Keep the beater car, go without a car, or buy a (new to me) car?
October 30, 2013 8:51 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has a 2002 Ford Taurus with 300,000 miles on it. It burns oil and has some impact damage on the front so that you have to remove the plastic grill to open the hood. It needs an inspection sticker and getting one will require a new windshield and possibly some other repairs. He has just purchased a new vehicle and wants to wash his hands of the Taurus. He says I can have it if I want it.

The Taurus is paid for, but I don't need a car for day-to-day travel. I usually bicycle or take public transit to work. When I do drive, it costs me $10 a day to park in my building. I drive to work an average of 6.5 days a month. I'm currently paying the insurance on it, as I am the only one who drives it right now. Honestly, removing the temptation to drive to work would save me some money. I'm not sure I want to pay for the inspection sticker repairs.
I am close to being debt free, and I am interested in paying cash for a new vehicle in the future. Not paying for repairs and insurance on the Taurus could help me save for that. Still, turning down a free car seems like a bad idea. Both the insurance and the inspection sticker expire on Friday, so I need to make a decision fast.
posted by domo to Work & Money (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
turning down a free car seems like a bad idea

It's not a free car. It's a car that will incur immediate and ongoing expense.

I won't opine as to whether you should take it or not, but just be clear about that part.
posted by The Deej at 8:57 AM on October 30, 2013 [17 favorites]

I wouldn't invest a dime in a 2002 Ford Taurus with 300,000 miles. And this is coming from a guy who drives a 2002 Buick Park Ave and who also owns a 97 Mazda with 190,000 miles on it that runs great. I'm not anti-old car.

However a Ford with $300K is just a money pit. It's not reliable transportation.
posted by COD at 8:57 AM on October 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

Turn it down. It's not really a free car - it will cost a lot of money to repair and ongoing costs to register and insure, plus I would imagine the car is at the point now where you will run into fairly regular problems. You would probably be better off buying a newer used car with lower mileage.
posted by something something at 8:57 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

This sounds like a not so good idea. Like The Deej says, it isn't "free". It is going to come with a lot of costs and expenses and I'm guessing a TON of hassle.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:58 AM on October 30, 2013

If you don't need a car, then don't pay to insure, maintain, repair, etc a car. The car isn't free - it will cost you hundreds just to pass inspection, plus ongoing costs. Turning down a car with upfront and ongoing costs that you don't need is the opposite of a bad idea.

If it makes you feel any better, such a car is probably only worth $500, so this really isn't a huge deal.
posted by ssg at 8:58 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, no way. Sell it, to one of those guys who offer $100 for anything if you have to, and get your bike a tune-up.
posted by General Malaise at 8:59 AM on October 30, 2013

Nope, this is less of a free car and more of an immediate liability. Feel free to help him sell/donate what's left of it and consider this a bullet dodged.
posted by jessamyn at 8:59 AM on October 30, 2013

Sell the beater. You won't get much for it, but you can get a little bit even if you end up selling it to the scrap yard. Offer to do all the leg work of selling it for your boyfriend in exchange for a percentage of the proceeds. Put that money towards saving for your future purchase on a (better) car!
posted by ZabeLeeZoo at 9:00 AM on October 30, 2013

My parents decided not to give me a beater car a long time ago. Along with all the benefits of riding a bicycle, I have saved SO much money over the years.
posted by aniola at 9:04 AM on October 30, 2013

If you don't want the hassle of selling the car, donate it to NPR or some other not-for-profit with a similar program. Elves tow it away and dispose of it in whatever manner yields the most money. Then you receive a letter telling you how much you can deduct on your taxes. You won't realize the most money for the car, but if it's undrivable as of Friday this might be your best option at the intersection of easy and fast.
posted by carmicha at 9:16 AM on October 30, 2013

The song Thousand Dollar Car applies here... :-)

Is zipcar or car2go available in your area? If they could meet your need for occasional transport then maybe it would be easier to turn down the "free" car.
posted by rouftop at 9:21 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

This car is only worth its donation tax deductible value or junk yard value, whichever is higher.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:30 AM on October 30, 2013

Enter it into 24 Hours of LeMons. You will get more joy driving it that way.
posted by plinth at 9:44 AM on October 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Run away. A "free car" is like a "free puppy", only less cute and with worse tax implications.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:50 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have owned +- 40 vehicles in my time. (i know, i know). The two that costs me the most to own in terms of (MONEY SPENT DURING OWNERSHIP - MONEY RECOVERED UPON SALE) divided by miles driven were both "free" vehicles. From my limited survey size, taking a vehicle because the nominal price is free is an extremely bad idea.
posted by jcworth at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2013

Response by poster: Wow. That's a high degree of consensus.
posted by domo at 10:11 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

This would be a liability not an asset.

