The Cheap Drive

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I wrote the other day about stepping off the debt escalator. About the freedom that comes with not having to make payments. Car payments in particular. For every dollar you pay, you acquire perhaps (optimistically) 50 cents in fungible value – i.e., what the car will be worth to someone else once you’ve paid it off.

This is not a good deal.

There are better deals available. But you have to be willing to do some unusual things – which is why most people do not usually do them. And so end up getting 50 cents on the dollar for their “investment” . . .  if they’re lucky.

So what can you do to get that better deal?

* Buy a car at auction –

These are cars up for bid, often with a reserve – a minimum price – but sometimes not. If not – an absolute sale – you might be able to buy a car for next to nothing, literally. Either way, you should be able to get a car for much less than you’d have paid retail, either at a used car lot or via an individual private

The cars being auctioned typically range from trade-ins and just-off-lease cars (dealers often run these cars through auctions to clear inventory quickly) to “repos” – cars repossessed by a bank after the person stopped making payments –  cars seized by the government during drug raids and also ex-government vehicles (usually trucks and SUVs but also sometimes passenger cars, including ex cop cars).

Some auctions do motorcycles and equipment as well.

The company will typically publicize a list of the vehicles scheduled to go up for bidding a couple of weeks prior to the auction itself. To find these auctions, just Google search for them in your area; they are usually easy to

The auction process can be a little intimidating if you’re new to it, in particular the pig in a poke aspect of it. Meaning, you’ll have to make a relatively split-second decision about the bid – what you’ll pay for the car – and will probably not be the only person bidding.

But the good news is – contrary to what you might think – you don’t have to make a split-second decision about the car. At most auctions, you will have the opportunity to physically inspect the vehicle prior to the auction or on the day of the auction. Most of the time, you’ll be allowed to start the engine and while you probably won’t be allowed to take the car for a test drive, many auctioned cars will be “green lighted” as to their mechanical condition – that is, the auction company will attest that the car has been inspected and no major mechanical issues were found. Some auction houses will agree to cancel the sale or refund your money if the car turns out to have a major problem discovered immediately after the

Other times, the car will be sold “as is/where is” – meaning, it’s all on you if the car isn’t what you hoped it would be. But the same is true when you buy a used car from a private seller – and often, when you buy a used car from a dealer. Just be aware of all this before you dive in.

Some auctions require a dealer license to bid – or to bid on certain cars (in my state, Virginia, the law requires that cars lacking a current/valid state safety inspection be sold only to dealers who are licensed by the state to perform inspections) but you can end run this by finding a friend who has the dealer license.

Also, there is usually a “processing fee” (of course) that you’ll pay the auction company on top of the price you agree to pay for the car itself. And you will usually have to make that payment – in full – within a few days or so of your winning bid. This usually means cash or bank check,

You should only bid on a vehicle knowing in your head exactly what you’re willing to pay – and what a given car is worth “on the street” (retail) before you start bidding. Research retail values prior to the auction and factor in such things as miles and condition.

Those caveats aside, auctions are a great place to get a car on the cheap. And once you’re hip to the way they work, they’re no more scary – or risky – than buying from a used car lot or private seller.

In some ways, less so.

*   Buy an old car – 

As distinct from a merely used car.

Ideally, an ugly one that most people aren’t interested in.

And by “old,” I mean one that qualifies for antique vehicle registration – which will save you a lot of money by eliminating annual registration fees (these add up) and also the hassle of having to take your vehicle in for an annual or semi-annual “safety” inspection. In most states, an antique vehicle – defined as 21 years old or older, usually – is exempt from both of these things.old-bmw

Now, technically, a vehicle registered as an antique is not supposed to be used as a daily/regular-use vehicle. But you can usually “get away” (the verbiage is ridiculous; you are simply avoiding obnoxious government edicts designed to separate you from your money – and your liberty) with driving the car regularly. Just be discreet about it.

Even better is even older.

A car built before they began to outfit cars with air bags and computers – which would be mid-early ’90s for the former (air bags) and pre-1980s for the latter (computers). An older car with a carburetor and without a computer may need minor adjustment more often, but these adjustments are typically performed with a screwdriver and other such basic hand tools and can be done by almost anyone with a little patience and the ability to read a basic shop/repair manual.antique-tag

This (self-service) can save you a lot of money. It is also empowering to be able to keep up your car yourself.

Another plus – old or older – is that insurance and property taxes (if you have to deal with those) will be rock bottom. An ancient – and paid for – “beater” that has a book value of next-to-nothing can be insured for next-to-nothing (liability-only, the bare minimum) and the rapacious paw of government can’t steal much in property taxes on a car that’s worth next-to-nothing.

