By on December 26, 2013

TTAC commentator AMC_CJ writes:

Sajeev,

My retired mother has come to the conclusion that she needs a 2nd car. Currently she has a 06′ Trailblazer that she keeps in mint condition, and despite having issues with the headlights going out automatically, and a lengthy dealing with GM, it’s been a good vehicle (and to GM’s credit, we think they finally found and fixed the problem with little expense to her). She loves her Trailblazer and it’s perfect for running up to our homestead in WV. But it’s the only car she has, and when it was in the shop recently it left her with a sub-par loaner she couldn’t drive very far. When I lived at home, I lent my parents a vehicle out of my own fleet when they needed.

My father made it several months after I moved away before he bought a 2nd car (which was my old PT Cruiser). My mother has held out for 4 years, but now she has come into a little bit of money and has come to the realization that;

1. When her Trailblazer is down, she’s stuck.
2. She likes her Trailblazer a lot, and wants it to last a long time as midsize true SUV’s are nearly dead. She’d like to save it for trips back and forth to WV and split the miles with another vehicle for running around town. I commit to the same strategy with my 06′ Liberty CRD and have proven it’s a great way to make a vehicle last longer. This was always common sense to me, but most people seemed pretty dumbfounded on why I owned so many cars. Other family members are starting to see the light too.

She doesn’t need anything fancy, or really practical. Just something to run to the store, go see her friends across town in, and the typical putting around retirees do. She doesn’t want another GM product after being left on mountain roads at night with no headlights; more times I care to mention. In fact, she doesn’t really like any new cars; but the Fiat 500 has caught her eye. So, being I’m a mechanic by profession and have a degree in this stuff I get asked all the time what I think. Well, I work on heavy trucks and have never seen a Fiat 500 mechanically, nor do I know anybody that has ever worked on one, owned one, etc. So I’m reaching out to the community here.

Maybe it’s that they’re too new. I’ve always thought of picking up one, probably used, when our 12′ Mustang is paid off and figured by then a few of them should of made it through their life cycle. But at this point, I haven’t heard of anything bad. We looked them up online and she’ll probably go with a base model, even a manual transmission. Maybe the turbo model if the base is just too slow (which is a possibility for her). I think she’s too used to her big SUV to feel comfortable in a small car again, but we’ll see how a test drive goes. But before we get that far, I’d like to know, how are these cars holding up?

What’s the word out there? Are they safe? If nothing else, I figure a comment section from the B&B would shine some light on the subject. This will probably be the last car she ever purchases, so it needs to last with her Trailblazer. I’d see her putting around 5,000miles a year on it, and it needs to probably last a good 15-20 years. Her main residence never really sees snow, so salt/rusting isn’t a concern.

Sajeev answers:

As expected with a foreign brand re-entering the US car biz, the first year of the FIAT 500 was plagued (hat tip to TrueDelta) with more problems than newer models.  I suspect it has less to do with the car, more about Chrysler dealerships ramping up their training, tools, parts, etc. for an eye-talian job they’ve never seen before…much less worked on.

There’s little doubt that today’s FIAT isn’t what left us back in 1983.  And the delta between a bad car back then and a bad one now is different: the variance in quality today could easily be statistically insignificant. But would I want a FIAT for 15-20 years?  Nope.

I have doubts as to the future long term cost/availability of aftermarket support, availability of qualified repair shops, or the longevity of FIAT USA.  Buy a more mainstream brand, it’s just a safer bet. I’d change my tune if she was keeping it for the duration of the warranty period, for sure.

Stick with big name American and Japanese brands for long-term ownership without the headaches.  Well, with less headaches…

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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86 Comments on “Piston Slap: FIAT 500…Good or Garbage?...”


  • avatar
    Toad

    A lot of things that catch your eye make for better for short term relationships vs. long term. The Fiat 500 would be a great car to keep under a cheap lease, but a long term relationship (in remote West Virgina, no less) is probably not a good plan.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I’m trying to imagine the circumstances your mother drives in (rural, urban, suburban, etc.) But at 5K miles per year? You could almost buy her a 20-year old Corolla, ensure that it’s mechanically sound and have her drive that around for very little money.

    That said I agree with Sajeev, the delta between bad cars and good cars now is very small. She could buy a 500 and probably have virtually no issues with it. Would I put my mother in a car like that? Sure. FWIW, my mother’s Hondas weren’t always mechanically perfect (and both were purchased new), but servicing was never an issue. But Honda’s service network was pretty well established 20 years ago.

    If she likes it, she should get one. For the tiny amount of mileage she will do with the thing, I have a hard time imagining huge issues. Plus, if the 500 is a stinker, she has the Tibby to fall back on…

  • avatar
    SomeGuy

    She drives GM, why not just get a Sonic / Cruze and be done with it? It’ll do everything the 500 can do with more room, probably pull more MPG, and have a higher probability of having no issues.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      Did you not read where she doesn’t trust GM anymore?

