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Are Beaters Better? 

by Clint Burgess

While the path to a vehicle is long, well traveled and can lead virtually anywhere, there are a staggering number of buyers who are content (or financially compelled) to go the used route. If you can't afford a $30,000 automobile with an extended warranty -- and don't forget the "undercoating" -- then it's the used car arena that beckons. This is the realm of the bargain shopper -- probably around 50 percent of the people on the roads in this region.

During my junior year of college, I was given a 1983 Chevy Citation by relatives. This car was biding time before the junkyard came calling, but it served a higher purpose in its golden years. The thing got me from point A to Cheney and back -- usually. I drove this car for about six months, and it gave me all it had until I unceremoniously arranged for the Spalding wrecking yard to come and get it. I couldn't afford a car at the time I used this little limping Citation on its last legs, but I was able to get to class for the better part of the school year before I ended up on the good old STA.

The vision of a 1990 Toyota Corolla DX may not conjure visions of riding in style, but it doesn't bother Joe Varela. "The car was a hand-me-down from my moms [he has two]," explains Varela. "I think they paid something like $3,000 for it when they bought it, but that was a while ago. I call it Mighty Whitey."

The little engine that could transports Varela from Browne's Addition to Coeur d'Alene about three times a week, and he can fit an entire five-piece drum set (including hardware and cymbals) in the back seat. The car doesn't run incredibly smoothly, but it's still running.

"At this point, the fuel efficiency is measured in gallons per mile," Varela says. "But it has been about a year since I changed the oil." However unwise or poorly planned out this non-maintenance strategy is, it's reality for a lot of us. "I couldn't buy a new car," says Varela. "It doesn't match my personality, and you can get away with a lot more mischief in a car like mine. You don't have to worry about it."

Spokane resident Michael Millham is a music instructor at a local university and also doubles as a performer in the guitar-and-vocal duet Sidhe with his wife Kelly. On a budget, like most of the world, Millham bought a used vehicle for a cool $300. He spent about the same amount on minor repairs and maintenance on the car; now it's back in top running form.

"We took it to Arizona across the western states," Millham told me in complete disbelief. The car made it on its first tour of the West -- and back again -- and was more fuel-efficient than the van the couple normally uses.

There are thousands of vehicles out there every day that trudge to and fro. Sure, if peace of mind is your hang-up, buy a new car with roadside assistance and On Star. But there is a whole world of adventure out there just waiting to be discovered by a curious driver and a beater.

Publication date: 12/30/04

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