Home » What Under-$3000 Beater Do You Have Your Sights Upon These Days And Why?

What Under-$3000 Beater Do You Have Your Sights Upon These Days And Why?

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If you read a lot of car news, you’re well aware that everything seems just a bit too expensive these days. Some new cars are so pricey you might as well take out a mortgage on them. Even used cars still seem just a bit inflated. However, if you dig deep enough, there are still some cheap gems to be found. Bottom-dollar cars are out there and they can be a ton of fun. What under-$3,000 car have you been drooling over? And why do you want it so much?

As many of you know, I am on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist every day looking for the next deal. Having drinks before Thanksgiving dinner? I’m taking a quick scroll through Facebook. Is it ten minutes before bed? I’m cuddling my wife … while looking through Facebook. It’s ok because she’s also looking for her favorite cars at the same time. I’m half sure (semi-sure) I look at Facebook listings in my dreams. I’d probably look for cars while having an intensive surgery, too.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Anyway, my unrelenting persistence to find cheap cars has scored me some good deals in the past, such as my free 2005 Smart Fortwo, another $1,400 Smart Fortwo, my $2,900 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI, my $5,000 Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI, and $8,500 Saturn Sky Red Line. Often, I’m one of the first people to message a seller, and I hit them with just one question: Will it make it home?

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Mercedes Streeter

If the seller is confident enough the answer is yes, I race over there as fast as I can. That’s what happened with the above Touareg V10 TDI. I purchased a plane ticket and flew 2,000 miles to Seattle based only on the promise that the brute could make it back home.

I’ve been on the prowl for a few cars lately. I’d love to bring home a Volkswagen Eos VR6, a Toyota Century, a BMW Z3, a Smart Fortwo Cabriolet, a BMW 750iL, or some Kei car. These cars do exist, but I’m a cheapskate and want to pay well under $5,000. A week ago, I thought I found just the car, a $3,000 BMW 750iL that is said to run and drive. After my wife does her usual negotiations, who knows how much cheaper it could get.

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Why this car? The 750iL was BMW’s flagship product, pairing the best technology BMW could muster with a beautiful 5.4-liter V12 making 322 HP and 361 lb-ft of torque. It’s one of those legendary cars I could never afford new, but can now enjoy several years later. The power doesn’t really matter. I love cars with relatively uncommon engines, lots of weirdness, or a good story to tell. It’s part of why I cherish my V10 TDI. A buttery-smooth V12 would be dreamy. As the world electrifies, cars like these will eventually become relics of a different time.

I may be crazed, but I’m not crazy. I’ve been burned by two-decade-old luxury cars before. My Volkswagen Phaeton was a total cluster. So, when I look at this ad, I see terrible pictures and clear faults the seller didn’t mention in the description. I’ve been hesitant. I don’t want to drive to Michigan to repeat The Phaeton Disaster. Yet, I was preparing to do just that this weekend. Someone else had the gumption to give it a go as well because the listing just sold. Whew. Now, it’s time to look for another 750iL.

So, what sub-$3,000 cars have you been looking at? How long have you been studying them? Why do you want it?

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Juan Rodríguez
Juan Rodríguez
2 months ago

Not really under 3000 dollars (or a beater), but there´s a 1998 sn95 (v6 manual) in Madrid for about 4500 euros and I am tempeted to buy it as a project. It seems to be in decent condition (I´d obviously check it out in person before buying it)

Matthew C
Matthew C
2 months ago

Easy, SN195 Mustang but with the 3.8L and a stick. Never SN195 3.8L with the dual port intake did not have the head gasket issues as the older ones. A short shift kit helps with the long throws of the stock manual. A GT rear anti seat bar from a junk yard swaps right in. Plus these things run and run. There is even Windstar or Freestar intake swaps to eke out a little more power from the pedestrian stock HP numbers.. Motors are easy to work on and simple. These are FaceBook marketplace bottom dwellers in value

Matthew C
Matthew C
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew C

Newer not never

05LGT
05LGT
2 months ago

High milage Prius suffering from dead Ni metal hydride batteries but un-crashed. Putting fresh Lithium in it is a great match for my skills, experience, tools and space.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 months ago
Reply to  05LGT

Project lithium cells or brew your own?

