So you’re looking for a vehicle for your daily commute, or maybe just for fun. Something that doesn’t cost very much but will put up with a lot of abuse that you don’t want on your primary vehicle. You also want it be fairly reliable so you don’t have to constantly pour more and more money into it. We have assembled here a list of 15 vehicles which can all be found for under $2500, and will all provide a variety of services. The most important part of looking for a beater vehicle is to talk to the owner and get an idea of how well it has been cared for. If maintained regularly, any of these cars should provide years more of service to you, but one wrong move and you could end up wasting money on a lemon. Overall condition of the exterior is somewhat correlated to the level of care taken by the (sometimes multiple) owner(s). Assuredly since you are looking for an extra vehicle you can take the time to look around and find a good deal, and this will surely pay off in the long run. The best beater however is a car you know the history of, one owned by family or friends you can count on to have kept serviced.
1. Fifth Generation (1991-1995) Honda Civic
Honda cars have long been known for their reliability and thrifty fuel economy, and the Civic line provides a variety of layouts to suit your specific beater needs. A small hatchback coupe for the person looking for ultimate fuel economy, and a 4 door sedan for those who might carpool on their commute. The best part of these cars is there have been so many made that almost anyone can work on them if you do need a little service here or there, and with many out there you can shop around.
2. First Generation (2000-2004) Kia Spectra
Kia makes a good quality vehicle for a low price, and this allows for the cars to qualify as a beater much sooner than other makes. In other words, you can buy a much newer Kia than other beater car for the same price. Since age and likelihood to breakdown go hand in hand, it seems obvious that a newer car may in fact offer less chance of breaking down, especially if the used car comes from any part of the country where roads are salted in the winter. Many parts breakdown as they rust, and by getting a newer car as your beater you reduce the chances of serious rust having formed in critical areas.
3. 1995-2000 Chevrolet Cavalier or Pontiac Sunfire
The sheer numbers of these cars sold in the United States along with the number of them left on the streets shows their usefulness as everyday drivers. As with most American cars, they have depreciated quickly and offer a value that is tough to beat. Another plus is the fact that since there have been so many sold and used through the years, if anything breaks on your beater there is a huge supply of used parts at your local salvage yard.
4. First Generation (1995-1999) Hyundai Accent
The Hyundai follows the same equation as the Kia, providing a low new cost which allows for the buyer to pick up a newer used car at a lower price. The Hyundai has proven itself to be a reliable car through the years, and will return great gas mileage due to its fuel-sipping engine.
5. Seventh Generation (1991-1995) Toyota Corolla
The Toyota Corolla has been a mainstay of people looking for a reliable, efficient small car for years, and so its showing on this list should come as no surprise. As with any of these other beater cars, if you can find a manual version you will definitely get better fuel mileage and will also most likely suffer less mechanical failures over the life of the car.
6. Geo/Chevrolet Metro (1995-2001)
This car is annoyingly efficient and will put up with tons and tons of abuse, and with its low curb weight and short wheelbase can also be a surprising bit of fun for something with such little power. Once you get this car moving, it can be a blast to maintain speed around corners with, and if you only need your beater for commutes you can’t beat the efficiency of a small hatchback with barely enough room for two adults.
7. First Generation (1989-1998) Suzuki Sidekick
This fun little “off-road” vehicle can provide a bit of weekend fun for a very low price, and still work as a good commuter vehicle. With decent luggage capacity you can use it for runs to the store and then beat it up around the backwoods on the weekends. This little vehicle has somewhat of a cult-like following for people who have owned one, and provides a unique take on the beater philosophy.
8. Third Generation (1992-1998) Volkswagen Golf
Yet another version of the small hatchback, but this time done up with German style. The golf provides a fun ride around country backroads while returning excellent fuel mileage. A bonus for this car is the TDI diesel variant, which boasts absolutely ludicrous fuel mileage along with the ability to use biodiesel or be converted for vegetable oil burning use, for you do-it-yourselfers. This puts the Golf on a whole different level of eco-friendliness, for those of you willing to play around with your beater.
9. Second Generation (1992-1995) Ford Taurus
While the Taurus may not boast the best mileage on our list, it makes up for this in amazing reliability. There is a reason why so many businesses have chosen this car for their fleets, and why many rental companies have done the same. The V6 in the Taurus has proven itself a rock solid motor for a car which can take day after day of abuse and keep going.
10. Eighth Generation (1992-1999) Pontiac Bonneville
The Bonneville falls in the same category as the Taurus, not remarkably efficient but built to last. The General Motors 3800 series of engines have been around for a very long time and are essentially bulletproof, which is why I have included the Bonneville on this alongside the Taurus. The 4 cylinder cars may get better mileage, but its tough to beat these solid sixes in the long run for overall reliability.
11. Volvo 240 Series (1986-1993)
Yet another beater which may not be the most efficient vehicle around, but taken care of properly will run forever. There are organizations which register high mileage Volvos and give out stickers for inclusion into 300k, 400k, and many more high mileage clubs. A quick look at one such club on Google yielded several 900k+ mile 240s, and many others among the varied lists. These cars can be passed down through several generations and still function properly as a daily beater.
12. Fourth Generation (1993-1997) Mazda 626
Mazda has gained a reputation for reliability and fun, and as the company behind the famous Miata, they prove their dedication to well-mannered driving cars. They have always tried to make all of their cars somewhat fun to drive, and for what it is, the 626 is no exception. The 626 is available at a good price and can make driving a sedan a little more fun.
13. First Generation (1995-1999) Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth Neon
These little cars have also been a staple of the rental/business fleets since their introduction, and as such can be found at auctions and rental sales everywhere. Rental companies have to keep their cars fairly well maintained, as the cars are their business, and so buying one of these used cars will usually yield a decent value. The Neons, like the Cavaliers, have a large used part base available at your local salvage yard as well for the occasional fix.
14. Third Generation (1991-1994) Nissan Sentra
The Nissan Sentra provides decent reliability, some fun little features like the 90’s sliding automatic seatbelts, and good fuel economy to boot. The third generation has been regarded by some as better than the following 4th gen models, mostly due to its true independent rear suspension instead of the 4th gen torsion bar setup, but also due to overall reliability issues.
15. Chevrolet S-10 pickup (1987-1996)
While this does not qualify as a car, and does not fit the bill for a daily commuter, it will certainly make work around your house easier if you tend to be a do-it-yourselfer. From getting mulch to lumber to bringing home appliances, the S-10 can perform a variety of tasks, and even tow a small trailer if you need to. Being a truck, it can handle your abuse day in and day out, and if you get the 4 cylinder model you wont end up with bad gas mileage.