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Owning a car is a lot like being in a committed relationship. As time goes on, the bond grows stronger and you understand each other on a more fundamental level. And while this can lead to a lasting connection between owner and car, it also provides opportunities for dysfunction to set in.

A deferred oil change here and an ignored Check Engine light there can eventually snowball into a full-on symphony of issues that simply become background noise. Then one day it dawns on you that your once-proud steed is now, in fact, a beater. Here's a collection of early warning signs to keep an eye out for so you can stem the tide before it's too late.

old car radio in vintage car

The Stereo Fix

A classic warning sign that things are rapidly approaching the point of no return. The stereo fix is the act of hearing a disconcerting noise from the car while driving and, rather than investigating its origins to avoid a much larger problem down the road, cranking up the radio volume instead. Sadly, as it turns out the soulful crooning of Marc Bolan will not mend a wheel bearing past its prime, and even the earnestness of NPR news isn't enough to prevent a worn serpentine belt from talking out of turn before it eventually gives up the ghost.

vintage car gauge meter  ...

Gauge Skepticism

If given complete trust in the gauge cluster's accuracy, a proper beater will likely leave a mere mortal for dead within a week. Maybe it's a gas gauge with a charming habit of functioning more or less as normal between full and half a tank, lulling the uninitiated into a false sense of security. In reality, below that point it's anyone's guess until the needle drops like a guillotine at the zero hour, coming to rest about a nanometer above E, suggesting that you have roughly three to five miles to find a gas station before you'll be pushing your way there.

In a beater nearly all the information that the car feeds back to you is dubious at best, and the gauges really serve as a binary between calm and panic rather than a faithful representation of the car's current state.

Man pushing broken down car

Friend Intervention

Do your friends seem overly insistent on taking their car when you drive somewhere together? If so, it might be time to reevaluate your vehicle's road-worthiness. Maybe it's something as innocuous as the foam dust that's constantly trickling down on your hapless passengers from the former home of the headliner, or that riding in your car in the winter requires an extra pair of socks because the heater checked out years ago. Then again, it could just be the fact that the spare you put on six months ago is being held together with tape.

Sometimes you need a hammer to fix a automobile engine

Hand Tool Start-Ups

If bringing your daily driver to life requires shamanesque tactics and a stint under the hood manually routing some form of energy from one place to another, there's no other way to put it: You're driving a clapped-out hooptie. Sure, you might be able to bring this particular ailment back from the brink with some concerted effort and a bit of ingenuity, but if you're tolerating this on a regular basis, there's a good chance it's one of the less urgent issues that the car currently has.

Tow truck  hauling a car on street in downtown Toronto Canada

Fear Of Borrowing

When a friend asks to borrow your car, do you internally assess their likelihood of making it through such an ordeal? And would it require a tutorial of Do's and Don'ts, like not opening the rear hatch because one of the brackets is missing and the whole thing might fall off, or remembering to pump the brakes a few times before going into full-on survival mode because the pedal is a bit finicky?

That's definitely a beater. And like any relationship that goes the distance, only you truly understand your beater's quirks. Sure, it may be a death trap, but it's your death trap.

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