Friday, June 24, 2016

Coffee Brake: Can You Drive A $300 Car Every Day?

Last week's Coffee Brake (Why I Will (Probably) Never Buy A New Car Again) was a natural extension of the DT Manifesto where I wrote at length about my own rules for driving on the cheap.  Of course, the comments were filled with excellent suggestions and some really well thought out advice, but one thing that stuck out in my mind was the advice from Hunter when he suggested you buy a $300 car and drive it every day.  Three hundred bones doesn't buy much these days, but I want to know if you guys think you can drive a $300 car every day.

First up in my search for $300 cars is this 1992 Ford Taurus offered for $250 in Palos Verdes, CA -- the seller claims it is from an estate sale from an elderly person who parked it 4 years ago, and registration was paid until Feb of this year, which means you will have some back fees if registering in Cali.  It probably just needs the fuel tank flushed and something simple like a fuel pump relay, but who knows.

Next up is a 1995 Saturn SL that is offered for $300 but has a leaky water pump, needs tranny work, and needs airbag installation.  No photo means that you should have less competition, but how much is that tranny going to cost you to repair? Skip this one.

Next up is this 1985 Ford Mustang GT with a 5-speed manual box offered for $100 in Central Los Angeles...wait a minute.  The seller is offering raffle tickets for $100 each and will randomly pick one of 30 tickets for the winner -- this dude expects 30 people to drop $100 on this pile o parts? Seriously?  This town is the worst.  Never search Los Angeles craigslist, heading north...

Up in the SF Bay Area is this 1997 Ford Taurus Wagon (a Hunsbloger special!!) offered for $300 that has a salvage title and is just missing the key.  How bad can it be?

It can't be that much more terrible than this 1995 Cadillac Eldorado ETC offered for $300 in San Jose, CA -- it needs motor work, which is likely a headgasket at the least, possibly a full engine rebuild.  Just a headgasket on the Northstar V8 (300 horsepower baby!!) won't be that bad -- you can do it yourself in your driveway.

This next car is offered for $100 in San Jose, CA with the simple title "Its bad".  The seller describes it as a"1984 I have no idea" and writes: Its a truck does not run has no numbers as is was a lock and key truck that's all I know.  Well, I know a bit about cars and that is no 1985, it looks like a 1975ish Datsun pickup with a camper conversion, which is awesome for $100 [ed CFlo: it's a Toyota Hilux with a Chinook camper].  Bonus if it is 1975 and earlier because you won't need to pass smog to register it.  Now this is a $100 car I'd drive every day.

If you just need a car for simple commuting, I can't imagine that this 1990 Toyota Corolla with leaking oil would be that bad for $300.  If it runs/drives and doesn't overheat, I give this two wrenches up.

What do you guys think? Can you drive a $300 every day and not lose your shorts? Comments below.


  1. Vince, you're right about that pickup being a ~1975, but wrong about the make. It's a Toyota Hilux with a Chinook camper conversion. Maybe worth a bit to someone who wants a smog-exempt offroad expedition vehicle; restore the body & camper, plop it down onto a newer Tacoma 4x4 frame, retain 1975 model year VIN & registration, win.

    1. And to answer your question, yes - I think that '92 Taurus is a winner. Siphon out as much bad gas as possible from the tank. Fill it up with fresh gas and maybe some Techron or Marvel Mystery Oil. Go buy a handful of cheap $5 VatoZone fuel filters, jumper the fuel pump, and flush all the crap out of the lines. Maybe replace the easily accessible fuel hoses under the hood. Clean the battery contacts and swap in a known-good battery. Fresh plugs, maybe wires too. I bet it would run fine for around $75 more invested.

    2. Is that a HiLux?
      [image src="$900_Puyallup.jpg/440px-Toyota_Hilux_$900_Puyallup.jpg" width ="500px" /]

      I coulda sworn it was a Datsun.
      [image src="" width ="500px"/]

      They all look the same to me!!

    3. 100% Toyota. My dad had a '75 Hilux when I was a wee lad. I can still smell it, so yes, I can identify them by sight immediately!

      Note that the Datsun has a sexier, rounder profile to the front fascia, and also that little winglet in the door between the window sill and door handle.

  2. The Anchorage options:

    1991 Escort that needs charging help -

    Ugly-van that runs and drives -

    An 89 Subaru GL wagon that would probably suffice -

    A running Eagle Summit with a manual for $50 -

    For the big spenders ($300-500), your options get a little more palatable -

    A light project Cherokee for $500 -

    86 Cabrio that just needs the engine reinstalled -

    99 Taurus for $500 -

    1. $50 for an Eagle Summit? Even if it blows up two days later, it is STILL cheaper than a rental!

