Beaters. Clunkers. Rust buckets.
By any name, that dented old car with the distinctive silver and brown designs - duct tape and rust, upon further inspection - has its fans. And we don't mean the guys at Victory Auto Wreckers. We mean their owners.
Beaters have a lot going for them. There's no huge outlay, as is the case with a new vehicle. They're mechanically less complicated than today's models, making maintenance easier for do-it-yourselfers. There's a comfort zone. And even if relatives and friends say they'd rather walk, for a lot of drivers these old cars are the only way to go.
"I've always had used cars," said Yolanda Thomas, recruiting coordinator for Kindred Hospitals of Chicago. "I've never had a new car, never driven one. My concept is, I'd rather pay for something outright when it comes to a car than have it depreciate while I'm still paying for it."
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She drives a 1986 Volvo with rust holes in the side and 150,000 miles on the odometer. Actual mileage may vary.
"(It) stopped working, like, four years ago. I think I may be in the 200,000 range. And that's approximately."
Thomas bought the car in 1997 - her previous ride was an '83 Chevy Cavalier - and has kept it well maintained. The rust, though, will be the car's downfall.
"It looks bad on the outside, but it holds up on the inside," she said. "And it gets me from Point A to Point Z."
And those trips from A to Z are generally alone.
"I have a roommate who sometimes will not ride with me," she said, laughing. "She'll say, `Well, I'll drive.' I'll say, `No, I want to drive.' `Well, I don't want to ride in your car because of the way it looks.'"
"I never ride in it," confirmed Margie Taylor her friend and roommate. "And honestly, the only time I ask to use her car is when I'm taking my dogs to the groomer. I don't think they mind."
Rust and mileage notwithstanding, cars like Thomas' are hot commodities.
"People have a tendency to hang on to Volvos. The 240s. People hang on to them for dear life," said Paul Osicka, owner of European House of Auto Repair in Chicago. "There's not too much electronics, the windows crank ... there's no ding-dongs. Usually they're rust buckets by now. But they're reliable."
Osicka said the old Volvos are solid cars, they're safe, and they make a good first car for young drivers.
"The passenger side is like a bunker. They can't go too fast, and you can roll them, over and over, and not get hurt."
Another Volvo fan is Chicago stockbroker Gary Knapp. He drives a light blue '87 wagon with about 150,000 miles on it that he bought used. Before that, he had silver wagon that had more than 300,000 miles when he donated it to charity. And before that, there was an orange model.
His motivation is simple.
"Avoiding the monthly payment," he said. "That's the biggest attraction."
He also lists ease of repairs and the reliability of older cars. Also in his old Volvo's favor: Knapp works from home, and his transportation needs are minimal. If he's running to the lumberyard, the car is perfect. When he needs something a little showier, he borrows wife Michelle's 2001 Volvo, which they bought new.
"You don't want to take clients out in the old beater with the cushions ripped up and everything," he said.
Michelle is OK with it. After 35 years of marriage, she's used to Gary and his heaps.
"Now that you mention it, he was driving an older car when we started dating," she said. "I don't even remember what it was. A `56 something or other. I think he bought it from somebody in the family for a couple bucks."
Then there was that orange `75 Volvo.
"It was a real hit on Halloween," she said.
That was the car that ... well, let Gary tell it.
"We were driving up toward Door County when all of a sudden all the lights come on," he said. "I pull over to the side of the road and look, and the alternator had fallen off. ... I had just had that engine rebuilt. And whoever put it together, clearly they didn't pay that much attention to tightening things up.
"So I just grabbed it and grabbed a wrench and tightened things up. That's the thing about old cars. If you're driving them, you have to be a little bit of a mechanic on wheels."
Being handy with cars has helped Mike Catich keep his 1984 Pontiac Parisian station wagon on the road.
"I've replaced just about everything on the car. I've gotten to know its history, so it's kind of predictable," said the North Aurora, Ill., electrician, who hasn't experienced that new-car smell since ... well ... maybe never.
"I've done pretty much everything there is to do with that car. Replaced the engine, transmission, exhaust, tires, brakes, radiator, air conditioner, windshield. ..."
Catich has had his station wagon, a champagne-colored beauty with wood-grain paneling, for about 15 years. It's got 188,000 miles and a fresh paint job. And an owner who appreciates the advantages of a beater over a new car that loses a large chunk of value as soon as you drive it off the lot.
Catich does admit that he has had a wandering eye.
"I try to avoid car dealerships," he said. "Once in a while I will go to the auto show and, I have to be honest, it gets to be pretty tempting - looking at the newer, better, more well-equipped cars with all the fancy options. It gets me pretty close to buying another car."
But he hasn't crossed the line yet. Besides, Catich found another advantage to owning a beater: It helped him find the right woman. He was driving the Pontiac when he started dating his wife.
"I had what I called the car test. If she didn't pass the car test, that was it," he said. "But she's very understanding. She was explaining it to someone recently. And she said, `You know, from the outside it doesn't look that great, but inside it's kind of nice.'"