05LGT
05LGT
2 months ago
Reply to  Jalop Gold

Project Lithium. A man’s got to know his limitations.

Jalop Gold
Jalop Gold
2 months ago
Reply to  05LGT

Haha, wise.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago

BMW 7 series of that generation as massive piles of shit. I have a friend who OWNS an import dealership, literally has free techs at his disposal so FREE labor, and even he got sick of it after a year or so. They’re some of the most problematic BMWs ever made, imho. Avoid.

I bought my 2000 Insight 10 years ago for $3000, and it still works fine, so I’m not looking for more beaters anymore. Buy a honda beater and you’re golden.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
2 months ago

Ah, my weekly game… Pull up the local Pick n Pull inventory and see what strikes my fancy.

Hmmm… pickings are slim this week.

2007 Buick Lucerne? 3.8 powered, not gold or white, probably would make a decent cruiser.

2003 Ford Sport Trac 4WD? Over a quarter million miles, so it’s a good bet the timing chain guides have been fixed. Kinda neat looking, but that’s about where it ends… I owned a 2WD one for a bit and was overwhelmed by the “meh”.

2005 Chevy Colorado 4WD? Also with more than a quarter million miles? And two different shades of gold? Yeah, I’d rather have the Sport Trac.

2004 Mitsu Eclipse Spyder? Doesn’t look like it’s been ridden hard. Why is it there? Eh, I already have a convertible anyway.

2004 Toyota Prius? I the most offensive thing about this is it’s gold. I don’t mind replacing a battery pack on one of these things.

(Of course, I’m not ACTUALLY looking… but still a fun game)

lastwraith
lastwraith
2 months ago

Gimme anything with the 3.8, those things are amazing engines and easy to fix.

Who is the Leader
Who is the Leader
2 months ago

Well, I actually bought the cheap heap I had my sights set on. A less than pristine 1985 Mercedes 300D.
https://opposite-lock.com/topic/82168/dieselification-photo-shoot-sap-free-celebration
If you’re going to try and rely on a dirt cheap antique car as your only car, a diesel Mercedes is the only way to go. It wasn’t an irrational want as it’s been incredibly affordable thus far.

Last edited 2 months ago by Who is the Leader
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
2 months ago

Not the only option here in Europe: four years into daily driving a 1991 Renaut 4 and I’m still amazed at how cheap and easy everything is to fix, and how abundant parts still are. Someone reared into me and smashed my front in the other day, so I’m getting a new hood, grille and headlight for about €250, everything brand new; I could go with decent used parts and cut that in less than half but the insurance company’s paying for it, so you bet I’m getting brand new parts. I’ll probably pay some €100 in labour. Believe it or not, my 1998 VW Polo is way more expensive to fix and mantain. A similar accident back in 2020 with the Polo cost about €600 to fix. Brand new taillights? You’re looking at about €30 for the Renault, €100 for the Polo (used ones are about €15/€35 respectively). The indicator/DRL I bought new back in 2020 cost less than €7… and I ended up fixing the old one instead.

Not too long ago there were still companies churning out floorboards and frames for the Renault 4, and a complete frame/underbody overhaul could be done for about €3000 in parts and labour, not sure what the current situation is in that regard. New, unpainted fenders can be had for as little as €35, and new bumpers sell for about €80. Best of all, here in Portugal we have a virtually endless supply of used parts from junked service cars – portuguese public institutions bought thousands of them over the years and most have been scrapped for parts (I believe there’s at least a couple dozen still in active duty all over the country: the ministry of agriculture branch in my hometown has one; the national forest authority has most of the active duty ones and have no plans to retire them for now).

