On the Merits of Ugly Cars

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Remember that song about making an ugly woman your wife so as to be happy for the rest of your life? It applies to cars just as much.

Like the pretty girls, everyone wants the pretty cars. This drives up the cost of acquisition. Also, one tends to put up with more hassles than one otherwise might.

Ugly girls, on the other hand, are appreciative – and inexpensive (usually).

Same goes for ugly cars.

Consider, as a for-instance, the notoriously unattractive Pontiac Aztek. And – even more so – its almost-as-homely sister, the Buick Rendezvous.

Neither were bad rides.aztek-2

Just ugly ones.

Result? You could – and still can – pick either up of these “babes” for an extremely attractive price. Less than $5,000 will buy you a pristine one, in fact. Low miles, the body cladding still intact (if loosely fitted). They make look ooglay, but don’t forget that the mechanicals aren’t.  The boilerplate V6 engines that power both are identical to the ones you’d find in more popular (and more expensive to buy) GM vehicles and they run just as well in the not-so-popular Aztek and Rendezvous.

Never forget the object of this exercise: To not spend much on transpo. And keep in mind what Ben Franklin said about gray cats and dark rooms… .

There are other examples, cases in point.

A hail-damaged car, for example.

Consider her the equivalent of the otherwise nice-looking chick who has a pockmarked face. This can be overlooked.hail-damage

The good news – for you – is that most buyers won’t overlook it. The car – even if it is a popular model – is suddenly a hard sell. Which makes it a cheap sell. They ship hail damaged cars from places like Texas and Oklahoma to other places – usually, via auction – where the bidding is typically low. If you have never thought about attending a car auction as a way to find a cheap date, you ought to.

Stay away from flood-damaged cars, though. That (water-logging) is the vehicular equivalent of crotch rot. You want no part of either, no matter how good she looks. faded-paint

Faded/peeling paint is another form of cosmetic defect that bears no relationship to the functionally important parts of the car. You will pay top dollar for a shiny/pretty car. Even if it is functionally inferior to the not-shiny/not-pretty (but lower miles/better-kept) car they’re trying to hide on the back of the lot.

Go there first.

Don’t be afraid of minor rust, either. Emphasis on minor. Meaning, not structural (frame, chassis). It takes a long time (usually, at least 15 years from new) for rust to become a structural rather than merely cosmetic issue. Some Swiss Cheese in the fenders is like crows feet on the face. Both usually mean a discount for you. Just know what you are dealing with – and if you’re not certain, don’t risk this one.  girl-dipping

Can you abide a girl who smokes (or dips)?

Ok, me either.

But you don’t have to kiss the car.

If it’s previous owner smoked in it, it’ll smell. But it’s not the same as actually sitting next to a smoker (much less kissing one) and – if you can abide the smell – you are positioned to score. Because these days, smoking is barely step behind kid touching as far as social pariahood and not many buyers will want to buy a smoked-in car, which dramatically reduces its salability. Ask any salesman. They send such cars to be soaked in eau de new car smell as a way to mask the smoky smell. It never works.

The car just reeks differently.precious

If you can, snatch it up before they sheep dip it. The smoke smell isn’t that bad. You learn to live with it, just as you would the otherwise hot chick who can’t stop lighting up.

Life is, after all, about compromises.

But never let the person you’re looking to buy from know you know this. Make them think the opposite. That you are appalled, put off – disgusted.

And yet… you just might consider…

Like last call at your favorite bar. It’s 2 a.m. and there she is. Maybe not much to look at, but she runs ok – and she won’t cost you much.    

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Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia.

61 COMMENTS

  1. My car, a 1999 Mazda Protege, is a great car. No bells and whistles, just simple put-in-drive and it drives. It has had very few problems, which my good mechanic, McLea’s Tire, fixes and keeps it running great. it just keeps going and going and I will keep driving it forever or until it won’t any more.

    By the way, what did Benjamin Franklin say about the cats and dark rooms? You tantalized me with mentioning it but then didn’t say what he said.

