new cars – or eat Thickburgers.

We still have the option to do something better – something smarter. And when it comes to cutting transportation costs, buying a cheapster is much smarter, money-wise, than buying a new hybrid.

What’s a cheapster? It’s a car like they ought to be making now but aren’t – for a variety of reasons, including government regulations that heavily compromise fuel efficiency for the sake of making them every more crashworthy (which typically means making them ever-more-heavy). Cars like the old Geo/Chevy Metro – made from circa 1989 through 2001. This car never had an engine bigger than 1.3 liters (many had a 1 liter engine)  because it never weighed more than about 1,800 lbs. (early models weighed as little as 1,600 lbs.). As a result, it got 42 MPG – nearly as good as a new Toyota Prius (which weighs a beefy 3,042 lbs.).

A quick search of Auto Trader online ginned up two Metros for sale. The first, a ’97 with AC and only 45,000 miles, listed for $3,700 (see here) or about $20,000 less than the base price of a new Prius ($23,015).

I found another – a ’96 with 67k miles – for $2,495 (see here).

Think about this a minute. These cars cost almost nothing to buy – many people will be able to stroke a check for the whole amount, thereby eliminating the monthly payment. Meanwhile, had you bought a new Prius, you’d be paying about $400 a month for the next five years – and that’s assuming you bought one for sticker and pay zero interest. How much gas would you have to save to make up for what you just spent? Probably, you’d never reach break even. The difference in cost between the used Metros and a new Prius – about $20,000 – would buy roughly 5,000 gallons of unleaded regular at $4 per gallon. At an average 40 MPG, this is enough to keep the car going for 200,000 miles. Only then would a new Prius begin saving you money – assuming, of course, it’s still running by then.

Remember: The used Metro cost you zip per month. Your only fixed cost is fuel – and the Metro’s gas mileage is nearly as good as the real-world mileage of the Prius. (Doubters should check out a comparison test Car and Driver magazine did in 2008. A ’98 Metro hatchback was stacked up against a Honda Insight hybrid and a Toyota Prius. The Metro registered 42 MPG – right on the tailpipe of the then-new ’08 Prius’ 48 city, 45 highway.) The non-hybrid Metro is also a simple car – no battery packs or electric motors to sweat once the warranty expires. Even if the engine eventually requires work – including a complete rebuild – the work will not be cost-prohibitive. A new/rebuilt Metro engine and transmission would probably cost you around $4,000 for everything, done by a pro – and you’d be good to go for another 100,000-plus miles of 42 MPG.

That’s how you save money on transportation, folks.

Another potential cheapster is the Honda CRX, built from 1983-1991. Like the Geo/Chevy Metro, these cars had tiny engines (1.3-1.5 liters) because they had very low curb weights –  1,713 lbs. for the HF version. These cars, which also had more sophisticated engines than the Metro,  were capable of 41 MPG in city driving and as much as 50 MPG on the highway.

Nothing that’s not a hybrid can match this performance today.

I looked at Auto Trader again and found this CRX. It’s a ’91 model with 50,000 miles. The asking price? $3,550.

These are just a few examples. There are other makes/models from that era – the mid-late 1980s through the early-mid 1990s – that would do about as well. Lightweight economy cars were abundant then, because the government hadn’t yet effectively outlawed them. Sure, they’re not as “safe” as a modern – and much heavier – compact (which by the standards of the ’80s and early ’90s would be upclassed to mid-sized). But that’s only an issue if you get into an accident – and most “accidents” aren’t.  They’re the result of driver error – and so, to great extent avoidable. Back then, a buyer could decide that the higher everyday gas mileage of a 1,600 lb. compact was preferable to the theoretical safety advantage of a larger, heavier car. (Theoretical, because it only became a real factor in the event of an accident, which might never happen).

Today, new car buyers are denied that choice. The government has decided for you that gas mileage must take a back seat to “safety” – at your expense, of course.

Luckily, one can still do an end-run around all this by shopping for a high-mileage, low-cost cheapster instead of a mediocre mileage, high-priced “safety” car.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. Eric, I had to come back to this article to confirm that I was making the right choice buying a new or 3-5 year old used car. NOPE! I am now going to look at a Mazda 3 s Hatchback reduced to $3,000 tomorrow sold at a dealer. As long as my mechanic that also owns a bodyshop says it’s good to go, I’m taking the car. It is at 123,000 miles, but if there are no warning signs on the transmission or engine, I’m taking the car. At 29 MPG HWY (which I drive mostly) it’s MUCH more cost effective than buying a $15,000 2012. MPG is such a scam when you factor in total cost of the car and you’re right, I don’t NEED most of the amenities in today’s cars. Just more stuff to go wrong. I’ll take them when somebody else pays the depreciation on them.

    • Excellent, Peter!

