Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there's something almost universally understood about the superior taste of a $150 filet mignon over a 25 cent Cup O' Noodles, and the same reasoning applies to cars. However, there are certain aspects of owning something really, ridiculously cheap that no luxury or exotic could ever hope to compete with.
When people think of bottom of the bargain bin cars, they're usually associated with models that have serious mechanical issues and won't be on the road much longer, and those people are usually right. However, this may not mean much, as demonstrated by the following flow of logic:
- Most car models have better reliability than the models that were made before them.
- As newer cars depreciate, some become more undesirable to the market, dropping in price even further.
- When reliability of new cars increases, the reliability of used cars increases.
- With the constant flow of new cars on the market, there's a constant flow of super-cheap cars on the used car market, with ever-increasing levels of engineering and reliability.
To put this into practice, I went to eBay and looked for a random Ford for under a $2,000 budget, and hundreds of potential candidates were shown, some in very drivable condition, others in various states of disrepair, and other needing a minor spruce-up to become road-worthy. If you buy any of these cars, reliability isn't a major concern, because as you approach the scrap value of the car, your selection grows almost exponentially. It's entirely possible that the car would last a reasonably long time with minimal maintenance, and with cars this cheap, you can use them for a while, sell them for essentially scrap, and buy a new (to you) model for next to nothing, that, if newer, will statistically be more reliable than the last. Also, you'll only have to look after the mechanical aspects of the car, because...
If you've ever purchased a new car, there comes a very dark moment of ownership when your immaculate baby gets its first scratch or dent. This is usually accompanied by a frantic investigation into who parked next to you and how this injustice could have happened to the Employee Of The Month, for God's sake. It usually ends in an rapidly declining attitude towards the pride you once had in your prized automobile. But after a while, you realize that it's absolutely liberating not having to care if your car survives the night without a new scratch adorned on either business end.
Raphael Orlove once owned a Lexus ES300 that he destroyed in epic form. But before the tragically hilarious turn of events that unfolded when he tried to rallycross what was essentially a $600 Lexus with 200,000 miles on it, it was his daily driver. As I visited him to diagnose the car's various automotive maladies, he discovered a sizable dent in one of the rear doors. It was apparent that a cab or parking car had backed into the Lexus and didn't have the foresight to leave a note saying " I'm sorry, I thought you were Employee Of The Month. That guy is a real jerk." What did Raph do? He raised an eyebrow, said "Oh, look at that," and went on with his day. He didn't make a stink and didn't blame the heavens for his grave misfortune. He just shrugged it off and went about his day, as well all should while driving a car that isn't worth the tires it sits on. Not only that, but a battle scar on the face of a cheap car can be a good thing, because...
Have you ever had a friend that named their car? Raise your hand if your friend's car had more boot-sized dents than wheels and a net worth less than its fuel range. Now put your hands down, I can't see them. This is the internet, you weirdo. Sure, there are the characterful halo and movie cars that are pristine in an out and possess names, but unless you're Nicolas Cage trying to stop your brother from being a human-sized potato latke, the only reason you name a car is because it's seen some shit. This isn't necessarily a product of cars with names, it's a product of cheap cars going on carefree adventures and experiences. If I go back to the ultimate cheap car owner and Pickle Quarterly subscriber Raphael Orlove again, you'd know that he has a Volkswagen Baja Bug that gets a ton of attention, despite having more visible rust than the present-day Costa Concordia. It has been on its side, has competed in rallycross and ice-drifting events, and still runs daily, regardless of how many tetanus shot you need to drive it.
And that's ultimately the point with any car - why pussyfoot around when you can have fun right now? Sure, it can break, and probably will, but it's part of the experience. Being stuck on the side of the road in a cloud of coolant smoke is a story you tell your friends for years, it's the sort of water cooler talk that never gets old, and something that you can look back with rose-tinted spectacles and think "that old piece of crap sure was fun. I should get another one." Yes, yes, you should, because life is too short to drive boring cars.
If you want to find your own super cheap memory-mobile, start here, and post what you find in the comments!
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world's cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he's the only Jalopnik author that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn't feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.