Why I Drive An Ugly Car

My car – a 2002 Honda Civic EX coupe – is ugly. While I would prefer the ugliness to be less pronounced, it’s over thirteen years old. It’s reliable, rarely needs repairs, the insurance is cheap, and since I bought it with cash over eight years ago I’ve never had a monthly payment.


(The hood damage was caused by tree branches falling on my car when it was parked on a street in DC.)

In addition to the hood damage, both bumpers are scratched due to years of parallel parking and the rear passenger side is dented (that damage was there when I purchased the car, it just became more pronounced over time and rust developed where it wasn’t before).


You don’t have to like my car. If I were to buy another used car right now, obviously I wouldn’t choose this one. But I don’t find it horrendous, and I’m not embarrassed to be seen with it. The advantages of keeping this car far outweigh the negatives.

For a lot of people, transportation expenses are a noticeable deduction from their paycheck. For my husband and me, vehicle expenditures are a very small part of our monthly spending. We recently pre-paid our car insurance for the next twelve months, which cost us a grand total of $444. Averaging that out to $37 per month, we pay way less than $100/month for insurance and gas. When we took the car in for a state inspection in October, the only thing it needed was an oil change.

We don’t plan to upgrade our vehicle until we have to: if repairs start to cost more than the car is worth, or if we need to make room for a car seat. Many years ago my sister drove a two-door vehicle with a child seat in the back; I know from experience that it isn’t easy or fun. As of right now though, we don’t have a pressing need for four doors.

When we do upgrade our car, it will be pre-owned and we’ll pay for it with cash. As my financial guru Mr. Money Mustache advises, never ever borrow money to buy a car.

Not only do my husband and I drive our car without embarrassment, it’s the only one we own. Earlier this year we got rid of our second vehicle and became a one-car household. (The car we sold was even older than the Civic and didn’t run nearly as well. When we were told repairs would exceed the car’s worth, it was the impetus we needed to get rid of it. We had barely driven it for the year leading up to its being sold, and I was more than ready to turn in the license plates and remove the car from our insurance policy.)

Becoming a one-car household took longer than it should have – I had been lobbying for it ever since Paul and I moved in together four years ago. We lived in DC back then and used Metro most of the time, and ever since moving to Buffalo in 2013 I’ve either walked or taken public transportation to work while he drives the car. Owning two cars just isn’t a necessity for us.

(Full disclosure: While my husband drives our Civic to work most of the time, his employer requires him to periodically visit other offices in New York state – he goes as far as Albany, which is four hours from Buffalo. When he travels long distances, most of the time he borrows one of his parents’ three cars, all of which are newer than ours. The Civic hasn’t given us any indication it wouldn’t make the trip, but when he’s on the road for a long period of time he feels more comfortable driving a newer vehicle. If it wasn’t for his parents’ generosity, it’s quite likely we would’ve had to replace the Civic by now.)

My husband and I appreciate our old, ugly car because it symbolizes a commitment to our financial goals. If we wanted a newer, prettier car, we’d go out and get one. We hang on to the one we have because we’d rather have our money in an investment account instead of sitting in our driveway.

It’s the same reason we eat most of our meals at home instead of frequenting restaurants. We don’t constantly upgrade our electronic devices. We don’t shop for pleasure; if we need something specific we go out and search for that particular item. When I go to Target, I have a list and don’t deviate from it (this doesn’t involve willpower; once you’re accustomed to following a list you no longer feel the need to browse aimlessly through aisles of clothing and home décor). We’re committed to reducing our expenses so we can use that money later, on things which actually make us happy.

I live this way because at some point in the future I’ll be road-tripping around the United States with only a loose itinerary. I’ll be living overseas. My time will be my own.

When that day arrives, I will be so, so glad my ugly car helped make those dreams possible.

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  • Reply Emily December 9, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    I love this so much! So many good things here, not only are you saving a ton of money, but you’re also saving yourself a lot of unnecessary stress or worry about maintaining visual perfection that many people experience when they spend a lot of money on snazzy new cars.

    Kudos to you and your husband!

    • Reply Zandria December 12, 2015 at 8:13 am

      Well said, Emily! Exactly the way I feel.