      We still have some control over things; this being a case in point. It’s easy to get a new car (including a hybrid car) because they make debt (financing) so accessible. But it’s not necessary to get into debt to drive a car that has most of not everything one needs, that even looks pretty good and is enjoyable to drive.


      • Yep, here’s my logic: Should my mechanic give me the go it’s a $3,000 car w/29 MPG HWY. The engine will likely make it to 200,000 miles so the transmission is the only wild card. That’s a maximum of 8 years depending on my driving (I don’t even drive more than 10,000 miles some years, but last year I put a lot of miles on my car). EVEN IF the transmission goes out, we’re talking now a 5-6,000 car with NO DEBT, CHEAP INSURANCE (something else you need to factor into new car payments), CHEAP REGISTRATION FEES, and 80,000 miles of transportation on just maintenance.

        Even if something major goes on me in year one, a new car at 30,000 with 20% down costs $4,800 per year BEFORE interest, taxes, depreciation, and full coverage insurance. I’m still ahead of the game just getting a year out of this thing. People really need to do the math on this.

        How long would I have to drive ANY car that gives me hybrid miles to make up that savings? And how much do hybrid miles matter when I mostly drive on the interstate where the battery doesn’t power the car?

        Oh and how about the hidden savings of being able to save up to buy a non-cheapster for when I want to have fun? Can’t do that with new or used car debt!

  2. However, buying a USED PRIUS can be very cost effective. I traded my fully paid for but mechanically unreliable Mazdaspeed 6 in for a used 2010 Prius. I now pay $200/month for the Prius loan, but save a minimum of $80 per week on gas. My net cash flow is a positve $120/month even after paying the bank. Plus, the Prius has had zero problems, while the Mazda visited the dealer at least twice a year for an expensive repair.

  3. Isn’t the push to light weight for the consumer fleet the result of CAFE standards. The lighter cars give us more traffic deaths than one a freer market. For those of us who don’t travel far and occasionally encounter weather with bad traction, heavier cars have their merits.

    I’m facing a $2600 engine job on my ’89 Bonneville, mostly to replace a stupid plastic peg on the flywheel that tells a sensor how fast the engine is going. From the $4000 figure you quote for a cheapster engine job it sounds as if my quote is a bargain. Any thoughts on how long ought it take to complete?

    • Hi James,

      Yes, the drive to make cars lighter is almost entirely due to CAFE compliance pressures. On the other hand (paradoxically) there is equal and opposite pressure to make cars heavier in order to make then “safer” – that is, in compliance with the ever-expanding roster of federal crashworthiness standards.

      The $4k figure assumes pulling, replacing and rebuilding a complete drivetrain – not just the engine.

      Your $2,600 sounds excessive if it’s just to replace a flywheel speed sensor… they might have to separate the engine/transaxle to get at it, but still …

      Are they doing anything else?

      • The car has about 200K on it so it includes digging into the engine to replace the timing belt/chain and whatever else makes sense when the engine is that far apart.

        • Assuming the bottom end is ok and the compression’s still good, once all this is done, you ought to be good to go for another good long while – hopefully 75,000 miles or more. If it were me, I’d probably go ahead and put a new/rebuilt oil pump in while I was there. Otherwise, you should be all right!

  4. Dont forget the Saturn S Series. S, SL, SW, SC. 1991-2002.
    They can get near 40 MPG with the SOHC. And just a little over 2000 lbs. And they don’t dent or rust….well just check the subframes on salt belt state driven cars.

    • Saturns can rust with the exception of door skins and fenders* like many other unit body cars. The rust is simply hidden from view. The plastic panels are cosmetic. The structure under them is very conventional.

      *Non-saturns may also have composite or aluminum hoods and trunk lids.

      • I have a 1994 Saturn sitting as a yard ornament right now. There is a tarp on it and I don’t drive it anymore, but can’t bring myself to get rid of it because it’s such a damn good car. The interior is shot to hell, but mechanically it’s solid. It has the dual over head cam engine and hauls ass pretty good. Gets 40mpg no problems. I’m gonna keep it as a back up.

        • I bought a 2008 Saturn (OPEL) for 11k in 2009. It is a decent car. I did it so that I could be green and still have a replica cobra of 550 hp of utter simplicity. The saturn has no a/c, nor does the cobra replica, so I am OK.
          Cars ain’t cars if they weigh over 2800 lbs—my stupid opinion.

    • If you can do that, great. For many people, it’s not a realistic option. Especially now, given the state of the real estate market and the economy, generally. Most people would have to take a bath on their home – assuming they could sell it at all.

  5. I’d like to add the 4th Gen (1979-1984) Dodge Colt/Mitsubishi Mirage/Plymouth Champ to the menu. I’ve personally experienced the joy of driving one of those. With mpg north of 50, and an 8 speed manual transmission, it provides a great value.

  6. Another savings trick is to keep an eye out or actively search for discounted spare parts which will certainly need replaced sooner or later.