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        She needs to get with the times, if she wants to be smart about things, and accept that the Cruz is twice the car in terms of solidity & comfort than the Fiat 500, for about the same price.

        As a bonus, it’s safer and likely to be far more reliable, too.

        She’d be doing herself a disservice to buy a 500 given the many better alternatives.

        Then again, unless she has a passion for driving as many cars as possible, a 2nd car for someone who drives 5,000 miles a year, because she MAY need a car if her primary car is unavailable due to servicing, is committing financial suicide – she get a rental compact for as little as $10 a day for the theoretical 2 or 3 days a year she may need such backup wheels in such an event: That’s $30 to $40 versus $16,000 to $20,000.

        • 0 avatar
          Roberto Esponja

          Cruze more solid and comfortable? I’ll have to admit I haven’t sat in one, but I’ve rented Fiat 500′s. I’m 6’3 and pushing 270 pounds, and the only comfort gripe I’ve had with the Fiat is the transmission shifter bothering my right leg, but that happens to me with many cars. The seats, on the other hand, are great for long drives, and in terms of solidity they did not appear to me to be chintzy at all, on the contrary.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I was curious why the “sub-par loaner” meant she couldn’t drive very far.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Shitbox Sentra they’re dull-as-dishwater but dead reliable & low maintenance and can be had for less than Honda or Toyota, Electrical will be a non issue. It won’t get stolen.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    I’m fairly certain the availability of GM coil packs and alternators in mountainous WV is no different than the availability of whatever part the 500′s weak-link proves to be. Go to Advance Auto Parts, order the part PDQ– get it the next morning.

    It’s going to be the same song and dance for her if the Trailblazer or any other car needs a part. Parts and service availability in WV will be just as easy to find for the Fiat as service/parts for any other b-car. The mechanic will chuckle, make a comment about it being too small/new/foreign. He’ll dive in and repair it all the same.

    If your Mother can afford purchasing another car to make her current SUV last longer– she can afford to rent a car for her trips. She can also afford the hotel room, the inconvenience– and the increased shipping charges for next-day service if she chooses to have an uncommon/unreliable car.

    I’m not sure this is a sincere or genuine query.

  • avatar
    bobman

    Any long term review that I’ve read has been very favorable with regards to maintenance requirements and costs. In fact, if I remember correctly, It has one of the lowest costs for ongoing maintenance in Europe. I would think it would be a very good choice for Mrs. AMC_CJ. In fact, she might get a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction from its unique style and ride. (And some thrills if she gets the turbo)

    I would say go for it! Lots of time for the humdrum later on in life.

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    I’d have her check out the Cruze, Corolla, and maybe the Impreza. Safe, efficient, perfect vehicles to “putter” in, and they have a back seat in case she needs to drive her friends anywhere.

    A Sonic or Kia Rio would work in the backseat is unnecessary, they’re about the same class as a Fiat 500.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The Cruze would be my choice—especially because it feels large and well-insulated—but the mother no longer wants a GM car because of headlamp woes…

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        Tell her the Cruze is really a European car designed in Korea. It’s the truth. ;)

        Corolla or Impreza then I guess. Most of the other small cars are going to be a little more loud and tight. Even the Forte and Elantra, though you can get those with hatcbacks, which can be handy for “puttering.” :)

        I suppose you could have her look at one of the cheaper Mazda3 i trims with the 2.0L, they’re about as upscale inside as the Cruze but she might not like the drive, it’s not really for “puttering.” At all. ;)

  • avatar
    Audiofyl

    We rented one for a week vacation in los angeles. Besides its neat/cute/quirky factor, I don’t think I would want to own one. I didn’t care much for the driver controls (steering wheel, hvac, etc) and the driving position was uncomfortable for me. The console where the shifter protrudes from was very uncomfortable against the side of my leg. It doesn’t handle half bad but the base auto has lousy pickup and sounds like it hates doing so if you give it the boot.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Thanks for the reply.

    Since I sent this in, she’s cooled down on the idea some, but still realizes she could really use a 2nd car. The 2nd car probably wouldn’t be going to WV itself, but be used for the city driving back home.

    Reason I asked this, is because I just didn’t know. It’s new, foreign, small but not really that cheap. It has a lot of appeal, but I couldn’t seem to catch wind of anything reliability or mechanical wise on these things. I think though, after some thought, and considering the price difference, a Chevy Spark or Sonic might be a better overall buy.

    I’m kind of hoping for the 3cyl to make it in the Spark for myself. I found the Spark to have about the same roomy-for-a-tiny car interior as the Fiat 500 (which is something I can’t say for the Fiesta) but would be about 25% cheaper than the Fiat, and probably easier and cheaper to maintain to boot. I have to admit, since I wrote this and seeing a Spark up close and getting in one, it really surprised me, but the lack luster powertrain options are pretty blah….

