R.I.P. Beater.

It has finally happened. Dan Spinali’s Sentra has gone to the Big Garage In The Sky.  A few days ago he posted pics of the sticker-encrusted ( I’m pretty sure those things held it together) Sentra. Along with those pics, we learned that his Sentra could no longer keep it together, literally. It had become more costly to keep on the road than what it was worth.

As much as we love our beaters, there comes a time to let go and put the wrenches away.  Its not always easy. More often than not it feels like saying goodbye to a good friend, much like a family pet.  It’s hard, it was a reliable and steady part of your life for quite some time. Take those memories and those adventures and use them as a reference to some new adventures in the next beater you get. Go buy another tossed-aside crap can and get back out there! Bounce the new beater off of other beaters and mailboxes. Smokescreen your way to work. Leave oil slicks down the highway  and pretend like your James Bond!

Dan left us with some final words:

Thanks for all the fun posts and the free stickers!

Sadly today was my last morning with my beater. 15 years parked outside in Canada took a toll on it, and the cost to repair outweighed the value of the car a long time ago.

15 years, 2 owners (myself and my grandfather), and only 130125 km.

You’re most definitely welcome Dan! We can’t wait to see what your next beater is gonna be (even if it is something shiny and new).

The $5K XJ


1KidsA couple weeks ago in our feature about the Sentra That Wouldn’t Die we mentioned that we were proud of some guy.  That guy was Jon.  Jon has had a collection of beaters, not unlike most of us, and seems to prefer the off-road 4X4 genre of beater the most. When we reached out to him we initially were looking for a story about his current workhorse, a Toyota Tacoma, but instead got a pleasant surprise with this lunk of a Jeep instead.  Here is Jon’s $5K XJ:

When did you get your beater?
-I purchased it in February 2010 for $5000 (dubbed the 5KXJ).

What do you like about your beater?
-Everything about it was cheap. It was cheap to fix, cheap to build, and cheap to run. It was simple and fun (when it ran). It was loud, tall, covered in mud most of the time, had tons of wheel travel, and had stickers all over it.

What do you dislike about your beater?
-Like I said, everything about it was cheap. It was an absolute lemon, everything broke at least once, and when you add up a bunch of cheap parts, it gets expensive, as I found out. In short it was a money pit that got single digit gas mileage. I had to staple the headliner to the roof to keep it out of my face when I was driving down the road.

332595_10150416130660939_206603881_oWhat is the funniest thing that has happened in it?
– While wheeling at Hollister Hills SVRA in California, my friends convinced me to drive over an obstacle that was too big for my Jeep. My idle air control sensor was already on the fritz so it wouldn’t idle and I had been power braking the thing all day. So anyways, when trying to get over this rock, my “spotters” said I was clear and I ripped my exhaust clean off. Had to drive home with essentially an open header.

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Have you been on any roadtrips?
-Well, I drove it from Philly to Florida pulling a uHaul trailer when I began my career in racing. Then I drove it from Connecticut to California with no A/C and cutoff exhaust in August.IMG_0081

What is the weirdest thing you’ve had to fix or take it to the mechanic for?
-Days before I was set to move from Connecticut to California, the Jeep broke. It was unloaded from a trailer after being transported from Florida to Connecticut and wouldn’t start. Unfortunately, I was on the road for work during all of this, so needless to say I was less than pleased to return from 3 months on the road to a broken Jeep. After several failed attempts to fix it, a smoked Optima battery and fried electronics, I had it fixed at a dealership due to time constraints. Picked it up, and drove it to California the following day without fault. It wound up being a faulty, shorted out coil pack.312657_10151331994805939_753669113_n

What is the weirdest thing you’ve had to fix or take it to the mechanic for?
-Worst thing that almost happened: The afternoon after I picked my Jeep up from the dealership, I returned to my motel to pack my bag for California. A severe thunderstorm rolled through, flooding the parking lot. Lightning struck the motel, arced through flooded parking lot, and fried all the electronics in the Dodge Magnum parked next to me, totaling the vehicle. My Jeep was spared, due only to the fact that I had larger tires on it, and the puddle never got deep enough to arc the lighting through my wheels, unlike the Dodge. So I got the hell out of there, thanked my lucky starts and continued on my merry way.


-When I first put a lift kit on it, I backed it out of the garage, grinning ear to ear. On my way to the tire shop where I worked at the time (to install my big bad-ass tires that were sure to win the ladies over), the rear driveshaft exploded no less than a mile from the garage, due to a horrendous driveshaft angle. I removed the mangled shaft, slammed it in 4Hi, and kept driving. I drove it like that everyday for over a month while I waited for a custom driveshaft to get shipped to me. I eventually sold it in March 2013 for $6K (Score!)


Remember: WE NEED YOUR STORIES!!! Send your stories and some pics about your everyday cars to: BeaterLifeBlog@gmail.com.   If we like it. We’ll feature it!