    I have a 2000 Hombre which I paid $8900 for brand new in 2000. Still runs fine with original exhaust, except for cat convert which I bought online from Summit for less than $60.

    I check amazon from time to time and have stored up parts like new coil packs for $17 each, ignition module for $110 and even a “brain” for $100. Brand new parts.

    Eight years now with just paying for gas.
    Always run synthetics and uses no oil at 160,000 miles.

    I drive from Pa. to Texas and back twice a year and always look forward to it.

    Sometimes I stop at the rest stop and sleep in the back (shell) just for fun!

  7. One-litre engine, bah luxury! My 1977 Renault 4 has as 700cc engine and pumping out 32 hp. o.5 litre/10 km , 170$ a year insurance.

  8. Love your writting but your math is wrong, 35 miles for old car 45 for new car, you still have a cost of driving new car so at 200,000 miles you have only saved the dif between the two not the total cost of driving old car $ .028 or so, After 200,000 miles only cost another $5800 on old car, all other cost being equal.

    Always have to figure spread between cost not just cost for one or the other, also might make that up just in insurance cost betwen the two, so in reality driving old car could be free. Just kiding.

  9. My wife has a ’95 Cutlass Supreme with all the whistles and bells and leather interior. It wasn’t made by the best engineers since they built it with places where the leather needs to be only an 1/8″ longer but the 3.1 engine seems to be bulletproof and I have used Amsoil 0W-30 in it for most of it’s life. My wife commented yesterday that it got 28.4MPG on the last tank, nothing out of the ordinary in decent weather but we’ve had nothing but really high winds and well over 100° every day for 3 weeks. With the tires that came on it or something similar, it corners and stops like it’s on rails with it’s 4 wheel independent suspension(rear susp. is much like a ‘Vette). It’s very comfortable with better seats than anything I’ve been in in many years. It’s ride is comfortable too. As of about 220,000 miles, it has only had the alternator replaced. I’d like to have another like it to rob parts off(hit a deer and she drove down our muddy road and covered it with a coat of mud so thick that the automatic antenna broke the drive trying to pull back in. All in all, I’d take another of these cars right now. It’s spent it’s life pounding dirt roads and BAD roads and that says a lot about what it will endure. The main complaint I had about it was a tape deck on the 6 speaker Bose system instead of a disc player. I rode in a friends Mercedes convertible yesterday for the first time. I can’t fit my chest into the seats so I’m stuck out in the seat like it was a kiddy car. It also rides like it’s on steel wheel and the seat bottoms are hard as a stone. I don’t care for any car I can’t get into and that Mercedes reminded me of older Japanese cars with seats not made for a big guy. I can’t help my size. If I were 20 pounds underweight my shoulders still wouldn’t fit in between the outside bolsters. One thing about that Merc though, I can close my eyes and tell you what size gravel they used in the pavement we’re riding over. Pitiful for a car that costs that much.

  10. There is yet another benefit. If you drive a new, expensive car, the police have a bigger incentive to stop you. It’s a number game: they are likely to find (or “find”) some contraband in a certain percentage of the stopped vehicles. The cars are then subject to theft (a.k.a. civil forfeiture). I drive a 1999 car, and since I bought it in 2007 I have NEVER been pulled over. Not worth the effort, I guess.

  11. there is also another option. if you have fabrication skills and know alittle about automotive design and mechanics, you could build a vehicle to your standards. start with an early model vehicle ,choose a model to your likeing. preferably before 1974 to avoid emissions regulations. check in your state. refurbish the vehicle, then add modern drivetrain components for the performance enhancement.
    exhample, 1970 chevy k10 4×4. all bodywork refurbished. adding improved suspension components. front and rear limited slip differencials with proper gearing. followed by 4 wheel disk brakes with hydroboost. then a modern mechanical diesel and 5 speed trandmission. a third the cost of a new model but the vehicle detroit should have built.

      • i’m running a cummins 3.9 . i paid $1600 for the engine. 80.000 miles
        i thing the mercedes diesel is a good choice, aswell.

        • There was a kit marketed to drop a Mercedes OM617 (the bulletproof FIVE-banger) in a 1970-1986 Toyota pickup. The truck won’t smoke the tires but that mill has more ‘grunt’ than a waller full of pigs.

  12. I had a 88 Chevy Sprint with the 3 cyl engine and a 5 speed, no a/c. I removed the rear anemic seat and built a platform and used it as my minitruck. I got 45 mpg on a carberated engine, not bad. I wish I kept that car, fun and economical to boot!

  13. Hi Eric,

    Which engine are you referring to with the J-Body / head gasket issue? I’m not familiar with the Ecotecs, but I’ve never seen serious issues with the earlier cars. Good machine work and a Fel-Pro gasket can cure nearly anything.

