The Inner Beauty Of Boring Old Used Cars

By on December 13, 2017

I was walking to my car when I heard a stranger’s voice ask me about my daily driver.

How old is that thing?”

“Umm… you remember Beanie Babies?”

“Oh my God! Really? It’s older than that?”

“Older than even you buddy!”

And it’s all mine. 24 years and counting. This 1994 Corolla was first sold way back in November 1993. That’s older than most of today’s college students. In fact, I was just a junior in college when this base Corolla was first tagged and put on the open road.

A lot of things have happened since then and yet, the roadside scenery that comes with a daily drive is still surprisingly similar. If you removed all the computers and cell phones from today’s world, you may find that the way things were back in the 1990s, and the daily life that exists now, are not all that different. Especially when it comes to the driveways and highways of America.

Over 90% of us still drive cars with an automatic transmission, four round tires, and a steering wheel that is exclusively controlled by human input. Automotive technologies are not quite with us in full force yet, which was exactly how driving was back in the early-Clinton era.

They were on the eve of OBDII diagnostics. We’re now on the precipice of autonomous and electric vehicles. And yet, an old car can still do the same exact good job with the right owner. In fact it does a few jobs better than a lot of new vehicles in ways that add to a far healthier bottom line and quality of life.

Let me offer a few examples:

Maintenance: Cars today are a rolling PITA for the do-it-yourself owners among us. You want to do maintenance yourself on a late model car? Get ready to deal with more plastic than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Oil changes have become a labyrinth of cheap plastic moldings. Removing filters often requires extensions and sometimes even specialized tools. As for replacing your transmission fluid? Fugheddaboudit! Sealed transmissions and CVTs have turned what was once a simple maintenance job that greatly improved a car‘s longevity, into a no-no nadir for a rapidly decreasing number of self-reliant car owners.

This Corolla? It can have nearly everything done in an hour or less except the timing belt which only comes around every 60,000 miles. That means brakes, tune-ups, oil changes, air and fuel filters replacement, even a transmission drain and fill. Remember when that involved the unscrewing of one bolt? Not anymore All these items on a new car collectively add up to thousands of dollars. They cost just nickels on the dollar with an older car.  

Taxes & Fees : The average new costs well over $2000 in government taxes and fees in most states, and that’s before you have pay a bogus dealer fee or two that’s named after the car dealer’s dog. But a 1990s car is merely given a paper cut or two of taxes and annual fees that usually amount to less than $200. Cheap is easier to keep. This Corolla cost $60 to register one time here in my home state of Georgia and from there, just $20 a year annually to renew the tag. That’s it, unless some car hating douchebag decides otherwise.

Movies! :  You may not be photogenic, but your older car may be the Harrison Ford or Gwen Stefani of daily drivers (without their make-up.). Even if your rolling relic looks more like Don Knotts, older cars offer the perfect background for TV and movie shoots set in a specific time period. A TV show set in the 1990s may need your 1990s car several times a year, and that can pay incredibly well for what amounts to a day long paid vacation.

Typically you get $150 to $250 for offering your car on a movie shoot where all you do is park your car, hang out, and eat large amounts of gourmet catered food. Keep in mind though some shoots are l-o-n-g. So if you get bored easily, my advice is to bring that ancient historical artifact known as book and find yourself a big shady tree.

Insurance : The cost of your car obviously makes a huge difference in what you pay. But the general tendency of older cars costing a lot less still applies. Especially if you’re the type who is comfortable having liability insurance only for your older carA 2011 Toyota Corolla S would set me back nearly $1400 year in Georgia with full coverage and a $500 deductible. A 1994 Corolla with liability only? Just barely over $750. Do that for 5 years and you’ll likely have far healthier nest egg for the long haul.

The Cool Factor : It seems like everyone with a pulse and a paycheck can finance a late model car these days thanks to an auto finance market that’s still running too hot on cheap credit. But to paraphrase the rapper Mackelmore, all you’re really doing when you’re making yourself a seven-year wage slave on a new car is, “Paying $50 for a T-shirt” just to be fashionable. And the thing is, you’re really not. You’re just another sheeple about to get fleeced by the marketeers of the modern day.

Cool these days is more about living within your means. It’s about screwing a system that’s designed to screw you, while getting ahead in life by enjoying real life experiences that have more to do with being than buying.

Things that do a basic job for a ton of money aren’t worth it.  If you can be a long-term keeper of an older car, instead of a trader for what’s fashionable, you’re going to have a lot less stress and a lot more freedom to enjoy the things that really matter; like learning to surf Hawaiian waves or buying food that isn’t the equivalent of nutritional excrement. An older car can be the king of swing and the purveyor of all things cool if you’re the type who is willing to invest and learn. Even if you decide to find an experienced mechanic who can do the dirty work you’ll still come out way ahead. So do yourself a healthy favor. Buy the older it and keep it like it’s your new fling. You would be surprised how well they age.


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