Sure Signs Your Car Is A Beater


Note: If you live in snow country, this doesn’t apply to your winter beater. Same goes for beloved project cars.

We’ve all seen them. Beaters. Those broken-down, jacked-up cars dying of neglect. Of course, not all old cars are beaters. I’ve seen plenty of beaters less than five years old. I’ve driven pristine cars that are old enough to buy booze.

Project cars that are in process can look a little rough around the edges during restoration.

Are you driving a beater? Here are some sure signs:

Deliberate neglect: I’m not talking about hitting a financial dry spell and putting off needed maintenance and repairs in order to stay fed and housed…we’ve all been there. Hall pass.

I’m talking about misplaced priorities: shelling out for after-market appearance toys but balking at paying for an oil change or scheduled service. Those plastic chrome rims are going to look sweet as your car is hauled away by Triple A for the fifth time.

I used to work with a guy who put off some needed emissions work on his car so he could buy expensive after-market mods instead. The car was belching a rainbow of oddly-colored exhaust, but hey, it had those cheesy mods. I’d never seen a late-model Toyota beater in the wild before that.

Trashing the interior: I shouldn’t complain, but I will. The upholstery of my borrowed car had a film of some grimy substance of questionable origins. Sand and tanning lotion residue were everywhere. Food wrappers. Two semi-full soda bottles that should have been flung a week ago.  A gym shirt that I swear was moving under its own power.

Things had been that way in that car for a long time.

Part of me wanted to hurl and the other part of me wanted to take the poor car to a car wash and then detail the interior myself. If I wasn’t staring down the barrel of a one-hour turnaround I would have done just that.

Deliberately putting off needed body or paint work: If you’re broke, once again you get a hall pass. If you’re putting off that body work or paint job because you’d rather spend the money on rims or other after-market treats, you’re driving a beater.

Paint and body components  help maintain the car’s appearance and structural integrity and to  protect it from the elements.

The air where I live is a tasty combo of smog and sea air that will eat paint and rust out exposed parts so quickly that most auto techs in the area can tell where we live just by the state of our car’s paint and wiring.

A beater won’t stand a chance here. If the year-round sun doesn’t claim it first, the salt air and smog will.

Neglecting safety features: Deactivated airbags, broken seat belts, non-existent or non-working child seat fasteners. Your car’s not only a beater, it’s dangerous. Fix it or replace it now. Seriously.

With extra cash and some elbow grease you can restore your car from a sad beater to a well-maintained and well-oiled machine.

First order of business: ditch those plastic wannabe chrome rims.

There. All better.


What I Learned So Far: My Car-Shopping Adventure Continues


I’d grin like hell too if I were one of the most sought-after used cars.

The above is a screen grab of a 2011 Mazda3 sedan I saw on a car-buying website. This screen grab is the only memento I will have of that car, because by the time I called the dealer, it was already gone. It had been on the lot for a matter of hours before it was snapped up.

This little Mazda caught my eye because of its low miles, one-owner status, service records on hand, and fairly reasonable price considering that Mazdas hold their value like crazy.

“I have plenty of other cars in the same price range!” the salesman chirped. “Come on in and we’ll see what we can get you into!”

I bet you will, Slick. Next!

I’m sure he meant well, but I just don’t have the stomach for dealer shenanigans, hence my plans to  check out Triple A’s car-buying service when the time comes.

Talk about a car-shopping adventure.

What I’ve learned so far

Bigger is better: Forget coming in with 10% down. Make it 20%. Barring a lottery win or a random appearance by the Fairy Carmother, I will be doubling down on my efforts to work myself into the ground in order to come up with 20% down.

It’s still a seller’s market out this way  so prices are inflated, but a 20% down payment will give me more options and could soften the blow of the eventual hosing I will take due to said seller’s market.

My eyes are still bigger than my wallet, however.

My(very) short list:

Mazda3 hatchback or sedan, 2011-2013.

Hyundai Elantra, 2011-2013

Kia Forte, 2011-2014

Who didn’t make the cut: I’ve ruled out Fiat 500 (reliability/quality issues) Honda Civic or Accord (the only ones in my price range were too old with too many miles), Honda CR-V (again, price. Bummer). Toyota Yaris (The only Toyota I can afford to get into, but I’m a raging claustrophobic, so nope).

I’m also not a domestic car gal despite my Detroit roots. I still can’t erase the images of entry-level domestic cars and their crappy fit and finish, walls o’ plastic, cheap materials and spotty reliability. Call me crazy, but that’s where I stand.

I may have an entry-level budget, but I do have my standards.

I’m sure my short list will grow over time.

One of my goals is to not be a shackled to a huge car payment. I’ve played the game of getting into more car than I can really afford, and it’s a nerve-wracking way to live. I was in my 20s at the time. I was young, fearless, and slightly stupid.

I just don’t have time or patience for dealer BS: I’m of very little patience these days, so I don’t want to expend any of that limited patience on a dealer and their BS.

In the meantime, my shoulder will be to the grindstone in the weeks and months ahead in an effort to scare up a decent down payment. Wish me luck.















Beware Of The Puppy Dog


Most of us as kids have brought home a puppy at one point in time and begged “Can I keep it? Please?!”

Car dealers are hoping you’ll do the same thing. They know cars, like puppies, are  easy to fall in love with, hard to resist, and even harder to relinquish.

How it works

Buyer meets car and falls in love. Everything is there: options, color, make and model. Everything except for the financing, which is “conditional” or “contingent” on loan closing. The dealer assures you they can lock in that sweet rate you both discussed. No problem, they say.

You’re free to take the car home while the dealer hammers out the financing details. Kids chase you down the street. Neighbors swoon. Co-workers beg for rides during lunch hour. You are hooked. You love the car. It’s everything you ever wanted on four wheels. What’s not to love?

See where this is going?

The dealer then calls or emails you with the bad news: that hot interest rate or loan term either doesn’t apply to your particular make or model, or there was another issue that prevented you from qualifying for the initial financing terms.

Chances are, the dealer knew this already. Dealers eager to move inventory will let you “puppy dog” the car: take it home for a few days, show it off to your friends, and fall in love with it.

The dealer hopes you either won’t notice the higher rate or won’t mind because there is no way in hell you’re returning the car. You’re smitten.

No matter how besotted you are with your shiny new-to-you toy, be firm.

What you can do

California drivers are in luck, as there are  buyer protections in place to soften the blow of attempted puppy-dogging involving used cars priced at $40,000 or less:

  • The dealer must offer you a two-day contract cancellation agreement. You’ll be charged a nominal fee based on the price of the vehicle.
  • While the dealer will charge you a re-stocking fee if you return the car, it must be offset against the contract cancellation agreement fee.
  • If the dealer already sold or transferred the title to  your trade-in vehicle, they must pay you the greater of either the Fair Market Value of your trade-in or the value stated in your contract with the dealer.
  • New cars are exempt from these rules, however.

Puppy-dogging prevention

Assuming you haven’t yet set foot in a dealership, there are options to help you avoid the puppy-dogging trap:

  • Get pre-approved for financing through your bank or credit union. You’ll know exactly which rate, term and loan amount you’ll be getting.
  • Utilize the car-buying service through Triple A, your credit union or CostCo. They do the legwork and haggling for you.

Very few of us can resist a sweet new or new-to-us car that is just begging to come home with us. Before you ask, “Can I keep it..please?!” know your rights as a car buyer in your state and understand your financing options before you head out to a dealership.

Learning to spot the puppy-dogging game ahead of time will give you the power to issue a swift “No!” and to walk away. Rolled-up newspaper is optional.