    Back in ’00 – ’05 I was telling people that the Isuzu Pup Diesel, Metros, CRX HF and Civic VX would be in demand soon due to fuel costs. I was dismissed as a crank. As the years went on that’s exactly what happened. Now, there are wanted ads in Craigslist for them.

    Some other notable cars are the 6th to 8th Gen. Corolla, and the SOHC 1st Gen. Saturns. Both with give more than 40 MPG with a 5-Speed.

    I got a ’93 Metro with 55,000 miles back in ’08. Waited patiently until the owner was ready to sell. I was to press that into service for commuting while I rebuild my 300K mile ’90 Civic. Had it less than a month when some idiot in a Windstar was not paying attention and suddenly swerved to the right of a truck making a right turn. He ran across the sidewalk, over the crosswalk and nailed the Metro in the left fender. Ended up 180 degrees around about 30 ft away in a ditch. Short visit to the E.R. Next car I got was an S-class (300 SD)!

  14. For cheap, reliable, and good on gas can you beat an old Cavalier or Sunbird? You can get them for a song, parts are cheap and abundant, and they compare pretty favorably in fuel consumption to imports, especially when you factor in the low initial cost.

    • My Mom had a Pontiac Sunbird Turbo. It was a little rocket but not very reliable. She has always been a lead foot. She had a 64 and a half mustang, and and then a 67. Later my parents had two Mavericks, V8, leather bucket seats, four on the floor. One red one puke green. They called them Lettuce and tomato. Those were real cars.

      Generally I would say to stay away from the 80’s turbo’s. The Chrysler LeBaron and Daytona were fun but kinda wack to work on. Good idea just not very well executed.

      • The Maverick is one of my favorite unrecognized classics. It is the Ford version of the Chevy Nova – i.e., a Mustang in drag (as the Nova was a Camaro in drag). Similar layouts, largely interchangeable mechanicals, with more interior room.

        I helped a friend build a ’73 – chocolate brown with a vinyl roof, tan interior. It wasn’t a factory Grabber with it did have the 302 2-BBL. We put a 4 BBL manifold and carb on it; mild street cam and dual exhaust, fiddled with the ignition a bit and put a shift kit in the automatic transmission. It was fast! Even better, it was absolutely docile. Mild exhaust burble let you know it had a V-8, but it idled smoothly at 800 RPM, AC keeping you cool if you wanted.

        I could have bought that car from him 10 years ago – but like the idiot I am I didn’t!

        • Sounds like a very fun car. I rarely see them on the road anymore. Car shows or drag strips once in a while.

          • I hope to have my mav road worthy by the end of summer. Needs a completely new suspension. Just wore out to the point I don’t want to drive it. Needs other stuff and I have some modification plans but getting it so I can drive it again is the first order of business.

        • I actually had two Mercury Comets (the Maverick with a little extra trim) back when I was young. Both were basic four door sedans, 250 I-6 engines; they were plain but very reliable for their vintage. They seemed to hold up a lot better than anything Government Motors was producing back then. I screwed up and traded the first one in on a low mileage Olds Starfire (with chrome Vega wheels and a white “Camaro” interior) mainly because it was “sportier”. It had a 231 V-6 / 4 spd. manual and ran damned good…when it was running that is. After a clutch, pressure plate and flywheel, a new radiator, new rear wheel bearings and practicially every piece of interior plastic breaking within the first year I traded that POS off…for…another 4 door Comet. The Mavericks / Comets were very simple cars and you could do practically anything you needed to fix one in your driveway. If it were “legal” I’ll bet Ford could sell the hell out of a basic car like that today by adding nothing more than EEC, multi-port EFI and a modern automatic transmission.

          • My first car was a handmedown ’75 mav. 200cid I6. It had terminal rust that I was fighting but a semi truck is what did it in. I replaced it with a ’73 mav, 250cid I6 which I still have.

            It has been my opinion that the maverick should be revived, in concept anyway since the 1980s. I think it could still be done today legally and much improved even relative to other cars.

            I have my ideas, but I don’t know if they would find a market in the USA. Think of a version of the mustang, lighter, more simple, basic interior, no gizmos, just the stuff that’s cheaper because of economies of scale like power windows. Of course I would like it to have an inline 6. A small displacement eco-boost inline six.

            I think americans like their gizmos too much for another maverick to sell. Look at all the crap they put on the focus.

            I’d prefer less gizmos with the cost purchasing things like rear wheel drive.

            • It could certainly be done.

              In my opinion, a big obstacle is the gulled American public. PR has conditioned most of them into believing they need and must have a level of amenities and equipment – as well as capability – that they most objectively do not. In that article I did about the end of the love affair, I mentioned the fact that any current-year base model economy car is capable of 100-plus MPH and of cruising all day at 80-plus. This is gratuitous wastefulness given the realities of the American road – and the American driver. Note: I am not calling for the resurrection of Drive 55. I am simply pointing out the reality that cars capable of 7 second 0-60 runs, 100-plus on top, etc. are effectively useless – and so, pointless. Millions of people would be well-served by a modern-day Maverick: A simple, basic car that weighs about 2,500 lbs. (sedan) with a 70-80 hp engine that delivers an average 50 MPG. Such a car would still be capable of 70-plus cruising speeds on the highway, which is all most people really need.