*Buy a motorcycle

This is a hard-core option, but it’s definitely a way to save coin. New – or used.

Or old.wing2

You can buy a new bike for less than $10,000. About half that, actually, will buy something like a Kawasaki KLR650 – which will also give you better fuel economy than just about any new car. And more fun, too.

About $3,000 should be enough to buy a very nice used bike. Much less for one that may not look nice but which is nonetheless mechanically sound.

Bikes are also cheaper to maintain and (unless it’s a new sport bike and you are a young guy) cheaper to insure. They fit places cars don’t – including inside your house or apartment.

The only (and obvious) downsides being zero protection from the elements and not much protection from the idiocies of other drivers.

But, a great way to save money on getting around.

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    • Tor – I’ve used CCleaner for years along with other tools like Spybot Search & Destroy, Avira antivirus and HitmanPro. I haven’t used HijackThis and will give it a try. I mostly use the Opera browser but also use Firefox. I’ve been using a new Lenovo with Windoz 10. I’ve cleaned up a lot of the spyware using a a batch file that places most of the spyware URLs into my hosts file with the address and I’ve used win10PrivacyDWS_Lite.exe (from the same people that make Spybot.) At some point, I will power up my Ubuntu box and see if that makes a difference.

      • Caution is the best course. I have used C Cleaner and Spybot S&D and had good results. I used to use Avira and it worked well but then they offered me this suite of stuff. I tried it and most everything worked fine but one part of it would clean up your hard drive and do away with false boot programs. Everything was guaranteed to be completely reversible. That boot cleaner identified quite a few bad boot sectors as spyware. You could choose to have it delete the bad things and if you had second thoughts it was completely reversible. Seeing some of the things in the boot I knew were bad I used it to clean those. The problem being the hard drive was ruined and would never boot again. I was less than happy with that.

        • > … hard drive was ruined and would never boot again.

          Ouch – that’s a bummer. It was pretty easy in the old days of FAT file systems to repair a damaged boot sector using the Peter Norton disk editor. Today, always always make a backup before doing anything dangerous.

          • It wouldn’t boot at all. I did get it fixed but it cost out the wazoo and had it not been for stuff I hadn’t backed up I’d have chunked it. Sometimes that’s what you get for being such a “good customer”. Hey, don’t do me any favors.

            The people at the computer repair said they nearly gave up on it and readily agreed if I hadn’t wanted what was on it so bad they would have recommended the dumpster. Back in ’09 there was a day in the summer that even on tv and radio they were telling people to not get online that day because of some Russian worm that was going to be unleashed. I had a customer who said if I didn’t do the job for him that day he didn’t want it, some thing in the next couple days he had to see on Dish. Against my better judgement I got online and ended up with my wife a couple hundred miles away getting online. They were sure enough right about that worm. It fried both hard drives. I fixed one with an external hard drive I had on hand. Funny, just yesterday a cat fight in the barn knocked some boxes down and there was the box for that stand alone hard drive. I was burning trash so it made a good fire. Wish I had a stove to burn it in today. The arctic front is coming through and it’s supposed to get colder than the proverbial witches privates.

  1. If the onerous and unreasonable safety and environmental regulations which are driving up the cost of cars beyond what people can afford continue, I fear we’ll end up being like Cuba where everybody is driving decades old cars held together by zip ties and Velcro. My families’ cars are 4, 15, 16 and 20 years old respectively (motorcycles are 11 and 15). I have saved a lot of money over the years by driving older, paid for cars that are cheap to insure with low property taxes. It’s liberating to not be enslaved by the banking and insurance cartels.

    • Hi Robbie,


      It’s why I think I will swap/buy the Goldwing rather than (for now) buy a car (or truck). I can get the Goldwing for about $500, all said and done. Paid-for, cheap to keep.

      Cold in winter, but I can stay home for days on end.

  2. Auctions for the average person are a bad idea. Typically, any auction that the public can go to, the cars end up going for close to retail, and the tools who buy them don’t have a clue as to what they are getting. Almost always, the cars that end up at those auctions are rejects –the bottom of the pile that NO ONE in the business wants because they have lots of problems which aren’t worth fixing. They’ve often even fooled a dealer or two, who himself bought it at an auction, and got took, and who is now trying to unload it. Even at the real dealer auctions, anything decent usually ends up going for full retail –you can get better deals by looking on Craigslist and going with cash to private sellers and making offers.

    Motorcycles: One accident can easily cost you more in medical bills than a lifetime of cars and gas…..

