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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…
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.
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!