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Hagerty Employee

In defense of the Terrible Car

The 2003 Hyundai Elantra GLS pictured here cost me $1200. That was about $400 too much, but that reality wouldn’t become apparent until a couple months into ownership. The Hyundai is now sitting in a junkyard, ready to offer its parts to fellow clunkers before the inevitable trip to the crusher and god knows what after. The car was as forgettable as last Tuesday, virtually dripping mediocrity from the moment it arrived in my life until the rainy day, some three years later, that we parted ways.


I kind of miss it ...


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Intermediate Driver

The author rationalizes 'Feeling' into decisions, instead of logic. This is likely to leave him forever a dollar short and yearning for better. So sad.

Intermediate Driver

I was given essentially the same car, but a 2004 with 150k miles, 3 years ago by my sister because she could not find anyone to buy it - due to the 5-speed and salvage title.  I took it because I needed a winter-beater commuter-bomb for work and the car that gets left at the airport for a week.  Co-workers who had kids in college pestered me to buy it, until I tell them it has a stick, then they turn tail and run.  Yet it's the stick shift that makes it a bearable car.  If it had an automatic, I'd have gladly sold it.  It's worst malady has been a dead battery.  Insurance is stupid cheap, as is new tabs each year.  It keeps the miles off good late model stuff that I have.  I can park it in the worst part town unlocked, keys in it, running, with a full tank of gas and it'll still be there when I come back.  Now that I retired I find that it has too much value as a Plan B car to get rid of.   That's value and logic, not emotions or 'Feeling'.

Hagerty Employee

The manual was what made it bearable for me too! I appreciate the kind words. Value and logic indeed; even in a hobby primarily fueled by emotion, there's plenty of room for those ideas.

Felt pretty much the same way about the 1975 VW Dasher "GT" I had for a couple of years. My '75 Scirocco had been in a very nasty collision, and was close enough to being "totaled" that I started looking for something else while the insurance companies battled it out. I found the Dasher on the local VW dealers lot for a very reasonable price, and bought it.


It always started, always ran, and only let me down twice; once with a broken throttle cable, and once when it backfired trying to start in -20*F weather, which made the timing belt jump a tooth. Both fixed by myself in short order.


But it inspired *zero* emotion in me, and I traded it in after two years. Totally unremarkable car, but it left me with that same "empty space" you mention.


- Jim

New Driver

I know what you mean about not being able to get rid of a car.  My 2008 Elantra is a few years up the evolutionary ladder.  My wife and I bought it new in the summer of 2008, and proceeded to put about 40,000 miles on it before giving it to our daughter when she went off to college in 2010.  She drove it through 4 years of college and 4 years of med school, then into the first year of her residency (in Ann Arbor, MI, no less).  The only things it needed the entire time she had it were a new battery, new tires, and a brake line (the mechanic said the old one got a chunk taken out of it by some freeway debris).  


My wife passed away in the summer of 2018, and my daughter was wanting a newer vehicle.  I paid off my wife's Santa Fe, took it to my daughter in Ann Arbor at Thanksgiving, and traded titles with her.  My other daughter and I drove the little Elantra, with 111,000 miles, back home - 750 miles away.  It ran like it did when new, and still does today, with over 125,000 miles on it.  Everthing on it still works - AC, cruise control, all the power windows and door locks - everything.  So what's the problem, you ask?  The problem is, there is only one person living in my house now, and I have 3 vehicles.  I have a much newer Kia SUV that is my trip car, an old Dodge Ram that is my lumber-hauler, and the Elantra, which is my daily driver.  I would love to buy a low-mileage, older-model Mercedes-Benz or BMW to tinker with and take out for fun weekend adventures.  But, if I did that right now, something would have to go, and that would probably be my trusty little Hyundai.  I just don't know if I could bear to part with it, especially knowing I would get very little for it if I tried to trade it or sell it.  Oh, well, I guess I'll go ahead and keep driving it.  It's probably more reliable than what I would replace it with.


Hagerty Employee

Thanks for sharing your story, pdb. I'm sorry about the loss of your wife. Perhaps it's just me, but I feel like the small, cheap cars end up meaning more over the long haul that massive ones. Maybe it's the fact that smaller and cheaper ones are often a larger percentage of one's budget when you buy them. If I learned one thing from this episode, it's that letting go (of the Elantra, in your case and mine) can open the door to new opportunities. I like your ideas of tinkering with something old. As long as that Kia SUV is reliable, I think you should see what's out there. Perhaps, like me, someone is looking for a good, reliable car for not much money. Who knows how much positivity that little car could bring to someone else!

Win or lose, whom of us here would say a $1200 bet is the largest gamble they ever took? Live life or you'll regret it, have fun and move on, repeat as needed.

Hagerty Employee

That's a really great point. I'm not a gamblin' man, but if that's the largest bet I ever take, I think i'd be alright. Thanks for the reminder.

I had a similar experience a few years back. In 2004, I needed a new commuter car as my Ford Tempo (no regrets getting rid of that car) was chewing through parts at a phenomenal rate. I was deep in the midst of family life, wife, two kids, mortgage, car payments, braces, soccer camp, etc... My brother in law sold me his 1997 Chevy Cavalier with 192,000 miles on it (you read that right) in 2004 for... $1000. I drove the car until 2016 with no major repairs other than the trans that puked, thanks to a leaking seal that I ignored. The car was rode hard and put away wet, but started every time and I could count on it to get me where I was going with no issues. The rust monster took it off the road; but mechanically it was fine. I donated it to a charity for a tax write-off. 19 years on the road and 265,000 miles later, it's duty was over. I still think about that turd from time to time.


I’m evidently a bit older...mine was a 68 Plymouth Barracuda notchback. Slant six, automatic, AC-but manual steering and brakes. $100 and worth at least twice that. The right fender had lost a fight with some fixed object, and the headlight was held in by chicken wire. After a couple of “reminders” about proper headlight aiming, I found a replacement fender with a proper headlight bucket attached. Said fender was about two inches longer than its collision-shortened predecessor and would not fit behind the misshapen bumper. Facing rust-frozen bolts without a torch, I went with Plan B: a hacksawn notch in the backside of the bumper. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?  That car is where I learned the now-lost art of rebuilding wheel cylinders, splicing brake lines, rebuilding carburetors, adjusting valve lash, ball joints, tie rod ends, points and condensers and God alone knows what else. I sold it to a friend three years later, improvements and all, for $100, after which he drove it for two years. By then rust had overtaken the frame and it was time for the trip to the salvage yard. We stripped what was still usable-the trans went into his “new” car and I still have the AC system in my garage-and sadly parted ways. I wouldn’t say I loved the car-it was more a case of refusing to surrender-but I came to respect it nonetheless. I look back now not with fondness but instead gratitude-I learned not only how to work on cars but also the value of hard work and delayed gratification. I had the means to drive something nicer but came to realize that there were even nicer opportunities yet to come.