    • 0 avatar

      According to the Consumer Reports 2013 Annual Auto issue, the 500 has average reliability, owners tend to like it more than average, and the cost of ownership is much lower than average (using letter grades, it gets C for reliability, B for how much owners like it, and A for cost).

      All that said, I had to drive one (slushbox) for a month and I did not particularly like it. In terms of fun-to-drive, it doesn’t compare with the similarly-sized MINI (I”m not recommending a MINI because they’ve had a lot of reliability issues). On the other hand, if she doesn’t care about fun-to-drive, and if she lives in DC and needs to park downtown a lot, it might be good for that.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I’m thinking that the Spark EV will make a lot of sense. It will probably have more interior volume than the Volt does.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    In the begininning he states the Trailblazer has been good except for a headlight issue but she wants another car aparently because she is worried about it being in the shop? Sounds like the trouble is with the Trailblazer. Is it reliable or not? My suggestion is to buy a new luxury SUV. When you take it in for service they give a nice rental for “free.” When I take me Audi A3 in I’ve gotten A4 and Accords. Besides as I get closer to retirement I want my last car to be nice and I think your Mom and Dad would appreciate a nice ride as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Deaks2

      Agreed 100%. Unless she wants a little sports car or something else fun to zip around town in, I don’t understand the rationale for a 2nd car.

      If her current vehicle is in the shop why not just rent something, or go to a shop with better loaners?

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    I had one as a rental in LA last year. Nice looking car. Would not own one for a few reasons. I’m 6 feet tall with a 36 inch inseam. With the seat adjusted to a comfortable position the B pillar pretty much obscured my view out to the drivers side. I drove it like I typically do a rental (not horrible but not as nice as my own cars) and it returned less than 28 mpg. The yaris I had on my next trip was not much of a looker but was better in every other way while returning nearly 40 mpg.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a very similar experience with a rental 500. It had over 20,000 kms on it and showed no wear, which was very positive. I am 6 feet tall as well and really hated the blind spot due to the B pillar, which no car reviews I have read seem to have mentioned. Gas mileage was rather poor for a car of that size even though I drove pretty sedately and almost entirely highway and solo. The Abarth looks like fun, though.

  • avatar
    sobamaflyer

    I would suggest renting one for a couple of weeks before a purchase. My wife and I rented one on a wonderful few day trip to Cali and thought it was just great. FF 6 months or so we bought one partly based on the memories from that euphoric trip.

    I’ve owned a LOT of cars, but never have been so disappointed by one in real life. It’s a matter of expectations, sadly we are folks that have outgrown economy cars and this is a very elemental economy car even though it can command a very non-economy car price tag. We traded that thing in less than 1 month.

    There are legions that love these little things, but they aren’t for everyone.

  • avatar
    afuller

    My own experience with the 500 would lead me to suggest that if you are thinking about buying one that you need to check out the service department that will be providing any sort of service.

    I found that my car was mostly reliable but the one major issue I had (rear main seal leak) was made exponentially worse by the hamfisted mechanic at the dealership. A 2-day fix (their time estimate) turned into a 40-day ordeal with many extra broken items and resulted in my trading the car in almost immediately upon receiving it back from the dealership.

    I don’t blame this on the car so much as the dealer but since there are so few dealerships up and running it is something that needs to be taken into consideration. My next closest dealership is 100 miles further away, at the time all this was going on I already lived 100 miles from the closest dealership where I was taking the car for warranty work.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I’ve owned a ’13 Abarth since March, and love it dearly. It has been the only new car I have ever bought that has had exactly ZERO issues. I actually would have been just as happy with a 500 Sport, but I planned to Autocross the car and the Abarth is the only one the SCCA accepted at the time, not sure if that is still the case. Still a very cheap car anyway, so why not get the all-singing-all dancing version?

    Other than the occasional fling around cones, I use it just like the OP’s Mother – urban runabout. I drive it like I stole it and still get 33mpg. I have taken it from Maine to Philly and Maine to DC though, it is entirely adequate as a distance cruiser. Could use a lumbar support adjustment on the seats. The back seat is a lot more usable than it looks, normal size humans will fit back there.

    Having seen way too up close and personal what a semi-truck will do to a full-size pickup, any issues with size and safety are lost on me. Like every car, it is not for everyone, get Mom to a Fiat Studio and drive some cars. I do think for most folks the Turbo may be a decent compromise, but if she likes driving stick the Abarth is only $2.5K more. Waaay better color choices in the other models though. I’d kill for a light green one with the brown seats and ivory controls.