              Instead, we have hausefraus in minivans with 270 hp engines and 18 inch wheels that cost $40,000 and get 18 MPG – and never get driven faster than an ’82 Aries K.

              It’s retarded.

    • Yes – beat them with a tire iron! Hard! The Cavalier (and its Pontiac clone) is an infamous POS with major design flaws, including (among the most serious) repetitive head gasket failure. It’s unfixable. The design is flawed. All you can do is replace the head gasket when it fails (roughly every 30,000 miles), hopefully catching it before major engine damage happens as a result of overheating – then save your money for the next head gasket job, which will come along about 30,000 miles later.

      Stay away from this car!

    • we currently have 7 cars. (I have 5 kids that drive so far).
      ’92 Sunbird bought 5 years ago for $1,500 with 60k on it. A friend’s aunt had a stroke and they were selling it cheap.
      ’02 Grand Am bought last summer for $4k, That car had 90k on it but its in immaculate shape. Bought from a friend’s husband who has terminal cancer and decided to buy a truck, trailer and boat for fun before checking out.
      ’03 Mercury Sable bought 2 years ago for $3,500 with 30k miles on it. Bought from a friend’s grandma whose family took her keys away.
      ’99 Ford Escort bought early this year. $2,500 with 33k miles on it. A friend’s dad died at age 90 and he babied the car.
      ’78 Trans Am with 78k on and purchased for $4k of eBay
      ’03 Olds Alero with 17k miles that cost $8k. Bought that 3 years ago from Government fleet sale.
      ’08 Ford 15 Passenger Van. Bought that 2 years ago with 40k miles for $20k. Most I have every paid for a car.
      The Sunbird is about dead and heading to its grave. All of the other cars are running great with no major issues.
      I love finding older cars for a deal. With 12 kids I am always on the lookout. The Escort that we bought last October isn’t even tagged yet. Just bought to have “Just in Case”. And sure enough, with the Sunbird dying, we will tag the Ford soon.

  15. My wife says I’m frugal, I say cheap. This is the stradegy I have used for years. I pay cash for low mileage cars that get decent Mpg’s. They must be high production models so that I can find parts in junkyards easilly. This way I am not forced to make payments or pay for full coverage insurance. I keep two cars at a time one plated and registered one not.

    Less insurance cost no interest simply great.

    Yes there are problems once in a while. For instance my 97 escort tossed a timing belt Saturday. With the towing cost and parts I had about $400 putting it back on the road. But think about that it’s less than two car payments! I paid 2600 bucks for this car 8 years ago it had 32,000 miles and was mint. This was by far the most I have put into it. My other hoopty is a 96 neon, 2400 bucks and it had a total of 11,000 miles when I bought it. I imagine I will need to put new head gaskets on it sometime soon but again at most that will be a couple of car payments. I have had it for 7 years. Before that I had a lumina and a taurus. For both of them I had a total of three grand in them and drove them for 6 years each. Including taking them both across the country and back.

    Even if you don’t care to work on your own cars it’s still much more affordable.

    This is why the cash for clunkers ticked me off. It wasn’t enough that they took them off the market they had to crush them and make it harder to find parts. Plus the price of used cars went up. Thanks again big government.

    One last point. Another good bargain can be a car that was in a light front end collision. Often you can find one that has been totaled but left on the market. Often the cost of the bags going off is enough to total it. Buy the car cheap, dont’ replace the bags and spend a few hundred bucks putting it back on the road. I drove one of the first year hyundai’s for six years that I had a total of $600 bucks into. When it was on it’s very last leg I traded it for the Taurus and got $600 in trade in. I know it varies from state to state but in Mi. You can buy back a totaled car and still keep a clean title at times.

      • Yes, but again I don’t know how that works in your state. I have also been with the same insurance company since the 80’s so they will actually take my balance and trasfer it as well. I do get stuck paying the registration fee. But my cars are very low price so it’s cheap enough. Most of the time I change plates at the same time each year on my birthday. That way I can take my time and work on the car over winter. I run one car for a year then work on the other. I live in the country so I can get away with taking the second car out for a quick spin once a week.

    (Something To Try Before Initiating an Armed Revolution)

    WE have reached a point in America’s history where it would be wise to do three very important things:

    1. Examine every statute in the light of the Bill of Rights, Human Rights, and Unalienable Rights. Beginning with the power to imprison, Legal Powers that fail the examination should be avoided or repealed as quickly as possible.

    2. Create and ratify a Constitutional Amendment requiring a Sunset Clause for every piece of legislation. Permit no mere rubber stamping to give a law new life.