      • eric, speaking of Trump…..well, we are now. A friend sent a link to a Gary North article that’s really good on the subject. I’m don’t agree with anyone all the time and that goes for GN but he does nail things pretty close some times and this is one of them. Just for what it’s worth, Caesar sought to return Rome to a republic and there’s the lesson of hard to find people you can trust.

        http://www.garynorth.com/public/15883.cfm

    • Elaine, ol Bennie was a straight-forward kinda guy. He just told it how he saw it regardless of who agreed or didn’t. He was giving advice to a young man about sex, marriage and women. Here is what he said. Some agree, others may not but history is history and this was censored after his death for a hundred years or so. The prudes got their way as is common. Whether he was being facetious or honest is still debatable. He’s telling this young man to take a wife to cure his sexual urges. You can take that for what it’s worth too. And here is a quote he made about women.

      “The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.”

  2. Worked for us. Picked up a loaded Honda Pilot for a song that nobody else wanted due to it having hail damage albeit very slight and barely noticeable. Major dealer took it as a trade-in then put it out on their used lot. Price just kept falling and falling. Paid cash and never looked back. Runs like a top and the leather seats are like new. I’m a believer in ugly cars big time.

  3. Lou Costello: It’s better to marry an ugly girl than a pretty girl.
    Bud Abbot: Why?
    Lou Costello: Because a pretty girl might run away.
    Bud Abbot: But an ugly girl might run away too.
    Lou Costello: Yeah, but who cares?

    An ugly car might get stolen too, but who cares?

    And if you want a truly ugly car try looking at a 1958 Dodge.

    Poots

      • I had a 1962 Dodge Dart that was almost as ugly as the `58.

        The sheet metal on it felt like it was about ¼ inch thick. I used to call it ‘The Tank’.

        Its 225 slant six engine put to the lie that old myth about under-squared engines not having any pep. It was 3.40inches X 4.125inches and yet it had lots of get-up-and-go…

        The all-time champion of the under-squared engines though had to be the ‘Go Devil’ engine in Willys jeep. At 3.124inches X 4.375inches it was about as under-squared as it gets yet it blew away all of the competition in the Army’s evaluation.

        I haven’t done a search, have you ever written about under-squared versus squared and over-squared engines?

        Poots

        • never heard that they don’t have any pep, just that they won’t be able to sustain high rpm due to valve size limitations.
          it is an excellent way to make a stump puller though…

  4. “Smoked” cars can be treated with enzyme based cleaners followed by the use of an ozone generating machine. Rental yards have them.
    I once bought a really nice Chevy Nova in the winter only to discover it had been a delivery car for a butcher shop.
    Realized my mistake about mid-July, Pee-ooh-wee!
    Sold it the following winter.

  5. Bad analogy, about ugly girls being appreciative!

    It’s been my observation (by observing the lives of others) that the attitude of the fat and/or fugly ones, is to “let themselves go” even more, once they are married; and to demand even more, now that they’ve snagged their man. Gotta “show them all” by whining till they get that bigger house and newer car, now that they have someone who is “obligated” to get it for them (or who can be brow-beaten to do so).

    Ironically, it is often the gorgeous ones (if they don’t have a swelled head) who tend to be appreciative and content. Who will tolerate a lot more, and be happier with less.

    Two kinds of women you can never please and who will make your life hell: The one who thinks sge is “all that” (regardless of whether she is or isn’t); and the dog. Pretty much all women are a pain in the ass anyway, so might as well go with the beauties, and at least get something for your trouble.

    Talk about smoker’s vehicles, I once had this old diesel Maxima that perpetually smelled like gunpowder! (Didn’t bother me a bit, though), and the gray paint was faded; and the interior was faded and stained….and it was a great car!!!

    • I think you are mostly right ,Nunzio, particularly your observation on how most are pretty challenging regardless of attractiveness.

      In my experience, I think a hottie from humble to average origins is the ticket. Make sure to check out the parents for a pretty accurate preview of life down the road. A couple questions to ask yourself if you think you’ve found Ms. Right:

      Does she like cars? (This is a trick question – you want apathy or at the very least ‘yes, if they are paid for’. Screw this one up and you will be making massive payments on an Infinity SUV faster than you can say ‘what just happened?’ The only exception to this is the girl that shows up for your first date with a skinned knuckle from a stubborn bolt on her collector car. Go straight to marriage, in this case.)

