readers; This column marks
the third anniversary of Dan Jedlicka’s
letters column, found on the danjedlicka.com (“Road
Tests and Classic Cars”) website. We hope it has been, and
will continue to be, helpful.
Q. I assume a used car is a good buy if it runs and looks OK. Am I missing something? — H. N., Chicago
A. You’re missing a lot. Does the car have rust? (Certain cars usually rust in the same places.) Have you looked under it to see if there are signs of frame or suspension damage? What’s the condition of the paint, glass, upholstery and weather stripping. Do all gauges and controls work? Does it look as if it needs new tires? Any maintenance records, which can help ascertain the care given the car and verify mileage listed on the odometer? Have a mechanic thoroughly check the car. So what if he charges $150 or so? That’s far better than spending thousands for an auto that needs expensive work.
Q. What is the best way to start a Fiat dealership. I have land in New Jersey I can build on, according to Fiat specifications. I also have 15 years of experience in the auto industry and the cash flow to support the operation. Is Fiat a good investment? — A..L. (via Internet).
A. It’s too early to tell, so hold onto your money for awhile. The small Fiat 500—the Italian automaker’s first car sold here in years—hasn’t done as well as expected during its first year on the U.S.market. But then, the Mini Cooper from BMW initially didn’t set the American auto scene on fire here either, but has sold well. Moreover, Fiat’s Chrysler Group LLC operation reported a fourth-quarter and first-year profit for the first time since leaving bankruptcy in 2009, largely because it has upgraded Chrysler products. However, Europe remains a sales problem for Fiat autos. What has been your experience in the auto industry? For instance, running a service department is a lot different than running a dealership.
Q. Are more people buying American cars? — F. K., Hinsdale, Ill.
A. Dependability and appeal of domestic models has improved during the past several years, and there is a “buy American sentiment.” Domestic model sales thus are up. A 2012 “Avoider Study” by J.D. Power and Associates has examined reasons consumers fail to consider—or avoid—particular models when shopping for a new vehicle. The study found that fuel economy is the most influential reason for buying a specific vehicle in 2012, surpassing the influence of other key reasons—such as reliability, the deal and exterior styling. Those were the most influential purchase reasons in 2010, J.D. Power found. However, among buyers who avoided the new Chevy Volt gas-electric model, purchase price was the most-often-cited reason for avoiding the car. The most prominent avoidance reason for the new electric Nissan Leaf and gas-electric Toyota Prius is exterior styling.
Q. I’m thinking in
age of treating myself to a used Ferrari. Just a low-mileage base model
no more than 10 years old. I can afford the car, but don’t
want to spend a lot for maintenance. — E. N., New York City
A. Even routine maintenance on a late-model Ferrari is quite expensive. So are parts. If any other work is needed, the car can become a money pit. Finding a low-mileage Ferrari shouldn’t be a problem because most Ferrari owners drive their car sparingly in nice weather. Far more late-model Ferraris have been built, compared to the classic, earlier (pre-1974) models, and thus most late-model ones are generally regarded as “just used cars.” Of course, they won’t depreciate as much as a late-model Chevrolet Corvette, which might be a better choice for you.
Q. Winter is still with us. But we have gone through January in the Chicago area with fairly mild temperatures and little snow and rust-causing road salt. I have an older collectible car and am tempted to drive it once a week on weekends. Or should I just let it sit in my garage until warm, dry weather, which often doesn’t arrive in this area until May? — J. G., Chicago
A. Go ahead and drive it, as long as roads are dry and salt-free. That’s the best way you can keep it in good shape. However, use a battery maintainer during the week to keep the battery at the correct charge level.