  • Reply Jaclyn December 10, 2015 at 3:56 am

    Love this! Your car isn’t ugly – it’s beautiful because it’s helping you make your other dreams come true.

    Unfortunately two cars are necessary for our family these days. We were a one car family for years when we lived in the DC area and I loved it, but with two kids it’s not an available option for us. But we drive our cars until they break down – our beat up old Maxima gave us 14 good years before giving up the ghost. I’m happy with my car, knowing that it’s safe for my kids, and I’m planning to drive it for at least a dozen more years.

    • Reply Zandria December 12, 2015 at 8:15 am

      Very good point, my friend! I guess I’ll have to start thinking of the car as beautiful from now on. 🙂

      You guys definitely need two cars in your situation, and yes, it needs to be safe (if Paul was driving the car and it breaks down, it wouldn’t be nearly as much of a worry as it would be if he had kid(s) with him!).

  • Reply Carl December 10, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I think it’s great that you are focused on your financial goals … you have a plan and work that plan! I checked out Mr. Money Moustache and I agree with much of his advice but could not follow the advice on the car issue … I am a car guy and I derive a large amount of pleasure from owning one that I enjoy driving and am proud of showing off. That may seem silly to non “car people” but the way a car handles, the sounds the engine makes, the click of a manual shifter through the gates, and even the way a steering wheel feels in my hands … these stir my soul and make me feel alive and free in a way not many other things can.

    • Reply Zandria December 12, 2015 at 8:17 am

      You’ve been a car guy for as long as I’ve known you! So I understand why you would see it that way. My only question is, do you think you’ll feel the same when you no longer feel like working at your job, and maybe you could have had the freedom to make different choices if you hadn’t spent so much money on your car(s)?

  • Reply Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor December 23, 2015 at 7:57 am

    I couldn’t agree more that driving ugly cars makes us feel less uptight about them getting damaged. I can’t fathom why people want car payments when they could buy in cash easily. We once purchased a $750, drove it for four years, and sold it for $5. Never took it to a mechanic. My husband is a “car guy”–he fixes his own cars and takes pride in keeping older cars going through his maintenance and repairs.

    • Reply Zandria December 26, 2015 at 10:06 am

      Wow, that’s fantastic! You’re lucky that your husband knows how to fix cars — I feel like it’s a dying skill unless the person actually works as a mechanic. My dad used to fix our cars when I was growing up, but now that they’re more computerized, he takes them in for someone else to deal with.

  • Reply Michael @ NTPNW December 23, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Can you say millionaire next door? I love that book and when I read your post that’s the first thing that came to my mind. I too buy used cars with cash and I totally understand how it can help a person build wealth. My co workers drive very expensive new cars and when I think about what those vehicles are costing them I cringe. Heck in talking to a few they rather buy a new car every few years than to fund their retirement. Crazy right?

    • Reply Zandria December 26, 2015 at 10:18 am

      That is indeed crazy! I don’t understand those people. I would MUCH rather not have to work into my old-lady years; a newer car is not at all worth it to me. I’ve read The Millionaire Next Door myself — maybe I should start giving out copies when I don’t approve of people’s car purchases. 🙂

  • Reply Mr. Groovy December 23, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Hey, Zandria. I love your ugly car. And your attitude. Far better to spend your money on the things you love rather than a depreciating heap of ego-boosting metal that sucks your finances dry. And who cares if your ugly car can’t make it to Albany. It can make it to Mighty Taco. Good luck with your investment goals. You’re certainly on the right track.

    • Reply Zandria December 26, 2015 at 10:21 am

      Mighty Taco! Haha! Not that we frequent that establishment, but yes, we could more easily make it there (less than a mile away) than Albany. Thank you for the kind words. 🙂

  • Reply Lee December 23, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    I also have a 2002 silver Honda Civic EX. (Mine’s a 4 door.) What a great car! It has more than 292,000 miles on it and is still running fine. It too has its share of battle scars but it was paid off long ago and I cannot bear to part with it. I bought a used Subaru (which I have also paid off) which now has 213,000 miles on it. I am starting to think that I should buy something with fewer miles, but I cannot bear the thought of a car payment. I think that if one is going to achieve financial goals, one must sacrifice either a nice house or a nice car (both if you really want to get there fast). It’s certainly fine to spend money on things that make your life worth living. However, at this point, having a nice car isn’t that important to me. But in a couple of years when the Tesla Model 3 comes out, I may decide that this is a car worth the monthly expense.

