Hammer Time! : The Beater & The Better

By on December 5, 2016

Most families I know own two types of vehicles.

There’s the beater that simply gets driven without a solitary care in the world. With beaters, the cleaning is always optional and the bad driving habits of every family member comes standard.

Then there is the ‘better’ car. The one that offers a lot more show and is regularly restricted to those kinfolk who appreciate the care and concern of a nicer ride.

Guess which one I like to drive every day?

If you said beater, well, you’re right. But not for the reasons you would expect.

I buy cars for a living at the wholesale dealer auctions and in my world, the ‘good’ older car is a rare find while the new stuff is more common than unsold tickets at a Yoko Ono concert.

For every 20 year old Jeep that hasn’t already been trashed all too hell, there are at least 350 Chevy Impala rental cars accompanied by 450 more Dodge Grand Caravans that have been ragged out and toe tagged for the low-end used car dealers.

The older metal offers all the fun…. and three times the risk. Take for instance this 1989 Jeep Cherokee Wagoneer Limited that’s been sitting around in the inop section for a month as a charity donation. The inop section is where cars that don’t run get picked apart for their few valuable components, crushed, sent overseas, and eventually recycled into Chinese washing machines.

That sub-$1000 car may just have a minor engine issue that requires some basic knowledge of the model’s weak points. Or, it could really be a rolling turd that’s worth more dead than alive. You never know until you buy it.

Got three hundred bucks? Well, sometimes you don’t even need that much to find yourself a time warp of a daily driver that’s more fun on the road than most of today’s rolling lemmings. But you do take the type of risk that doesn’t make you rich in this business. Unless your sense of richness has to do with reliving 1980s nostalgia with a toolbox on the ready.

Let me give you one more example. This is what I bought for all of $200 on a Monday afternoon.

This 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan SE has only one accurate word in its description – Dodge. As in folks dodged right by me when I bought it for $200 at a dealer auction. 

This old minivan came with a few (cough!) deletions.

The second and third seats are missing. Gone! Kaput! In its place is an old battery and six cupholders that I can use to hold screws, nuts, bolts, and plastic Jesus ornaments.

This particular owner decided to use black permanent marker to hide all the scratches and dings on those bulbous black bumpers, and you know what? It works fine if you’re too old to care.

Old doesn’t quite mean perfect. Six miles from home, the alternator decided to impersonate one of those from Autozone that comes with a ‘Limited Lifetime Warranty’. It quit as I was coasting at 40 miles per hour. I was able to coast it onto a parking lot and ordered a reman unit for all of sixty-bucks. A dozen bolts and an hour of sweating in the Georgia sun, and I was back on the road.

Two weeks later a miracle happened at my dealership. A guy came to look at it. Why did he want it so much? Well, I was selling it for a thousand bucks and he had a longing to reconstruct his favorite vehicle of the past, which turned out to be twenty-two year old Plymouth minivan. This Dodge is really a Plymouth. Or maybe the Plymouth is really a Dodge.

Either way, he got the money and I went to the auctions and found another rolling time warp.

This one is a 1990 Chrysler New Yorker with the same 3.3 Liter engine that was in the minivan. It drinks. It smokes, and it hangs around with the bad boys and for $500, it’s all mine.

So my future is looking pretty plush these days. On this one, I apparently won’t have to worry about the alternator at all since the prior owner replaced it. I guess I should just worry about everything else attached to it.

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