I’m driving a beater these days, which, actually, is what I’ve been driving most days since I got my license so very long ago, right around the time cupholders came out.

For the uninitiated: A beater is an inexpensive car, often purchased for cash, in a state of disrepair that is acceptable to the driver, if not state emission standards. You can put money into a beater — you can pour money into a beater, in neverending series of small repairs, auto-store parts, oil changes, and, occasionally, major procedures like hose and belt replacements or a new transmission, but rarely body work or a paint job. The whole point of the beater is that, were someone to graze against it in a parking lot, you might not notice.

To the beater owner, all of this is still preferable to paying a car note.

My first beater was an ancient Isuzu Pup pickup truck that once belonged to a bar. It looked like hell after delivering kegs to frat houses for 10 years, but the engine was unstoppable. I eventually sold it for nearly twice what I paid for it to a Guatemalan woman who drove it all the way back to Central America for a refitting. I saw it a couple of times on the road afterwards, new steel side panels attached with visible bolts.

My current beater came off the line in 2003, shortly before my youngest child was born. And it’s the best damn beater I’ve ever owned.

It has no backup camera, no onboard GPS. The Bluetooth won’t connect with my phone so I have to use an aux cable to listen to my audiobooks, though it does have a banging stereo system, with a rear-mounted subwoofer that can make the whole car vibrate like an HVAC unit, if I so choose.

After I got it in 2016, I put in a new thermostat and a new set of tires. Now, 70,000 or so miles later, it has crossed the 200,000-mile threshold. And with a new timing belt (installed), new motor mounts (soon!) and a bit of suspension work on the front end, my mechanic says it will make 300,000 miles, easy. And according to my mechanic, in one more year, when it turns 20 and becomes, technically, a vintage automobile, my ancient car will be exempt from state emission standards.

We celebrated with an oil change and a new set of tires, the second one for this car, or maybe even the third. Who knows? Maybe in another 50,000 miles I’ll even get the car painted. But probably not. It’s still a beater, after all.

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