    3. Initiate Mandatory Concurrent Review prior to ratification of a legislated power.

    Tinsley Grey Sammons (1936 –)

  17. I’ve owned a Honda CRX SI and I don’t think it all of them were manuals standard. It was, a kick ass car. My Dad got 50+ miles / gallon on it on a trip to Florida from the Mid Atlantic area. I regularly got in the 40s in mixed driving. It was light weight, fun to shift, and fun to rev. It wasn’t that fast, but sure turned well. God I miss that car. With the AC on the car had BARELY enough horsepower to get up and go but that’s the only real complaint I had. That thing would run forever at 70 MPH.

    • A/C

      Unfortunately, I see no way around the physics necessary to air condition a passenger car. It must really be a juice consuming drag on the hybrids.

      I was a VW Mechtec when Donald P. Dixon marked an A/C for the VW Beetle. During tuneups the spark plugs on the left bank were sometimes not replaced by a Mectec willing to do a half-assed job if he could get away with it. By the time performance was sufficiently degraded to make it absolutely necessary, the plugs were seized and stripped the threads in the left cylinder head during removal.

      In my opinion, installing air conditioning in a VW Beetle was a very bad idea.


    • According to Wiki and The CRX Resource, only the base, DX model was available with an automatic. The max mpg HF model, and the sporty Si came only with manual transmissions.
      My 91 CRX Si was the most fun car I ever owned. Previous owner did the engine rebuild. My Si was weak at low revs, but quite peppy above 3500rpm. Best mileage I ever got was 33mpg, but the AC was usually on (here in Az,) and I kept it above 3500rpm.
      Only reason I sold it was because of a feature that Eric loves….no air bags.
      Gosh I wish Honda would bring back the CRX! Unfortunately, Honda has philosophically deteriorated to the point where they are about The Last Automaker In The World that would offer such a car.

      • Honda is a good machine but as a shop owner I preferred servicing and repairing Toyotas and Nissans.

        On some Hondas, applying the torque necessary to break the crank pulley bolt loose could be a heart stopping, sphincter puckering experience. Although I never had one break, while gorilla-ing a long breaker bar I often had visions of having to remove an engine to drill out a broken pulley bolt. (And I believe that bolt was a #10 on the Hardness Index . . . a real drill bit eater.)

        Tinsley Grey Sammons

  18. Eric_G wrote, “(I’ve always had to keep cars outside).”

    That seems like a reason Not to get a new car, i.e. vandals and full coverage insurance vs. liability only, plus the elements.

    Eric_G wrote, “a car I’ll enjoy for the next 10-15 years”

    Nice thought.

    Problem is, the next 10-15 probably won’t be anything like the last 10-15.
    That’s the biggest thing that keeps me from considering buying new. I wonder how far apart our economic and political expectations for the future are? I expect Big Time inflation sooner rather than later, and political turmoil, etc, throw in a nice trade war too perhaps?
    A new car might just be what’s known as a mal-investment?

    I read of an older couple once who owned a nice new fancy SUV, they sold it because they realized it made them juicy targets for criminals to follow home. Maybe I spent too much time reading what life is like for Ferfal in Argentina and expect things to look similarly here? Idk. YMMV.

    Eric_G wrote, “I don’t anticipate my driving patterns to change any time soon”

    I can’t say the same, I don’t see how anyone could what with everything else that’s been going on,… it’d be great if it were so though,… maybe.

    Economics is everything.

    A Person’s income goes down or stays flat, living expenses go up up up, that’s when a cheapie car looks good.

    … Just thinking out loud.

    • Or, dang, what life is like for – the People of Greece – and expect things to look similarly here?

      Lost Faith: Young and Old Reject the Two Political Parties

      The descriptions on the Yahoo link at the bottom,… whew, a lot of People in the unitedstate will likely be in the same boat soon, what a ripple effect that will be.

      Set to music: “I’m dreaming-of-a cheap-ster car.”

    • I would not buy a new vehicle myself for all the reasons you’ve listed. Plus, I just can’t see putting that much coin into what, for me, is an appliance.

      I pout my money into my muscle cars and my motorcycles!

      • I understand that I have the unpopular view. I’m really not trying to justify my mid-life crisis car (such as it is), but having tried to keep used cars for more than 2 or 3 years, I find that they quickly become money pits. And I don’t have my own garage, nor do I want one. It’s not that I’m not capable of doing the work, just that I don’t want to tool up or have to buy a house big enough to have a working garage (I’m single in my mid-40s and don’t want to be paying off a 30 year mortgage when I should be retiring).

        As for the future, as I said, I’m not financing more than I can afford, and the only reason I didn’t pay cash is because I wanted to make sure I continued to have money/trade instruments available if things would go south. But despite what is happening with the FED, we are still limping along in Japan mode, and this will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Sure, the FED will continue to attempt to inflate, but their own tea leaves are telling them the current trends will continue until at least 2015 or later. The boomers are figuring out that they can’t retire and are panicking.