    2. Dave Coleman had a great story about a $400 Toyota Camry "rental car" he bought in Oregon after flying to one city, but needing to pick up a car in another. I think he told the story when he was a guest on our DT Radio Show. He posted a CL ad in city #2 the day he bought the car in city #1, and resold it immediately upon arrival.

    3. Yeah, I'm thinking the SUmmit, the GL or the Taurus are the winners of my local options.

      I still see the $400 '83 Tercel SR5 wagon that I sold to a BMW tech for $500 about seven years ago parked outside the dealership regularly. That automotive cockroach will run (in awesome plaid interior style) til the body falls off.

      [image src="" width="500px"/]

    4. Slightly further afield -

      '83 Mazda 626(?) - looks super straight, if needing a good scrub -
      [image src="" width="400px"/]

      Toyota Wagon 22R engine... a gamble at $300

      An 82 Wagoneer?
      [image src="" width="400px"/]

  3. One of the biggest challenges is location. If you live somewhere that doesn't require annual smog inspections (MI)you can drive something that's 'sick' without issue. (You know, has a constant head-cold, but nothing terminal) In CA if its newish, it has to pass smog which usually involves $$. (Think of click-n-clack... so, it leaks a little oil on the manifold and smokes a bit when you're at an intersection. You can buy oil by the case and leave it in the trunk for added traction in the winter!)

    1. Hell, if I had to be in perfect running order, they would have buried me years ago!! :)

  4. Tauruses,, Tauri? seem to be the go to hooptie

  5. Would like to suggest a new DT Feature entitled "One Stop from the Junkyard". Only criteria is that 1) the vehicle must be listed at $300 or less, 2) be fixable for less than $100 on a Saturday and 3) good to pass inspection on Monday before work.

  6. Got a guy near here with an 89 SHO for $300. Needs some TLC, but claims it runs. No pics tho. Was thinking of going to look at it this weekend.

  7. So the Mazda is missing some ZOOM ZOOM i bought cars for $25.00 Dollars and yes they ran and drove those beaters to work 5 days a week.


  9. '92 Taurus...if it's a 3.8 of that vintage then they're a game of head-gasket roulette even worse than the Northstar. The slushboxes can also be fragile.

    '89 SHO - the engines are durable enough but parts availability sucks and most cheap ones are going to be pretty ragged. They are also a pretty nasty car to work on.

    That Toyota Chinook could be a lot of fun if you're not having to replace everything in it, most of those have long aged out of the cheap junkyards. But the 'has no numbers' part might be a titling challenge in some places.

  10. I just got back from Toronto, I would have thrown my two cents in sooner.

    The best way to get your hands on a $300 car is to avoid Craigslist. Ask around, somebody you know has a cousin who has an old crappy Corolla that needs an alternator and an oil change that they're just tired of looking at.

    Alternatively look for $800 ads where they're clearly out of their mind about the price. Sane people will haggle, because anything under a grand is usually "get it out of my life" money. Some people are insane about the price, but that's de rigueur on CL.

    1. The thing in California, at least in the exurban regimes thereof, is that the scrappage programs winnow down the pool of really cheap hardware. If it's running and registered and in this age range the local air-quality board will take money out of my pocket to give you $1000 for it.

      And if it's not registered and hasn't been non-opped with the state you may be looking at more in back registration fees than you pay for the car.

      So shop carefully.

      You need something that's either not running but within your ability to fix reasonably, or running but for some reason (location, not registered long enough to the current owner, whatever) doesn't fit within the scrappage program.

  11. Probably a less-likely story, but I bought my Alfetta GT for $250 after it had been lingering on CL for weeks and the seller finally threatened to scrap it. He'd been asking $1200 for a car with expired registration, non-structural rust, and poor cosmetics, but it was a running, functional car with new rear brakes and a recent valve job. Drove it home ~50 miles with my sister following in her Jeep. To get it on the road legally, I duct-taped over the cracking fuel filler hose, paid my Alfa shop to smog it, and adjusted the hand brake so it wouldn't seize. Semi-daily drove it to work and have since spent beyond the budget restoring/upgrading because I got attached to the car, but it probably went ~6 months from purchase before I needed to rebuild the driveshaft... so if I had a point, it's that it might not be the sure-fire bet the Corolla is, but don't discount the oddballs, and keep an aging Golf as a backup?


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