      Will she do it in a cramped two seater? (Self-explanatory)

      If you are out fishing together (a good sign for sure), will she pee over the side of the boat or make you take her to shore?

      Above all: justified self confidence and a good bit of independence is a must. Good luck!

      • So true about checking the parents, Yeti! Not only does it say a lot about who she is, but it will show you how she will age. You can marry the hottest woman in her 20’s, but even if she’s a rarity who stays hot, it’ll still be a challenge after the initial spark dies down and familiarity sets in. How much worse if she ends up beng utterly unappealing too? Then ya find yourself like so many men I see, leading lives of compromise and quiet desperation, for essentially nothing.

        Peeing over the side, and that sort of thing though? Nah….I’d rather have the domestic type who’s a lady, rather than a fishing/mechanic buddy. I see too many women acting like men, and not enough acting like ladies. Viva la difference!

      • When you’re out fishing together, does she bitch about everything you try to teach her(I fish my own way. I don’t care how you fish.)? I don’t mind heading to the bank for the most part. In my boat there’s a bit of a well in front of the outboard to funnel backwash out off the deck. She doesn’t even need to hang over the side. Next time you come off plane it’s all washed out fine anyway.

        When I first got married our car had the heater core ruin and I had the heater hose doubles back so it could be driven sans heater. It was cold and snowing and the wife wanted to use the car. I took her into the garage and showed her what was up with the hoses and told her the inner fender had to be removed to take the heater core out and put in the new one. She showed up late that day with heater core installed and full of 50/50 coolant mix. I was proud of her.

        One day the El Camino was in the shop waiting for a tow package only u-joint to show up. I was driving the baby pickup to work and the water pump was so gone on Red Dog it was about to lose the fan. She wanted to use the big pickup but I hadn’t had time to change the pump the day before. I told her the pump was in the box in the seat and if she wanted to change it feel free but it couldn’t be driven the way it was. I got home and she was hauling rip rap on a trailer.

    • Since you’ve opened the topic….

      Yep, so many ugly women are delusional in their demands. Not because they’re ugly but because why would any man put up with it from anyone? If a man is willing to put up with that like you said, he might as well find a beautiful woman for all that effort and cost.

      What I would add is that demanding women, regardless of their attractiveness will go after men that they think will put up with their demands. Women who aren’t demanding will go after men they think don’t have to put up with women’s demands. Pretty women especially will want men that don’t have to put up with their demands. If that makes any sense…. I’m ugly so I attract demanding women that think I have to put up with their demands. I won’t. I’d rather be alone than live in that horror.

      • Brent, I think it’s more about attitude and the way we carry ourselves as men, as opposed to looks, that attract women. I’ve noticed a pattern over the years: A lot of beautiful, yet humble and unassuming women seem to wind up with abusive men (and ones who are not at all attractive, at that!). I think it’s because they are attracted to men who project a lot of confidence and self-assurance- and they seem incapable distinguishing between men who possess such traits because they are brazen creeps, and guys who possess those traits because we are of good character.

        This disgusting piece-O-crap crackhead who used to work for a friend of mine, who lived in a store room and had nothing, used to always get the sweetest, prettiest girls! (Of course, who would want them, if they were willing to be with someone like him?).

        Luckily, I savor solitude, so I am happy!

        • And his attrasctiveness (apparently) decreases in direct proportion to how much he farts! I feel compelled to get that out of the way right away though, so as not to give false impressions….or get bloated, or nagged!

          • That’s more accurate. Guess I was trying to be politically correct. Sometimes it’s automatic, since survival (often…) depends on it.

  6. Not trying to start an ongoing quibble but what are the top five ugliest cars? I would argue that three of them would come from AMC with the Matador being number one.

  7. I look at Azteks and I think one of the following:
    1.) Chunk of cheddar cheese with wheels
    2.) A woman with a medium/thin upper body and a massive fat ass.
    3.) The type of vehicle the Griswold family would drive in any of the Vacation movies.