    Old cars: Ding!Ding! Ding! These are becoming the only feasible options. New(er) cars, no matter how cheap, will keep one tethered to a dealership for the length of the cars life these days, with all of the electronics and software, and once the warranty is over, that’ll be an EXPENSIVE proposition!

    Get an old car that ain’t rusty, and you can keep it going forever at minimal expense. I think people are starting to figure this out though, as the prices on ANYTHIN old these days are rdonkulous — but well worth it, compared to the new abominations.

  3. I’ve probably saved tens of thousands over the years by primarily driving an old motorcycle and bicycles but also using Enterprise Rent-A-Car as a gold card holder whenever needed. If you can structure your life so you only need a car every few weeks or less often, and you’re near a rental place, then this seems like an over-looked option. People think hitting up a car rental place is expensive but it’s really not when compared to ownership.

  4. Another boondoggle (in VA anyway) is the “Farm Use” plates. No inspection, no registration, no personal property tax. Meant to be put on like big stake body trucks and such so the farmer can use the road to get from one side of his hay field to the next. However, of course, you see them on all kinds of cars. I need to know what the prerequisites are in order get on that bandwagon! The most egregious usage I’ve seen is on a brand new F-350 king ranch dually diesel in Middleburg. (You know, where the rich gentleman horse farmers live!) Strikes an envious chord in me for sure.

  5. Our NEWEST vehicle is a 2006. The others are a 1988, a 1989, and a 1991 – plus a 1976 which burns oil and we no longer insure. In Montana, you can buy permanent plates once they are 11 years old, and liability insurance is relatively cheap. Once you have more vehicles than drivers, the marginal cost of adding another one to the policy is minimal.

    • “nce you have more vehicles than drivers, the marginal cost of adding another one to the policy is minimal.”

      Not in Illinois. Insurance doesn’t car that I can only drive one car at a time.

      • Well, it’s not free to add another vehicle, but when you try to remove one from the policy they don’t give you much of a reduction in premium.

        • Actually there’s no change so long as I have two.
          If I add another car they wack me because it’s a new policy and I have to earn all my discounts with it. The last time I added a car the agent resurrected a policy for a similar car I had years before so I would get my discounts.

        • The primary reason I moved my Maverick to antique insurance was because in doing so I retained my discounts for my newest car by keeping that policy.

          • I’m debating just letting it all lapse… quietly. The TA goes out rarely. I tire of spending (of being forced to spend) a large sum every year to “cover” it.

            All these mandated expenses nickel and dime us to death.

            I got rid of one huge such expense by saying, “no thanks” to homeowner’s insurance. Feed them fish heads. Got sick of throwing away $1,500 a year (that adds up) for… nothing.

            Some quick maff:

            $1,500/year for the homeowner’s insurance
            $3600/year for health insurance
            $800/year for vehicle insurance

            Almost $6,000

            I can live on $6k for three months. Food, electric, Internet.

            In other words, a sum equal to my living expenses for a quarter of the year is thrown away on “coverage” – on nothing.

            Stop paying for this “coverage” and all of a sudden, your economic situation improves hugely.

            • It’s all to keep us in the company town earning an income. That and ZIRP.

              Without taxes and the various cartels/mafias $6000 could last me…. probably half a year if I live like I used to. gas I wouldn’t need much if I wasn’t working. Food, that’s not much, utilities, again not much.

              I’m trying to think what my bills would be without taxes and insurances and there just isn’t anything significant. I work now mainly because I can’t afford the mandatory cartels and taxes without working. Honestly if wasn’t for obamacare I would could just do a three month contract gig each year and be fine. I’d work from say nov-jan and that’s it.

              • Morning, Brent!

                I will not pay Obamacare. I pay for the dentist out of pocket. I trust good habits, good genes and good luck for the rest and – as a single guy without kids – can do that without moral compunction. If I keel over, it’s not going to burden anyone else or leave anyone else in the lurch.

                One of the reasons I am reluctant to buy a car to replace the truck my ex-wife now has is because it will mean paying got-damned insurance (and property taxes and registration fees). If I swap-buy the bike my friend has, I can evade the insurance by hanging one of my other bikes’ tags on it. How many squealing enforcers could tell the difference between an ’83 Honda and an ’84 Honda? It’s a chance I am willing to take. Feed ’em fish heads!

                A huge blessing is that I was able to tell the got-damned home insurance mafia to chew coarse grains through loose teeth and piss off – because I own my house. The bastards had arbitrarily jacked up my “coverage” to more than $1,500 annually. I’ve never filed a claim. I live on top of a mountain where there is no chance of flood damage, almost no chance of a tornado or hurricane; virtually no chance I will ever file a claim.