        I’m sure I’ll once again be slammed for not looking at the M1 money supply as inflationary. But that money still isn’t going anywhere. The banks still haven’t done anything to fix their books. And they won’t, as long as housing prices aren’t even near their historical norms, credit card use is in freefall, and unemployment is still a problem.

        Anyway, I like my car. I’m keeping it. Screw you guys, I’m going home.

        • Thanks for the response, Eric_G.

          Your economic perspective is pretty common I think.

          It’s interesting you base some of your assumptions on what the Fed reads into their tea leaves. A lot of others do too, however; The Fed lives on another planet.

          I wonder why you think the M1 money supply has gone nowhere?
          Where do you think the money came from to give the Dow it’s best record since 2007?

          Have you read the rest of this speech given to The Fed?:

          “The noose is tightening on your organization, vast amounts of money printing are now required to keep your manipulated economy afloat. It will ultimately result in huge price inflation, or, if you stop printing, another massive economic crash will occur. There is no other way out.” …

          And this isn’t good news for those with new car loans:

          “Only one way for interest rates to go, up, way up.”

          I seem to recall seeing a chart showing credit card use is shooting up again rather than free falling. Yet another indication among many that money is leaking out of the system.

          I was just thinking out loud, you didn’t have to go home.

        • Eric, the trick to buying a mid-life crisis car is buying it when your 30, then putting it in a garage until you need it!

          Think of it as an investment. You absolutely *know* that when you hit 55 you’re going to buy a (Porsche 930, ’57 Thunderbird, ’89 Camero R/S, ’67 Mustang). You *know* these things.

          They aren’t getting cheaper. It’s a pension plan! Go with it! 🙂

  19. There are other reasons, mostly subjective/emotional, to buy a new car. I traded my 2002 Pontiac Grand Am in on an Audi A3 TDI this year. My intention was to pay cash for a late-model used Jetta TDI, but when I looked at the prices I was blown away. Depending on the options they were going for more than the new Jettas. I later found out that VW cut corners on the 2011-2012 Jetta, taking a mid-range euro-crusier and making it a cheap econobox (for example, rear drum brakes on the 2012 vs 4 wheel discs on the older models). The new models also have fewer options and just don’t feel like they’ll last.

    So instead I went up market and next door to the Audi dealer. I wasn’t impressed with what they had on the lot, so I custom ordered and got everything I wanted. If I would have bought off the lot I know I wouldn’t have been as happy as I am with the car. I also know that the options I ordered don’t make much sense in some ways since they added cost to what should be consdiered an economy model, but my point was to get a car I’ll enjoy for the next 10-15 years, without having to pay for major repairs for the first few years.

    BTW I really don’t drive my personal vehicles for more than 10,000 miles/year, and when I do it’s for long trips. The Grand Am had 114K miles when traded in, most of the heavy driving was done early on. I don’t anticipate my driving patterns to change any time soon, so again, keeping a car for a long time is actually somewhat painless for me. It’s more about holding interest and keeping the exterior in good shape (I’ve always had to keep cars outside).

  20. I miss my 1996 Metro. It had the 1.3 and I achieved 45 mpg in the heat of the Summer. I recently learned about sound dampening material for cars. I wish I knew then.

    The A/C kept breaking down, so I had a relative remove the compressor for weight loss and the oil filter would be easier to reach too.

    All of the engine work was incredibly easy. Oil changes, spark plugs/wires, radiator flush, etc. No, it was not a “babe magnet” (I was still getting laid by fairly attractive women during the time though). Then again, the cops pretty much ignored it too.

    I should have put it in long term storage, because back in 2004 I knew that due to dollar depreciation, the price of gas would go over $4 in the fairly near future.

    Anyway, I believe that I read in the Business Week article “The Geo Metro Rides Again”, that there were individuals pulling old Metros out of junkyards, restoring them and selling them for close to the original price back in 2008 when gas was becoming really expensive.

    Still, even though approx. 700,000 were built, I don’t think they are easy to find unless they are in junkyards waiting for restoration.

    The 2013 Chevy Spark will not have a “stripped” version that I know of and the low end price is around $13,000 with airbags up the a$$.

    Where’s the Toyota Aygo? The Hyundai Getz? The Honda Z600?

  21. Honda CRXs are not just cheap, basic transportation. They also have a high fun to drive ratio, especially the Si models. After perusing the Auto Trader pix for that ’91 CRX, I’m Extremely Sceptical about that “50,000 miles” claim. Looks like at least 3x that many miles….probably more. It sports Si insignias, but has an auto trans, which I don’t think was an available combo. Aftermarket wheels and induction are obvious. Buyer beware.