Sell it and use the money to save for your next vehicle or whatever you want.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:13 AM on October 30, 2013

And add this one to the chorus. You can always apply for Zipcar, or take a cab if you need to.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:19 AM on October 30, 2013

Take the car and sell it for scrap, then do something nice for the both of you with the money.
posted by unreasonable at 10:32 AM on October 30, 2013

Let's call the fuel costs $5/day, parking $10/day, Insurance $2.50/day, repairs (super generously) for this year $500, so $1865 in costs this year.

You can buy a lot of sweet bike accessories and rainwear for that kind of dough, or take a cab 5 times a month.

Since your boyfriend will have a shiny new car, you will have frequent access to a shiny new car for doing things other than commuting.

Scrap that Taurus.
posted by Kakkerlak at 11:48 AM on October 30, 2013

I had a 2000 Taurus with over 200k on it. The body was in perfect condition so some guy ended up driving across the state with a trailer to pick it up and bought it for $750. Even though he knew what he was in for, I feel like I completely fleeced him and still can't believe he never showed up asking for his money back.

I'm now driving a 2012 that I picked up for a pretty good deal and don't expect to have to replace any parts for a while. I'm expecting it to save me money in the long run.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:01 PM on October 30, 2013

300,000 miles? That car is likely worth more as scrap than it is as a car. The first thing that goes wrong with it (and something surely will) will probably cost more to fix than the car is worth.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:09 PM on October 30, 2013

At this very moment, I have a car I got for free and don't need, and I'm debating what to do with it. That it is even a debate at all is because I have spare garage space, spare money, and an emotional attachment to the car in question.

In your case, you don't have a garage, you don't need a car, and it's an ancient car with problems, a car that you have no emotional attachment to. Why haven't you junked it already?

Alternatively, insure it with liability only, change the oil and drive it until something major breaks, then junk it. But there's no reason whatsoever to hang on to that car and spend money on it unless you need a car and it is your cheapest option.
posted by davejay at 2:28 PM on October 30, 2013

While I'm kinda amazed people are calling a 2002 an ancient car, I also think this is a bad idea.

Like a lot of others I've gotten a "super deal" on a car I "just needed to fix up a bit". I also got a free car before that from my grandpa.

Both were in good shape and "just needed a couple things", and both incurred repeated irritating small costs fairly continuously for the first few months after the pre-stated small repair. And some of it was Really Annoying Stuff Like a pulley going slightly bad and causing repeated trips to the auto parts store on the way home to get new belts at $20 a pop.

I don't think this car will cause you some immediate horrible cost, or one several times in a row. It'll probably never while it's still worth driving. No, I think this will be a "death by 1000 cuts" thing.

I would only use this car for one specific trip, with the understanding that if it broke I'd call a tow truck and use the scrap value to cover the tow cost, and hop a greyhound. Something along the lines of "im driving this down the coast to transport xyz object to my moms house as I did the math and that's cheaper". As an ongoing thing, well, I've done that and I'm never doing it again.

It's one of those decisions I wish I could go back in time and undo. If you really want a car to occasionally drive and some sort of zip car service isn't an option, save up a couple grand and buy a 90s Toyota echo.
posted by emptythought at 3:10 PM on October 30, 2013

300,000 miles? That car is likely worth more as scrap than it is as a car.

Cars aren't investments. They're tools. The utility value is far more important than any theoretical sale value.

The problem here is the utility value of a early 2000 Ford with 300K miles on it is very low. It will require many repairs, which both increases the cost and reduces the utility, since you can't drive a car in the shop. Many of these repairs may be Click and Clack's Category C repairs -- if you don't fix them, they can kill you.

A 2002 Honda with 300K is worth taking in for an inspection to see how the body is holding up and what needs to be fixed. A 2002 Ford with 300K, a beat-up one no less, has done its time in this world.
posted by eriko at 4:35 AM on October 31, 2013

I have a 2002 Taurus in great condition that i bought for 2500 when it had 120k miles on it, for reference. Your car is very likely not worth the repairs even if they are only a few hundred dollars. If it runs, you can probably get 500 for it pretty easily, I'd go that route for sure.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:51 PM on October 31, 2013

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