Here is why I have a beater car for my daily driving and why you should consider the car you drive.
My daily beater car is a 2002 Toyota Camry that my parents bought years ago for my mom to drive. Back then, she had about 160,000 miles, and the only issue with her was that the side view mirrors didn’t work.
Years and copious amounts of daily driving later, she now has 281,000 miles and a whole lot of wear and tear.
I took over driving and upkeep duties about 8 years ago and have probably put around 80,000 miles on her in that time. Somewhere along the way, the interior lights stopped working, the sunroof no longer opens, and the cigarette outlet no longer charges.
She’s been keyed, scratched, dinged, hit by other cars (multiple times), and about half of the paint coating has peeled off (that’s a really sexy look, by the way).
But there ain’t nothing wrong with the radio!
So why the heck do I still drive this beater car?
Why I Drive a Daily Beater Car
By now, you should know that Sebastian and I are into frugalism. Being a frugalist means understanding how money-related systems work, saving money wherever you can, and getting maximum value and usage out of purchases you do make.
With frugalism in mind, the answer to why I drive a daily beater car is simple: it still safely drives.
Cars are one of those things that indicate social status, or so we’ve been trained to think. Your car is one of the things people see, and so you tend to spend way more money and effort on making your car look cooler than you do other things.
Not only do people like to buy new or more expensive cars, but they tend to spend a lot of money on upgrades to spruce up their ride.
A great example is half-ton trucks. You generally see two kinds of half-ton trucks, and they are immediately discernable.
The first kind is work or purpose-driven trucks, which you can tell because the truck will be a more basic model with normal factory parts, along with perhaps a canopy or a tonneau cover. If they are used for work, the truck may have a rack or the business name on the windows.
The second kind is what I call “little-man syndrome” trucks (no offense if this is you!). You know the one: big chrome or black wheels, lift, fog lights, fancy headlights, chrome everywhere, and a sticker of a guy peeing on something in the back window.
This second kind is a showoff truck. A moving status symbol. A great big “look at me!”
So why am I telling you this? After all, the point of this post is to talk about why I choose to drive a daily beater.
The reason I’ve just spent several paragraphs describing how most people view cars, and therefore, the PERCEIVED purpose of cars held by most people, is as a springboard for discussing the TRUE purpose of a car.
Just a Mode of Transportation
A car is nothing more than a mode of transportation.
The TRUE purpose of a car is to get you from point A to point B safely, nothing more.
That doesn’t mean that different vehicles don’t serve different purposes. Certain cars offer great gas mileage, while others are extremely reliable. Minivans are great for hauling many people, while trucks allow you to haul and pull loads.
Different vehicles serve different purposes, but they all boil down to getting from place to place with people and things safely.
So what is the purpose of my daily beater? To get me to work and back and around town safely without spending an arm and a leg on gas.
Is it still serving that purpose? Yes, it is.
My Camry is a bit beat up, and some things don’t work. However, none of those things affect how the car drives or my safety. All of these things are for comfort and convenience, and so I’ve chosen not to spend money on fixing them.
What I have spent money on is necessary maintenance to keep the car running and safe. I’ve replaced the carburetor and the radiator in the last year, some spark plugs, and had the rotors resurfaced. I’ve also spent money on regular oil changes and routinely checking fluids.
Because the purpose of this vehicle is to get me from point A to point B safely, I don’t see a reason to spend money on things that don’t help the car to serve that purpose, nor do I see a reason to get into another car payment for a vehicle that won’t serve that purpose any better than what I already have.
A newer car would do the same thing that my Camry does, except cost me a lot more money every month. Sure, it’d have more convenience with updated gadgets, but do I really NEED those things? Are those things worth another monthly payment and more interest paid?
Nah, I’ll keep my daily beater.
Now, I realize my daily beater is a more extreme example, and I would not necessarily recommend it or a similar car for some things.
My Camry is not a vehicle I’d want to take off across the country in. The high miles do make it a high repair risk, and the stress that would be put on the engine from many miles at higher speeds could result in a higher likelihood of needing repairs. Even though Camry’s are extremely reliable, any vehicle with that many miles carries more risk.
A cross-country road trip is not its purpose.
Also, because of the high miles, I wouldn’t recommend my daily beater car to some people. While it’s no big deal if I have car trouble around town, car trouble is a hassle and a potential safety issue if you’re a parent with young kids. It’s better to drive a car with lower miles that will be more reliable in some cases.
Again, high reliability for a parent is not its purpose.
But wait a minute Tawnya, if you’re basing your decisions on the purpose of things and looking for the most cost-effective way to serve the purpose, then why wouldn’t you apply this mindset to everything?
I apply this concept to (almost) everything in my life, except for one part of the equation for why I drive my daily beater that we haven’t discussed yet.
I’ll repeat it, CARS DEPRECIATE. They lose their value over time, no matter how well you maintain them or how few miles they have.
Cars depreciate, and that gives me double the reason to spend money only on things that affect my Camry’s ability to serve its purpose and put off buying another car for as long as it can do so.
There is no need to spend top-dollar for items that depreciate when you can get something that serves the same purpose for much cheaper. Find something that will give you good value for the money and then use it until it gives out.
Before that happens, there is no reason to spend MORE money on something newer that serves the same purpose.
Moral of the Story
I proudly drive a daily beater car.
Why? The TRUE purpose of a vehicle is to get from point A to point B safely, and my Camry is perfect for that purpose around town and to work and back.
Think about what purposes you need to be served with your vehicles.
Do you have kids? Maybe you have a minivan or an SUV. Do you haul things at home or work? Maybe you need a truck. Do you drive lots of miles? You will want a car that gets good gas mileage.
Now think about the vehicles you own and the purposes they ACTUALLY serve.
Is your daily driver a truck, but you don’t haul anything? Do you drive an expensive sports car but have kids? Do you spend a lot of money on upgrades to make your ride look and sound cool?
If you find a discrepancy between the purposes you need your vehicles to serve and the purposes they actually do serve, chances are you’re spending way more money than you need to.
Which is okay. Just be aware that that is a choice you are making.
Unfortunately, the time IS fast approaching when I will need to upgrade my daily beater car to a newer daily driver. While Camrys are known to go 300,000 miles regularly, you never know when the cost of maintaining it will overshadow its value to me.
Until then, honk and wave when you see me driving around town in my daily beater.
Tawnya is a 34-year-old Special Education teacher in the sixth year of her career. Along with her partner, Sebastian, she runs the blog Money Saved is Money Earned. Tawnya has worked extremely hard to reach her goals and remain debt-free.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University and has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. It is this wealth of tips and tricks that they wish to pass on to others.