    Even “Geezer Tinsley’s” 2002 Corolla, in the post above, has 65,000 miles. And it is probably toting at least one of those horrible, heavy airbags. 😉

    Your basic concept is definitely valid. But any economy car old enough to embody your “minimal safety equipment” ideal is likely to be pretty “used up.” To be realistic, one should factor in an engine rebuild at least, into any cost per mile equation

    • Highway mileage is much easer on a vehicle than city driving with frequent starts, stops and braking. Kathy’s 2006 Altima has 155k miles on the odometer, much of it from a 70 mile daily highway commute.

      Engines, fuels, and lubricants are better today than they’ve ever been. With electronic controls and fuel metering the cylinder walls don’t get washed with unburned fuel that also dilutes the engine oil. Hell, I used to change oil in my aircooled, carburetted VW Beetles every 3,000 miles.

      Kathy wants to start her retirement with a new Nissan Rogue but the idea of giving the damned parasites* $2,500 in taxes fills me with murderous outrage. It’s probably economically feasible to drive the Altima for another ten years. I’ll probably be dead by then and Kathy might no longer drive.


      *I lived a lifetime of doing useful labor and the intense hatred that I feel for tax paid parasites and bad law parasites would horrify both Hitler and Stalin…and perhaps Pol Pot as well.

    • My 2002 Corolla has two airbags. I correspond with a retired Naval Aviator who made the point that pilots and racing vehicle drivers eschew airbags in favor of the restraint harness they’ve used since Day One. Gotta admit, there is no danger of accidental deployment with the harness. (Hmm…wonder if I might have installed an ejection seat in my 1962 sunroof equipped VW Beetle? Unfortunately, landing could be a real problem. (Poor ol’ Wile E. Coyote could no doubt have landed in some godawful places after installing his Acme Ejection Seat.))

      Fifty years ago I often installed optional seatbelts in VW Beetles at the customer’s request.

      Tinsley Grey ammons (1936 –)

  22. In 2002 we purchased a new 2002 Corolla for $12k. Kathy purchased a new Nissan Altima when we settled in Gonzales LA after losing our home in St. Bernard Parish to Katrina. When Kathy joins me in retirement in two months, we will sell the Corolla simply because it no longer makes sense to carry insurance on it. The car has only 65k miles and if I still needed it I would drive it to destruction.

    The point I’m trying to make is this: Sometimes Geezers sell low mileage vehicles simply because they no longer need them.

    As for battery power, I don’t see a breakthrough coming that will make battery power feasible for automobiles. There is simply no substitute for petroleum powered Otto and Wankel engines.

    A light, battery powered vehicle dependent on a recharge from the commerical power in American homes might be good for a round trip to your local Walmart* or to the Government Authorized Monopolist who writes your prescriptions but beyond that I do not see America’s roads and highways full of hybrids, and battery only cars trying to nurse their rapidly dwindling battery juice to the next charging station.

    On the upside of electric power is the relative simplicity of the Electric Motor Only vehicle. I rarely drive more then ten miles roundtrip and it would be perfect for me. The biggest problem might be avoiding being crushed by faster and heavier vehicles.


    One step up from the golf cart.

    • Tinsley Grey Sammons wrote, “Geezers sell low mileage vehicles simply because they no longer need them.”

      That is So true.
      And they often get snapped up right away.
      I can’t count the number of perfect cars I’ve seen on Craigslist get sold the day after I see the ad.
      … I’ve got to stop looking at cars which are more than a days drive away.

      • I am retired now but used to commute 114 miles a day round trip. My plan to make it cost effective was find a good used cheepy and drive it till I got bored or it became unreliable. I found over the years a good Honda was hard to beat, Last one was a Saturn 2001 model though. My commute was at high speeds so I looked for a dual overhead cam standard shift 4 banger. Always 30+ mpg and a price about $5k with around 50k miles on it. All the ones I bought went well over 200k with little repair.
        I just gave my Daughter the Saturn for their second local car. Has 220k on it. Runs great still looks good. A must is to buy quality synthetic oils, hoses, and Batteries. I also recommend the best tires you can buy, Even in TX heat at 80+ Mph Commute I averaged 80k+ on a set of tires.

        I will never buy a new car again. I would rather have a top of the line several year old Car than the best new one. NO payments, Good service if you shop well and have it checked by a mechanic before buying. Remember HONDA! Have a little fun get the dual overhead cam V TECH. So a couple mpg. Go for it.

        • Mid-’90s Corollas are another excellent choice for an almost unkillable, affordable, good-mileage Transportation Unit. The bad news is that good ones are becoming hard to find…

    • I agree, all my work cars have been Geezers cars. If it’s possible for you I would consider keeping your extra car. It’s really nice to have a second car waiting in case you need it. I don’t know how your state laws work though. I always keep two with one that I don’t insure or register or plate. It’s simply hard to get rid of a good car that you know the history on.


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