Who is the Leader
Who is the Leader
2 months ago

Mercedes parts tend to be a bit more expensive, but they made so many W123s availability is good. I got brand new rear floors delivered to my house for like $180 or something like that. They’re still in the box and my rear floor is still MIA, but that doesn’t stop me from driving it.
I love the Renault 4! I love small, simple charming cars like those. I don’t think they would like interstate 75 (not that the Mercedes does either, but it tolerates it) but I could totally see myself owning an imported one eventually. Though I’m more of a Citroen fan 😉

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
2 months ago

I’m partial to Renault but I do like french cars in general and love Citroëns. I see them more as cousins than rivals 🙂 I gotta say, the Renault 4 is so light, the 34hp are fine for short highway trips in terms of keeping up with traffic. It can be scary though when there’s strong crosswinds, and you bet I have to fight physics everytime I’m overtaking/being overtaken.

Mercedes parts are probably more expensive also because they’re better quality. Renault body panels and floorboads, even brand new ones, get rusty super quickly – most people doing the frame/floorboard overhaul also make sure to apply generous coats of insulation and even then it’s only a matter of time until oxidation starts to show. Mine has been insulated at some point and the footwells still rusted through. I’m 100% sure Mercedes sheetmetal had higher quality standards 🙂

Who is the Leader
Who is the Leader
2 months ago

Mercedes W123 factory rustproofing was excellent. Perhaps too good, since it was only good at mitigating rust from the outside. Many of these cars have floors, doors, fenders, etc rusted out from the inside, which results in just the rubberized factory undercoating keeping the floor together. Still preferable to razor thin unprotected sheet metal, but they really should have done a bit better with dealing with water ingress.
As I live in sunny Georgia (US), I’m most worried about the water and couldn’t care less about the road salt protection. I’d absolutely daily a Renault 4.
The interstate isn’t as bad for low powered cars as those high speed suburban four lane roads that have so many top end acceleration and declaration zones. Fortunately, I live in the city so that would be less of a problem. Now, if only there were actually any Renault 4s around.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
2 months ago

Hey, if you ever consider importing, they’re still relatively cheap here in Portugal. A running, registered one, still solid but showing its age will sell for about €1500, sometimes less, but you’ll find lots of easily restorable ones for 3 figures and can pre-source any missing parts/spares locally for cheap to have everything shipped stateside, ready to assemble. You could probably make a deal happen just by joining the local Renault 4 facebook group and asking around. Of course, this would mean spending way more in shipping/import/registering fees than on the car and parts themselves, but if you have the financial resources to make it happen, finding a cheap one will be easy. Probably even cheaper in Balkan countries, but the ones there always seem rusted beyond repair.

And if you just want a nice one and money is no object, garage queens around here can go for as little as €3500.

Last edited 2 months ago by Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Motorhead Mike
Motorhead Mike
2 months ago

Mercedes, please buy the 750iL. I’m not in the financial or logistical position to step off that sort of cliff at the moment. Please do this, so I can live vicariously through you. I’ve been looking at these for years… Thanks!

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
2 months ago
Reply to  Motorhead Mike

Sadly, it sold before she even posted about it (it’s mentioned right at the end of the article). I too was hoping for that, I remember a time when I toyed with the idea of getting one of these when there were about 10 dilapidated ones for sale in my neck of the woods, ranging from upper three digits for a crime scene on wheels with an expensive paperweight under the hood, to about €3000 for the nicest ones (still pretty beat up but running at least).

Last edited 2 months ago by Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 months ago

I found a grandma-fresh 2003 Buick Century and I am very tempted to take it home. Only blemish is one shattered plastic wheel cover. That’s just a good excuse to find some decent Regal GS alloy wheels to spruce it up a bit!

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
2 months ago

I’m low key looking at air cooled VWs or an A1 platform convertible.
My son looks at old American sedans with three on the tree and has discovered Toyota Century V12s are dirt cheap in Japan as are Cedric wagons

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
2 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Cedric wagons are some of the most beautiful station wagons ever in my opinion.

Mr E
Mr E
2 months ago

I’d love to find another Mk2 VW GTI, but I fear that ship has sailed. Everything I’ve found is either a pile or a trailer queen.

Sucktastico!
Sucktastico!
2 months ago

None – I am just about to take on a 78 VW Bug Cabriolet that was my ex-mother-in-laws when she passed. Its in great survivor shape – running boards are even still attached – and I’m getting it to keep it in the family and to get it back up on the road. So, hello VW Heritage parts, and goodbye any beater money.

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