Reader Question: Is It Practical?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Mike asks: I’ve read your articles about avoiding new cars – the expense and the intrusive/nanny tech – by getting an older car to drive instead. You’ve frequently written about old VW Beetles (the air-cooled originals) but I’m skeptical about using such a car as a daily driver and would like to get your thoughts.

My reply: I can speak to this from direct personal experience since I drove a ’74 Beetle in DC traffic for years back in the ’90s – and traffic in DC in the ’90s was not, shall we say, bucolic.

If anything, driving the Beetle gave me advantages over the rest of the pack. The car is very small and so very maneuverable in traffic; yes, it’s slow – but so is city/suburban traffic. If you know how to drive – if you pay attention to driving – it is easy to outdrive people in much more powerful/quicker cars who aren’t paying attention to their driving.

An old Beetle can also be hopped up easily and cheaply and made much quicker than it was from the factory. If you feel the need for more speed.

But the main upside, as I see it, is that you’re immune from worry about parking on the street or even from minor fender benders… because who cares if it acquires another scratch or crease? True story: I had a guy in a new Mercedes drift over into my lane – into my Beetle. We pulled off to examine the damage. My Beetle had a big scratch – his Benz had a very expensive one. I told him I was ok with each of us dealing with his own and didn’t intend to file a claim. No skin off my nose – but lots of skin off his!

Old Beetles are also “field expedient” repairable – something new cars manifestly aren’t. Anything short of a burned up clutch or blown engine can usually be handled with hand tools and by the side of the road.

The main downside of an old Beetle as a daily driver is the absence of AC. But the car has surprisingly efficient ventilation and if you can keep moving, you can keep cool.

All cars have their pros and their cons. The Beetle’s pros far outweigh its cons in my book!

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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