    • I pulled up behind a vehicle yesterday. It was really ugly and I noticed it had “sportage” on the rear. Maybe a Kia I guess. I couldn’t tell it was a bit better looking than an Aztek, in fact, a clean Aztek beside it and I’d bet the Aztek would go up several notches in the looks dept.

      Pulled in to get gas and stopped behind an Equinox with a big C symbol above it. Sure enough, it had a large exhaust and was hooked to the green hose. There was no exhaust smell…..of any sort.

    • Thing is these Azteks just keep on going. They seem to be surviving well in Chicago’s car-eating environment. Then again the plastic cladding hides the rust much like the saturns. Although some say the steel behind the plastic is powder coated or otherwise very well protected on saturns.

      Speaking saturns and their glaring headlights I’ve learned the reason why they don’t go away. Their owners often do whatever it takes to keep them going.

  8. Speaking of smells from a previous owner, a decade now since I bought my old Volare it still smells faintly of the seller’s cologne. Probably when it passes from my cold, dead fingers the next owner will still be able to catch a whiff of it on a warm day.

  9. the smokebomb is easy enough to deal with. Having been professioinally trained as a carpet cleaner, I KNEW what to do. It is permanent, cheap, and relatively insexpensive.

    Buy or borrow or rent a smallish ozone generator. Even the smallest ones out there are easily big enough to take care of a stinky car. Warm the car compeltely by running the engine for some time,, or do this right after you return home from a drive. Set up the generator (I’ve got a smallish one about the size of a college textbook… maybe 6 x 10 x 4 inches. Open a window a crack and slip the ains cord out the crack, then close it without pinching the wire. Set the generator on something to keep it off the carepet/upholstery. maybe a smallish chunk of plywood. Turn it on and let it run, close the car, and leave the engine running at idle, heating system on full hot temp set to max, fan on high. Let it all run for maybe two hours. Oh, set air on recirc if that’s an option. The ozone will be curculated everywhere. It will literally dismantle the stink molecules from tobacco and other nasty smells. Do that for maybe two hours, then drive the car normally for a day or so. If not all the stink is gone, repeat. I’ve seen two such sessions completely and permanently eliminate even super heavy tobacco smoke stink in only two such treatments. And there is no stupid artificial stink introduced like the sheep dip treatment does…..

    • Tionico, the first sign a vehicle has been smoked in in west Tx. is the ozone generator made for a vehicle that exchanges the air and does its thing at the same time. You’ll see a few vehicles with these going sitting in the hot sun and they do a good job. Since smoking has fallen off to a great degree among men, you don’t see this done as much now but it works as well as you say. My wife’s car belonged to a woman. The wife is convinced she didn’t smoke which I doubted. It never smelled though till one morning a year or so later I tore off in it. It was a cool summer day with a lot of humidity, some fog, etc. and when I turned on the a/c I got a whiff of it. Since my wife tends to use the floorboards as trash bins it’s no longer an issue. She treats a car so badly she should have to walk. You can always tell at any place a vehicle is being sold if there was a smoker originally….the ashtray will be new.

      I know a lot of men who just won’t allow smoking in their vehicle, me being one. I took my buddy and his wife to Houston one day. We’d have to stop and let her have a cig and it was always too long in-between for her. I could open the door of their Tahoe and immediately back up and let a breeze come through. I hate riding in a car like that since it comes off on your clothes. I carried a couple beach towels just for the purpose of putting over the seats if I hauled a smoker and for putting over my seat if I had been in a smoker’s car. Well, I don’t have to worry about my buddy’s wife now, she died from cancer 3 months ago. She might have lived through it had she not damaged her heart so badly by constantly smoking.

  10. I once taught HS with a colleague who purchased a “beater” for cash @every 2-3 years. When the repair/maintenance costs exceeded the vehicle’s merits, he merely moved on to another flawed car.

    He never had a car payment. Obviously, he never cared for aesthetics or cosmetics. He merely sought and bought an affordable ride whenever he needed to.

    Hard to argue with his logic.