    • Reply Zandria December 26, 2015 at 10:24 am

      A Tesla, huh? Wow, what an upgrade that would be! Seriously, I’m impressed at the high mileage on your cars. My Civic only has around 90k, which is probably another reason it keeps chugging along so well (I lived in DC for seven of the years I owned the car and took Metro most of the time, so it often only got driven once a week or so, with the occasional trip to Richmond to see my family).

  • Reply Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor December 24, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Oops, I meant sold it for $500!

  • Reply Life After Debt: How I'm Planning to Save For A New Car December 16, 2016 at 11:21 pm

    […] building on my savings momentum. I’m going to use my newfound financial freedom to save while driving my ugly car. Just if I don’t get to save enough money, I’ll have to finance the rest. In that […]

  • Reply Nine Things Not To Do When Your Financial Margin Of Error Is Razor Thin April 26, 2017 at 8:55 am

    […] My advice to young people is simple when it comes to cars. Your car should reflect your net worth. If you have a crappy net worth, you should be driving a crappy car. It won’t do much for your ego, but it will do a heck of a lot for your finances. Hail the crappy car! […]

  • Reply Ken W February 3, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Great article. Until VERY recently I considered myself a ‘car guy’ – stuck in a habit of squandering way too much money on a nice car and then getting bored of high fuel/tax/insurance bills, high servicing costs, and huge depreciation costs. I’d then get rid of the expensive car and buy a small, bare-bum basic ‘city car’, running that for a year or two before getting bored of the basic spec, and then repeating the cycle by purchasing another ‘nice’ car. And so the cycle has continued for the past 11 years. Until last year I was exactly the same with motorcycles – squandering money on new bikes and then getting fed-up with 6-week waits for dealer service slots and shoddy, dangerous service from so called ‘professional’ main-dealer workshops. Sometimes my ownership of cars and motorcycles was counted in weeks instead of years!
    I’ve have a decent job but calculated that the money I was unnecessarily throwing away on my car/bike habit accounted for the equivalent of one full day of work, every week for the past 11 years. This was cost over and above what I would have spent had I just bought a sensible, used, mid-size Toyota or similar. I justified it to myself as I don’t smoke, drink, gamble or have any other expensive vices. Cars were my vice.
    New cars = large depreciation costs, being tied in to main dealers (who I find largely employ ‘Fitters’ instead of real mechanics who can actually fix rather than replace expensive parts), strict servicing time/mileage schedules that don’t always allow a busy owner much flexibility, and should you ever need/want to sell your expensive car then you largely have to sell back to ‘the trade’ at a low price, as used-car buyers generally don’t have the finances to buy a pricey car outright from a private seller, instead preferring the convenience of arranging finance at the dealer.
    I’ve just traded down on a brand-new Mazda MX5, taking a £3700 hit in 4 months (it was a slow, poorly built, uncomfortable but hugely over-hyped car). Traded down to a cheaper ‘utility’ SUV (with a few £££s back) which I’ll commit to running for a few years. Thereafter my car purchases will be used 3-5 year old Toyotas or similar, which I’ll run in to the ground. I would have traded straight down to this level of car, but as mentioned above, dealers don’t want to hand over £££s to a customer… the trade don’t like this as they are too used to working the other way round.
    New cars these days are largely over-hyped and offer little over those with a few years and a few miles under their belts. I’ve seen the light and articles like yours have only reinforced my decision… no more unnecessary waste of money on cars (& car dealers), more money to spend on hobbies/sports, and later this year I’m hoping to re-evaluate my career and make the change to a less stressful and less hours job.

    P.S. – There used to be a magazine in the UK called ‘Jalopy’ which was a fairly amateurish A5 sized magazine with stories and anecdotes of the joys of running an old banger. It ran for a couple of years in the 90’s and was a refreshing contrast to the mainstream car magazines that pushed the virtues of expensive metal. Jalopy was the magazine for the ‘oddball’ car enthusiast… and I bought almost every edition 🙂

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