The beater. The junker. The wreck. Based on all the episodes about various cars we’ve owned, I’m pretty sure all of the hosts of the Check Engine Podcast have had one. This, dear readers, is an Ode to the Beater.
As a car podcast, we tend to focus on those cars that we deem “desirable” or cars that we... truly TRULY dislike. For the most part, that has either meant cars in their original state or dream cars that never were and never will be. Unless, as has happened a LOT as of late, we’re right and car companies copy all of our ideas. (See the post from last week about the new Skoda...). What I want to discuss here, however, is cars as they end up. For me, this post was spawned by my absolute love for my old, beater Jeep.
Ah, the Jeep. It has come up again and again on the podcast. You may know that I’ve said that I’ll drive it until it turns into a little pile of rust. But why? It’s noisy, it requires copious maintenance and repair (Luckily, due to its age and non-mysterious, domestic origin, very little of that is expensive), it smells a little weird, handles a little funny, and doesn’t get the best gas mileage. But I love it. I love it so much that it has survived as the second vehicle through TWO new car acquisitions. The first even mostly overlapped with its stated capability... but it has endured. Why? Why, CEP readers, has it done so? Well... because it’s a beater.
Having a car like my WRX and my previous VW group products, I have cherished my cars. I may occasionally need to clean them more. That’s on me, I admit it. But I generally took good physical care and did not abuse them. I changed the oil religiously at 3000 miles. I obsessed over tire pressures. My car life with these cars has been some of the best it ever was. It was also some of the most exhausting.
There’s something to say for a car that you can treat like an old pair of jeans. Take them out of storage and they’re all broken in, ready to go. Take them out and kick them around for a while, and they’ll be good as new as soon as you wash them. Or not. Maybe you do manage to score a tear doing yard work or a big, permanent grease stain from the garage. Who cares? They’re your old jeans. A beater car has exactly the same charm. Especially one with some utility, such as my Jeep. Just the other day, my dad was doing yard work with it, and my girlfriend and I are using it to haul the plethora of suitcases we’ll be mules for to the airport (shout out to Southwest Airlines’ 2 free checked bags policy!). It’s gone on road trips where the weather was unpredictable. It’s going to serve as the winter ride when my dad has to shed his Mercedes for the snowy months in Wisconsin.
It’s not fancy. I wouldn’t take it to the front door of a Wal-Mart and expect to wow anyone, much less a fancy hotel. It’s doesn’t make angry exhaust noises. It doesn’t look particularly unique aside from the modest bit of height the aftermarket suspensions adds. However, what it can be is everything but that. It has proven itself reliable, comfortable, capable, and helpful. What’s more, it does all these things while still allowing you to not care for it. I know that sounds harsh, and it’s not the best phrase. You CARE for your beloved beater, but you don’t REALLY care what happens to it short of catastrophic death. Small rip in the seat? Eh. Add a couple of Michigan pinstripes (read: tree branch scratches) taking it into the woods to pull a tree down? Meh. Muddy paw prints? Yawn. Need to leave it parked outside at the airport for a week and you’re not sure you won’t come back to find hail damage. Whatever. It is something you can care FOR but not care about.
And that’s what makes the beater a true joy and something that, at least in this podcast hosts opinion something that should be had by all car fans. Have your baby. Have the car that you obsess over every paint swirl or spec of dirt on the interior. Have the car that drives the hunt for perfect tires. But have your old pair of jeans. Have the car that’s always there for you. Have the car that will do what you need to do. Have a car that can be a mental ice pack from the joyous yet simply exhausting task of having your dream car. Own a beater!