Introducing… The Thriftymobile

Miss Thrifty36 September 1, 2008

UPDATE: If you are visiting from MSN Smart Spending, welcome to Miss Thrifty! My passion for fashion knows no bounds, but neither does my craving for saving…  Bargains ahoy! I update my blog daily with all the latest frugal tips and red hot discounts. Please have a look around; if you like what you see, subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for stopping by  – Miss T.

Now this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this behemoth of the frugal motoring world, so I thought that proper introductions were in order. Please allow me to present to you…



The Thriftymobile!

It’s a Mazda 323 and it rolled off the production line in 1985 – so it’s only a few years younger than I am.

You may think look it looks like a little ol’ banger (and what’s more, it’s teeny-tiny by US standards). But trust me: this humble motor is one of the best financial decisions I have ever made.

Here’s why:

1.   It didn’t cost me anything to buy. Back before Chernobyl and the Oprah Winfrey Show, when this 323 was at the cutting edge of automobile technology, the car was bought brand new by my 77-year-old great-grandmother. Twenty-odd years later, she couldn’t drive it any longer and it began to pass down the family. It came into my hands in 2005, after I finally passed my driving test.

2.   Despite its age, the car was in pristine condition. When we climbed into it, it smelled new. Don’t believe me? Here’s the odometer now:

Incredibly, when we first got this car it had just 12,000 miles on the clock. It had spent almost all its life in my great-grandmother’s garage. She kept it clean and shiny, and she used to drive it once a week: one mile to the shops, and one mile back again. (Would it surprise you to learn that her daughter is my wonderful Frugal Grandma?)

Here’s the interior today:


3.   This car is super-reliable. Friends’ cars, family members’ cars and the cars that sit around it have all come and gone: roadside breakdowns, broken head gaskets, wrecks, expired transmissions, wayward sumps – you name it. But this car keeps on movin’. I don’t think they make them like they used to! Because it never breaks down, I get a fresh discount off my RAC fee (UK equivalent to AAA) every year.

4.   It also saves me a fortune at the mechanics. In the UK we have to take our cars in for MOT tests every year: the mechanics check out the brakes, tyre treads, engine condition and a whole of bunch of stuff. If a car fails its MOT, it is deemed a danger to other road users and it is illegal to drive it on the roads (until it has been fixed and retested).  However, when I take the Thriftymobile in, it only ever needs a few tweaks – a valve here, a brakepad there. The only drastic repairs to date have been a new exhaust this time last year, and new front brakes the year before. The car may be old and obsolete, but I’ve never had problems getting the parts for it. It’s also cheap to repair because its innards are, well, relatively basic. As in: when you change gear, you can feel the engine thrumming through your hand. None of your fancy electrics here! And certainly no flashing “check engine” light to worry about.

5.  Insurance is dirt cheap. The car’s book value is in the region of £250 (about $480), so there’s no point paying out for insurance cover with all the rings and bells. It’s third party cover all the way. I shopped around for the best deal: my annual insurance premium is less than £200.

6.  It has budding retro appeal.  I was reading in a magazine about a Life on Mars (cult UK TV series, set in the 1970s) competition. The top prize was the flashy period car featured in the show. The magazine had a big glossy picture of this car, punctuated with zoom shots and blurbs about its special features. One of the details thus trumpeted was the car’s authentic push button radio.

“Hang on a minute!” I thought. “I’ve got one of those.”

It doesn’t do digital stations, FM or even AM, but I get BBC Radio 4, which is all I want. Apart from certain summer months, when the BBC powers-that-be replace Radio 4’s MW frequency with live cricket coverage. Hurrumph. When that happens I always seem to end up tuning into a random Irish station that has news bulletins in Gaelic.

But at least my car is retro-cool!

7. It’s very good on fuel. The tank costs £30 to fill – even at the current high prices – and will take me 250 miles. (Note for US readers: yes, I know 250 miles is nothing for you! Over here in Lilliput land, it takes you halfway across the country. And our gas is a LOT more expensive, too.)

8.  Nobody is going to steal it.

9.  This is an obvious one, which is why I’ve left it until (almost) last, but the car isn’t a depreciating asset. Its value has already hit bottom – it’s only up, from here. It was free, so I didn’t rack up any debt when I bought it – and I’m not shackled to any monthly payment regime.  This means that even though the car runs beautifully, I am able to save every month towards its replacement. I aim to pay for my next car in cash.

10.  I’m going to pass it on! This car has already been passed down through three generations of my family, and I like that. So when I have finished saving up for a replacement, I’m going to give this car to the family member who will take good care of it, and get good use out of it. I’m going to continue a fine and frugal family tradition…

UPDATE: This post was selected as an Editor’s Pick at the 142nd Festival of Frugality!