It Wouldn’t Die

The 1996 Nissan 200sx/Sentra, the 1.6l model, is an underrated brute of a beater.  I had one. It was great. It looked the part. It felt the part. It smelled the part. Most importantly it wouldn’t die. No matter how hard I tried to kill it, it wouldn’t die. It would try to kill me on a number of occasions but it wouldn’t die. Part of that toughness meant that it was a great sidekick. It got bruised and took hits for me.

I got the “Little-Turd-That-Could” as a sort of punishment for being a teenager with a sports car in high school (story to come eventually).  I first met it on the side of a road in Saint Petersburg FL where I was living at the time. I thought it was the 2.0l SE-R model, but it wasn’t. It was a slow, anemic, boring 1.6l shopping cart. I would come to live out of it, get it stuck, and watch it die.  Here are some of those stories:


At one point I lived out of my crap-can Sentra. I had just graduated from tech school and was just starting out my short-lived career in racing.  I had just moved from my rented bedroom in Orlando to another rented bedroom just north of Atlanta. My tools, belongings, and dad all piled into the Sentra and took a long road trip up the forgotten and beaten up farm roads of rural Florida and Georgia.  We never hit any scales, but the thing weighed so much it could barely move with its 90hp. I guess it was a good thing that we decided to take the back-roads on our father son trip instead of the highways.  I vividly remember that every time my dad leaned forward, and I’m not exaggerating here, we could feel the car actually accelerate a bit.That was the beginning of it’s adventures. I hadn’t moved to Sebring yet.


The first thing I did after to moving to Sebring was use the Sentra to make some friends.  I took a buddy of mine, Vinny, to lunch at Wendy’s.  We finished our lunches and hopped back in the little black Nissan.  As we pulled around the side of the building we found that someone had decided it was a good idea to pull a massive car-hauler through the drive-thru effectively blocking the out lane.  I, in my infinite wisdom decided this was a great time to practice some rally driving.  I pulled the Sentra around the hauler through the sand that Vinny kept telling me was too soft and well, predictably sunk my front wheels. The only thing we could do was wait for the new guy, Jon to show up and pull us out.

We had met Jon only a couple hours before this when he first showed up to his new job.  This lunch incident, as I’m sure you can tell, was a great first impression. Jon backed up his nice lifted Cherokee, unrolled his tow straps and yanked the car out of the sand.  He looked at Vinny and I, cemented his impressions of us in his mind, and drove back to the shop. All this wasn’t so bad except for having to come up with a way to explain to my shop manager that we were late back from break because I had gotten stuck, in the sand, at a Wendy’s.

In a weird twist of fate, however, Jon would eventually go on to work on rallycross cars in FIA Rallycross and trophy trucks down in Dakar. I like to think I was his first rally car, even though I’m it wasn’t.  Regardless, we’re all pretty proud of the guy.

Sebastien Ogier would be proud

The Sentra took care of me after I made an fool out of myself taking a drunken faceplant on the floor of Chateau Elan during a company banquet. It took my Keith Richards level hungover self from Sebring the morning after the banquet to my new home in Limerock CT.

The Sentra always seemed to be a tool I used I meet new people. The first time I met my buddy Jim (the Saab Story guy) we had just gone out to lunch in Lakeville after a hard morning wrenching on Formula Fords in Limerock. We were driving back to the track after lunch at Deano’s. By the way, if you haven’t gotten a slice at Deano’s you haven’t been to Lakeville.  Jim, the Sentra, and I are chugging up Well’s Hill Rd like it’s nothing. We had reached the downside of the hill and I dragged on the brakes like any good Florida flatlander would. We are approaching the intersection to the main road and the brake pedal goes right to the floor.  I had boiled the brakes. Cold sweats come over me, I look at the car stopped at the stop sign, I glanced back at Jim. There was nothing I could do. I just let the car go. I swerved the Sentra to the left of the truck at the stop sign and onto the main road fitting the Sentra right behind a sewage sucking truck. Had I tapped the gas pedal at any point on the way down Well’s Hill, Jim and I would’ve had the most literal of shitty days. Somehow Jim remained oblivious to this until we got back tot the shop.  Here’s how Jim puts it in a message to me right after I posted his Saab Story to Facebook,

“Don’t forget to mention the time the brakes boiled on our way back to the track. We went down that road with the steep hill and dove out in front of traffic without hitting anyone. And you didn’t say anything to me about it until we turned into the track. Like ‘I didn’t mean to do that. I had no brakes’ ha!”

Back to GA from Limerock, CT

So, that happened. Here’s another one.

The Day The Sentra Crapped It’s Last Crap.

I moved back to Gainesville GA and needed new shoes. It started simple as that. I drove the 45mins south to the Mall of Georgia, which had a most wonderful Van’s store.  Cruising back up northbound 985 the Sentra seemed more anemic than normal.  It seemed to struggle to hit 65mph, which wasn’t its normal peppy self. It usually struggled to get to 65mph but this time it took more thorttle than normal.  This time, also, there was  a strange noise. Mind you that for the 4yrs I lived with this car it spark-knocked and squeaked, and belt-shrieked its way around the eastern seaboard so when I heard a new noise I usually ignored it. Combine a new noise to less power than usual and now you have my attention.