                Yet they wanted $1,500 annually – sure to go up again at some point for no legitimate reason. Feed ’em fish heads!

                I cancelled the policy and the feeling was orgiastic. That was seven years ago. I have already saved nearly $11,000!

                If the egregious, tyrannical property taxes on the house went away I could live comfortably on $1,000 a month, saving a couple hundred each month, probably.

                But we can’t have financial independence and liberty, can we?

                • It’s getting worse. Promotion of what is called “the sharing economy” here is picking up. It’s what I’ve called the rental economy where everyone rents as they need something but since they don’t own it they never escape the monthly nut.

                  Humans keep falling for the same old scams in renewed form and they keep dragging down those who know better with them.

                  But people love it because they can force those like you and I to pay their bills. All the people on the receiving end then act as if they can’t understand the resentment from people who have to put so much into society while getting little to nothing out of it. It’s as if they can’t grasp that since they are taking out more than they put in someone somewhere must be putting in more than he’s taking out. Maybe they can’t or maybe just maybe the reason they fear a libertarian world is deep down they know what thieves they are and think everyone else is too.

                  • > … maybe the reason they fear a libertarian world is deep down they know what thieves they are and think everyone else is too.

                    Brent – I think you hit the nail on the head. Freud called it “projection”.

      • Ditto that, Brent! I’ve always lived alone, and at some points have had as many as four registered/insured vehicles, and no matter the state, you get a multiple vehicle discount, but each vehicle still ends up costing 75% of the premium of the first vehicle.

        • Hi Nunzio,

          Amen. I have four bikes, three of which see very little road time. Yet I am compelled to insure them all as if they were all used regularly. And even though I can only ride one a time.

          I got tired of bleeding for the annual “registration” and “inspection” cons and – for several – just stopped doing it. The chances of getting caught are slim to nil and even if I do get caught, it’s just a small fine.

          I’d do the same with the insurance, but the fine is not small and there are other consequences, too.

          I burn with hate toward the insurance mafia. They are almost as loathsome as George W. Bush.

          • Eric, I’ve never understood, why, if they must have an insurance mafia [Yes, compulsory insurance had to be one of the biggest blows to liberty in the history of the world- if anything, their armed goons should be forced to carry personal liability insurance at their own expense!) why can’t they at least do like in Europe, where you can insure the driver, rather than the car? (Ironic, one of the few times they actually do something that makes sense over there…). You could have 10 cars over there, and just just insure yourself, so only the particular car you are driving is covered. It’s ridiculous having to have a separate liability policy for each and every vehicle we own. In my case, it avaraged out to like $200 a year per vehicle, when I had 4 vehicles, but $800 a year for nothing ain’t chicken scratch when you live apart from the system, and especially when you’ve been driving for (and paying) for 35 years and never caused an insurance co. to so much as pay out a single dime. And now they want to make health extortion mandatory? They can just throw me in jail, because i draw the line there!

  6. How long will it be before the old car/motorcycle “loophole”will be scrutinized? I have 2 motorcycles with antique plates now and my main Ford Econoline transportation is old enough for vintage tags but I’m reluctant to push my luck. The stated government goal of zero traffic accidents by 2030 forebodes some drastic strategies ahead.

    • I agree, Tolemo…

      If the system as currently constituted remains in force, then it is a certainty (in my opinion) that “loopholes” such as this will be closed.

      But, there is also the possibility – my hope – that the United-by-force-States will peacefully deconstruct itself and the Clovers will go their way while the rest go another way.

      Everything I am trying to do here is toward that end!

  7. Hi Eric – do you know if a car in your state of VA is considered an antique at 21 years old? My son lives in Fairfax county and I stay there as often as I can. I keep a 95 Mustang at his house, would love to save a couple bucks and register it as an antique, but I assumed it was 25 years.

  8. btw, one thing I miss on the ‘new improved version’ is the link at the top of the article to take you to the Comments. Not because I want to skip the article but because I want to check for new comments on 1 I already read.

        • eric, I found out stupid is more common than I thought. The Z 71 I bought has a new ignition switch…..not because it had to have one but because the previous owner lost his only key. Instead of going to a dealer or online and using the VIN to get a replacement the switch was replaced with a different key. Now there’s no way to lock the pickup and get back in. I’m going to a dealer today and get an original key and I’ll two keys instead of one that does everything. I’m going to inquire if they can supply an ignition switch with the same key as original. I’ll probably go that route if I can.


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