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36 Responses to “Introducing… The Thriftymobile

Sharon rose says:

Yay, what a great story!! I love a secondhand car too-I’ve had newer ones with loans taken out against them, but I wouldn’t do that again.The car I have now cost us £400 and is soo reliable and we paid cash for it-there are bargains out there!!

Sharon roses last blog post..Progress To Date and a New Relevant Goal

September 2, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Frugal Babe says:

I love it! My car is a 91 civic, but alas it has 214,000 miles on it – so I don’t know how many more years I’ll be able to keep it going. But so far, it’s been great. I’ve had it for 5 years, and I’ve only had to do minor repairs – sparkplugs, alternator, brake pads, muffler, etc. The car I had before this one was an 89 Hyundai, which I passed on to my sister, and she’s still driving it.

September 4, 2008 at 6:22 am

admin says:

@Sharon Rose: £400? Me jealous! I can’t bring myself to take out a loan against a car either.

@Frugal Babe: That’s amazing: I’m not sure if there are ANY cars in the UK that have 214,000 miles on the clock! The Japanese cars certainly stand the test of time…

September 4, 2008 at 9:18 am

Sarah says:

Wow – this looks almost exactly like my boyfriend’s car. He got his for free this year as well. Its an 81 Honda Civic Hatchback Wagon – 250k miles on it and it runs perfectly! The car outlived its previous owner, and it was passed on to my boyfriend. The only stipulation is that he passes it on to someone else for free when he is done with it, because surely that thing will last forever!

Sarahs last blog post..Inconclusive……

September 6, 2008 at 6:35 pm

admin says:

@Sarah: So I beat him on miles, but not on vintage! What is it with these Japanese cars? They run and run forever…

September 6, 2008 at 6:38 pm

LAL says:

I’d totally take any free car given to me. Heck what it looks like!

LALs last blog post..Auction of Jewelry

September 9, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Frugal Wench says:

I’ve driven every car I had until it died, some quicker than others. My best was my 1990 Nissan Sentra which hit almost 200,000 miles before it died. My last one isn’t dead, but it may as well be, because it would cost more to fix it than it’s worth. It made over 100,000 mi, but I don’t know exactly how much, because the odometer broke years ago.

September 9, 2008 at 11:32 pm

Gypsie says:

My car isn’t as old as yours but I do have 110K miles on my 2000 Volkswagen Golf! I love German engineering! It now lives with me in the US but I purchased it new in Germany and it has been paid off for many years.

September 13, 2008 at 3:15 pm

linda says:

hi, my car is not as old as yours, (only 9 yrs in fact), but has done 203000k and rising!! It’s a Daewoo Nubira. They have gone out of business now but they did give 5 years free servicing AND parts. I live in rural Australia, hence the high mileage. I reckon my car will last forever and be passed on as a freebie. It’s probably only worth about $2000 and costs me virtually nothing in insurance (def don’t need fully comp), and not that much on rego. Oil change only at services, just had the front brakes done for the 1st time, 2nd timing change and apart from new tyres that’s it. Might need to get the aircon regassed next summer but that’s it!!
It would pass an MOT!

May 4, 2009 at 11:13 am

admin says:

@linda What can I say except WOW? That mileage is impressive; I reckon the Thriftymobile has a way to go, to catch up…

Miss T

May 4, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I have a Nissan Pathfinder that isn’t as old as yours, but I’m nearing 300,000 miles. Every little thing that breaks I have a coworker who asks me when I’m going to buy a NEW car. I hope it keeps going another 200,000 miles. 🙂

October 15, 2009 at 3:49 am

Miss Thrifty says:

@Mrs Accountability: 300,000 miles? That’s amazing!

October 15, 2009 at 2:20 pm

PennySeeds says:

True that cars can last a long while. My mom purchased a Hyundai Accent in 1995. It was passed on to me, and I had it until a few years ago. 2006 or 2007. Aside from a few minor problems (corroded battery cap, and broken window crank) the car had no problems, ran reliably, and got great gas mileage. When I got a new car it was the exact same car in a new color.

We didn’t near match the mileage of some people, but we did not drive much.

August 8, 2010 at 7:23 am

Hey Miss Thrifty!

I just put your car up on my beater car page…but just had a question–what is your current mileage?


August 24, 2010 at 12:54 am

Lozmk1 says:

i love it! i have a 1982 VW Golf (Rabbit to the americans on here!) its only done 98000 miles and until recently got used every day, it was passed down thru many generations of my friends family and it came tome as i loved it so much, iv stopped using it daily as the mileage was racking up on it as iv changed jobs and im doing more than 40 miles a day! i’v had her since i passed my driving test (more than 7 years) and although its had lots of things go wrong (head gasket, alternator, fuel pump) parts are cheap so i dont worry about maintenance costs. everyone stares at it as its so retro cool and i wouldnt change it for the world 🙂 its my little piece of cheap motoring and i wanna keep her going for many many more years 🙂

September 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm

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