I rolled down the windows and added a little more throttle to see if I could force the new fluttering a little louder, hoping this would help me diagnose it.  A loud “Pop!” and “Thud” let me know that the knocking was now rolling behind me down the interstate with what was left of my #2 piston and engine block. I trailed a cloud of smoke that would make NASCAR drivers jealous. It was glorious.

Done Blew Up
It done blew’d up.

I pulled over and started laughing hysterically. It was perfect. The life of my Sentra ended the way it began, on the side of a road.  I called the the  tow service and had them come pick me up.  My roommate Mike and his girlfriend Brittany came out in her new Explorer and patiently waited with me for 3hrs in the tick infested north Georgia woods until the wrecker showed up (there was and accident just down the highway from me).

Every mishap was followed with a new barstool story and a new friend, provided I don’t fall off. First came Jon and Vinny after towing me out of some sand at a Wendy’s in Sebring,  Jim and Well’s Hill CT, then came Brittany and her Explorer, and finally Dakota and what eventually served as a interim replacement to the Sentra, his Saturn.

It wasn’t a shiny car. It was a  good car. It wan’t a thoroughbred, it wasn’t even a mule. It was a dirty and bruised sidekick that took hits for me and kept me going for 4 years.  It did the impossible multiple times. Most important, it gave me wonderful stories and even greater friends.  Here’s to you Sentra!

Remember: WE NEED YOUR STORIES!!! Send your stories and some pics about your everyday cars to: BeaterLifeBlog@gmail.com.   If we like it. We’ll feature it!




Saab Story

I’m currently working on a series of essays that explore why it’s the oddball cars that are the best.  It’s the wallflowers that you really want. In the series are a bunch of analogies to supermodels and how they’re great for a quick ride around the block (see what I did there?) but, in the end, it’s the girl next door, the cute one that always been there, that you want to marry.  She’s reliable, understanding, your parents love her, yadda-yadda etc. I’ll stop there in case I use one of them for a later post.  You know, no spoilers right?

One of these wallflower cars that I spend some time talking about is Saab.  Yes, Saab.  I like a little bit of quirk; a little bit of different in my routine every now and then keeps life interesting. I think Saab did that for the auto industry, it added a little something interesting.  They did things their own way, like an ignition switch in the center console instead of the steering column or dash, or that whole early 2-stroke phase. This Saab, belonging to long-time friend Jim, is one of those cars that does things a little left of center.

I think one of the first actual conversations I had with Jim, while we were both living in Connecticut and working at Lime Rock Park, had something to do with Saabs and Volvos being underrated and under-appreciated.  Sure, they aren’t sexy but they’re fun and well, they can really move!  This week Jim was kind enough to tell us a little bit about his beater.  A car that, as long as I’ve known it hasn’t been the most reliable thing on the road, but it might possibly be one of the most interesting and unique things on four wheels. It definitely comes with its own unique personality.



I have a 1994 Saab 900se. 2.0 turbo w/ a 5-speed gearbox. 1994 was the first model 90 after GM acquired Saab and also the last year of the classic 900. Because of that, it was incredibly difficult to buy parts for my car back in 2011-2012. Parts stores would think I had a classic 900 or they would tell me my car didn’t exist. That problem has long been resolved thanks to Eeuroparts.com. They are a great parts supplier for German cars based out of my home state of Connecticut.

I bought the Saab in October of 2011 for $2600. I don’t remember the mileage it had, but if I had to guess then it would be 100,000 miles. I bought it from a guy in Massachusetts who bought it at an auction. I bought the car because no one I know had a Saab, and well because it was turbocharged (who doesn’t want a turbo?).

I didn’t have it barely even a month before I had to replace a transmission mount that split in half. After I fixed that I went to a Volkswagen and Audi event in New Jersey called WaterFest. The drive there was nice and smooth, but the drive back was a nightmare. The car was stuttering and wanting to shut off under load. Then when I shut the car off at a gas station, it did not want to start back up. I was 2 hours from home and did not have money for a tow. I waited 30 mins and luckily she fired back up. I didn’t want to break down on the interstate so a 2-hour drive on the interstate ended up becoming a 4-1/2 hour  backroad drive

As soon as I made it home I hit the forums hard. I got a bunch of answers on what it could be but no one was close on the issue. It ended up being a crank position sensor. That was my worst memory with the car.”


“My best moment with the car would have to be when my friend  (and Beater Life contributor) Dakota and I went to the Tail of the Dragon up by Deal’s Gap just to drive around, have some fun in our cars and then go home.

The thing I like the most about the Saab would have to be that it stays fun to drive and it is a car you don’t see often. It being a car from the north, it has seen a lot of winter driving. So there is rust and spots of rot in the underside and the chassis isn’t in the best of conditions.

Every time I meet someone new and they ask about my car or get in my car. They either don’t know what it is or they look at the center console and say, ‘Wow that is where your key goes in? That is so weird.’  It’s pretty funny




WE NEED YOUR STORIES!!! Send your stories and some pics about your everyday cars to: BeaterLifeBlog@gmail.com.   If we like it. We’ll feature it!