Today’s new car prices are the highest they’ve ever been, with dealers regularly charging over MSRP for even the most rudimentary models meant to serve basic daily driver duties. And if you’re looking at specialized, limited-production newer cars, the market value could be thousands over sticker price.

Sadly, pricing for used cars is following the same pattern. The normal depreciation curve for older cars, even high-mileage examples with a few dents and scratches, has reversed. Owners checking the blue book value on their old car often find it's higher than they expect. But just like when the housing market takes off, it doesn’t help much when the cost of buying your next car has risen as much or more than your current car’s value.

Beater Cars: Reliable Transportation at a Reasonable Price

With new and used car prices at record levels, you’re going to have to buy an older car with more miles on the odometer to keep your used car payment low. That means it’s more important than ever to identify models with bulletproof drivetrains and low maintenance costs . If these are the traits that matter most to you, with cosmetic perfection a distant third on your priority list, you can seek shelter from today’s high prices in a cheap beater car .

A beater car is loosely defined as a cheap, reliable car with a less-than-stellar appearance. Beater cars come in all forms – from fuel-efficient hatchbacks and sporty coupes to large, capable trucks and four-wheel-drive SUVs. But the key to a good beater car is being mechanically sound while being cosmetically…well…less sound. It’s the high mileage and cosmetic imperfections that bring the price of these vehicles down, which is the whole point of buying a beater car.

How to Identify a Good Beater Car

While you could start raiding junkyards looking for beater car candidates in need of mechanical reconditioning, we’re assuming you’d rather buy one ready to go. If that’s the case, there are a few steps you’ll want to take when seeking a good beater car at a low price

First, you’ll need to run a free VIN check to confirm the car hasn’t suffered any catastrophic damage. The iSeeCars VIN report will link to CarFax or Autocheck history reports and often provide them for free. The report will show you if the vehicle has a salvaged or flood-damaged title. It’s worth noting that some salvaged or flood-damaged cars can still serve as reliable transportation. But unless you’re an experienced mechanic, capable of identifying when that’s the case, you should avoid these cheap cars that seem too good to be true. Because they usually are….

Next, you’ll want to scrutinize the history report to confirm regular maintenance. Remember, a beater car doesn’t have to look great – or even good – but it has to offer the mechanical reliability that comes from proper maintenance. Otherwise, you might simply be swapping a higher up-front purchase price for higher ongoing maintenance costs, and at that point you should just buy a mechanically sound and cosmetically desirable non-beater car – for more money.

Even if a car’s history report checks out you’ll still want to take it for a test drive. Because dealerships tend to recondition their cars to improve their appearance, you’re more likely to find beater cars in the hands of individuals. That might mean filtering your iSeeCars vehicle search for private party sales, or using Craigslist to find local beater cars. Either way, you should always test drive any vehicle before you buy it. And if you can have a local mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection, even better. 

If after all of these steps there’s every indication a vehicle has solid mechanicals, and assuming you’re getting a healthy discount for its cosmetic flaws, then congratulations, you’ve likely found your beater car.

What are the Best Beater Car Candidates?

As mentioned above, beater cars come in all shapes and sizes. The Honda Civic , Nissan Sentra , and Toyota Corolla are three compact cars with excellent reputations as beater cars . Midsize cars like the Honda Accord , Toyota Camry , and Volkswagen Passat, or larger sedans like the Chevy Impala and Nissan Maxima, are also known for their longevity. 

On the SUV side, the Jeep Wrangler and Mercedes -Benz G-Class are popular for combining strong mechanicals with rugged, off-road capabilities. For summer fun, the BMW 3 Series convertible and Mazda Miata have proven reliable, and if you need a winter beater keep in mind nearly every Subaru includes all- wheel drive as standard equipment.

If you’re looking for a good place to start when seeking cheap, reliable transportation, check out iSeeCars Longest Lasting Cars list. These are the vehicles most likely to reach 200,000-plus miles, confirming their inherent mechanical durability and likelihood to keep going long after the paint fades and the upholstery starts to crack.

Below are the top 15 models most likely to hit 200,000-plus miles and keep going:

Longest-Lasting Cars, SUVs, and Trucks to Reach 200K Miles - iSeeCars Study
Rank Vehicle % of Cars Over 200K
1 Toyota Land Cruiser 18.2%
2 Toyota Sequoia 14.2%
3. Chevrolet Suburban 6.6%
4.  GMC Yukon XL 5.2%
5. Toyota 4Runner 4.6%
6. Ford Expedition 4.5%
7. Chevrolet Tahoe 4.4%
8. Toyota Tundra 4.0%
9. Toyota Avalon 3.9%
10. Toyota Prius 3.9%
11. Toyota Highlander Hybrid 3.8%
12. GMC Yukon 3.7%
13. Honda Ridgeline 3.7%
14. Honda Odyssey 3.2%
15.  Toyota Sienna 3.2%
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