    • that is pretty much how I do it these days, only thing is I seem to get a helluva lot more than 2-3 years out of them.
      I’m happy if the purchase price + maintenance (I don’t count fuel/insurance costs) comes out to no more than $100/month over the life of the vehicle.
      Currently sitting at about $78/month on my ’95 roady and I just swapped out the 2.56 open diff for 3.42s and a yukon posi. Much nicer driving around town now…

      • My M.O. too! Only I got 15 years out of my last junker…. Only it was getting a little too ratty, but still ran like a top, with 276,000 miles on it. As long as it ain’t crunched or different colors, I’m fine with it asthetically. Could never drive a Pontiac Spaztec though.

        Whether it’s womens or cars, I’m squeamish when it comes to looks. Wouldn’t maintain either if i didn’t like the way they looked!

  11. “And keep in mind what Ben Franklin said about gray cats and dark rooms…”

    I just read his letter (never seen it before) – love it.

    Another strategy is to buy defunct brands that mechanically are identical to surviving brands. I bought my daughter a 96 Olds 88 ten years and over 100k miles ago for $2500 and it’s still going strong. More recently, Scion, Pontiac, Saturn and Mercury come to mind.

    • Robbie, what engine does that Olds have? I like the idea of that. How many miles were on the car when you bought it? Buick hit their highest quality level along about 12-14 years ago. I’d like to find one that’s been garaged.

      • It has the 3.8 V6. It had 86k when we got it and has 192k now. It came with all maintenance records since new. Unfortunately it’s one of the cars affected by paint delamination and doesn’t look great now. Time to get a can of rustoleum and a roller and get to work ha ha.

  12. Older Hyundais with the Mitsubishi based 4g63 motor/transmission combo are super cheap to find (usually less than a grand or two), and are decently reliable and practical with yuge parts availability from aftermarket vendors since Mitsus have a strong following.

    Turbos available too. 🙂

  13. A great deal of truth here. I saw a Dodge, an almost identical twin of the one shown here a couple weeks ago at Wally. I was leaving the car and the owner(dealer plates)was arriving at it. I almost stopped to ask what he’d paid for it. It was clean except for west Tx. sun eating the paint. The only problem with Dodge pickups is their collapsing, disintegrating dashes that don’t hold up well at all in the sun. This one appeared to not have that problem. And wrecks being as frequent as they are, a friend picked up a good used dash for his Dodge for $100 at the scrap yard.

    And for those gals who dip a bit of Copenhagen, if they’ll just wash their mouth and take a couple shots of WT 101 you won’t even notice and who cares about kissing anyway? It’s only done in less than half the cultures of the world. Never mind what the Shirrel’s say. Mr. Happy never notices anyway.

    I was passed by some people much older than me last week on the interstate in an old, ugly, faded but in good shape Buick and they were hauling ass(I see Buick’s like this fairly often). The car wouldn’t have brought crap on a used car lot but it looked to drive and ride fine and the a/c was working well or they were just gluttons for heat punishment. Those cars get good mileage too and handle decently and ride well. Being Buick’s they have all the amenities most of us think we need. They were obviously on cruise and good riding, good handling and a/c that works is pretty sweet for a car that would sell for maybe $2,000 tops used. It probably didn’t have that many miles on it either, No nicks or anything else, just dull paint from not being waxed. I’d have bought that car if they’d have sold it. Probably getting them to stop and then trying to buy their car wouldn’t have been the smartest move of the day. Old doesn’t mean stupid.

    • I drove a 2001 Saturn L100 for 200,000 miles before lending it to a friend who has passed on. I couldn’t get to the car before it was towed, but it was in great shape and would consistently run 100 mph without effort. It looked like shit, but I missed that car. I hope it is in someone’s hands right now.

  14. Like last call at your favorite bar. It’s 2 a.m. and there she is. Maybe not much to look at, but she runs ok – and she won’t cost you much.

    Except dignity, cab fare and probably a quick visit to the clinic.

    Great article, eric, especially on such a strange day! Here’s one ugly car, though, that I encourage everyone to avoid:

    Worse than a chick that dips.

    Really.

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