    One thing I will say – other than very occasional major issues, the Fiat Forums are mostly filled with pretty happy people. There seem to be very few common issues with these cars, and there are some folks putting big miles on them. They also seem to tolerate sitting around pretty well, I only put 6K on mine so far, and 2K+ of that was those two trips to Philly and DC. It spends a lot of time sitting at the airport parking garage.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      It is the only new car you’ve bought with zero issues? Sounds like you’re not buying the right cars.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Oh please. Every car has issues, otherwise they would not need a warranty at all. So far, the Fiat has squeaked out 9 months without anything catching my attention. I am also about as picky as it is possible to be – when it is someone else’s money involved.

        For perspective, of the five cars I have been intimately involved in buying new, the one that has had the MOST issues early on is my Mom’s Prius-V (software glitch caused no start, noisy brakes, rattles). Which I still think will be an extremely reliable car in the long run. Of the rest, the BMW has had one warranty issue in 2.5 years (seat controller), my Saab 9-3SC had two issues in 2.5 years (strut bearings and a bad battery), and my Golf TDI had 2 issues in three years (wheel bearing noise and a sunroof rattle). Both those last cars were sold to friends, and both continue to be extremely reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I own a 2012 Abarth, purchased in May of 2012 and now have around 19.5K miles on it. No issues, absolutely a blast to drive around town or on the highway. These cars are not for everyone, but are definitely for those who enjoy driving. I’m 6’2″ and 250lbs, have plenty of room up front. These cars have “personality” and are really 2-person cars. I also own a 2013 MB E350 BlueTec, an ’81 X1/9 and a 2001 Toyota Highlander.

      The lady should buy a Chevy, a Ford or a Toyota. These are more appliances and are more suitable for the women folk.

  • avatar
    bfisch81

    2012 FIAT 500 driver here – I just ticked over 30, 000 miles without any major mechanical or electrical issues and my car was made during the initial production run. I have the top-end Lounge model with A/T and I’m averaging about 35mpg with a 60/40 split of highway and city miles.

    If your Mom likes the car – then get one. I’m not terribly concerned about long term maintenance issues. Most of the major parts like the engine are shared with other FIAT/ ChryCo platforms, FIAT 500L, Dodge Dart. The A/T is an Aisin unit made in Japan and is shared, I believe with the A/T equipped Mini Cooper. The window winders are Mopar units – the only major item that I can think of that is made by Magnetti Marelli is the gauge cluster. Chrysler has spread a whole bunch of the FIAT 500′s components around to other platforms so parts availability, IMHO should not be a major issue even 10 years from now.

  • avatar
    lostjr

    I like the cute little cars, but if I really needed one, it would be one of the last of the Japanese Fits. Mileage is nothing to write home about, but I think these are great cars. This is assuming you want this size class. Many are suggesting cars in other size classes.

  • avatar
    stevejac

    My one big question is: is there a dealer nearby? I live in central California and my immediate area of well over one million people has zero dealerships (excuse me: studios). I’d have to drive 50+ miles to get it serviced under warranty (I presume that other Chrysler shops wouldn’t work on them). The same is true for Audi and I’d never buy one for just that reason.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Two vehicles can really mess with your budget.
    The TrailBlazer is actually a very reliable vehicle. You can see these go well over 200,000 miles without rebuilding anything in the drivetrain.

    I would suggest a 3 part plan.
    1. Write an overkill maintenance plan to have things fixed before they go bad. When to change the oil, bleed brakes, change anti-freeze, tune-up, change trans fluid, etc. Then she will know when to have it serviced.
    2. Locate a local car rental that is easy for her to deal with. Some provide pick-up from either your home or the repair establishment.
    3. If the lights act up again, wire a direct switch/relay.

    • 0 avatar
      Trend-Shifter

      I hit the submit button too fast and could not edit…

      If you are worried about your mom having an older vehicle then trade in the TrailBlazer and get a single new vehicle.
      I would look at a Cruze.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Loves her SUV, so much she doesn’t want to use it up in a world with hardly any SUVs left. Only reason she’s in the market at all is because her Trailblazer is an unreliable heap.

    Don’t make this more complicated than it has to be, buy her a 4Runner and call it a day. For all intents and purposes it’s a Trailblazer that doesn’t break. Leave the clown cars to actual clowns.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Headlight failure hardly makes a vehicle a unreliable heap more a nuisance. Some people exaggerate to the largest degree. Perhaps a visit to a more competent dealer that actually takes the time and looks online to see there might be an actual TSB on this sort of thing and that there is a proper fix for the problem so it doesn’t happen again is in order. I wouldn’t trust that the current dealer “thinks” they solved the issue.

    • 0 avatar
      Prado

      +1 on trading it in for a 4Runner. They are the holy grail of reliability and durability.

  • avatar
    djsyndrome

    We’re in a similar situation: I bus to work and the missus stays at home with the kids, so we only really ‘need’ one car. Our second car is a ’12 Mazda 2, which does everything the Fiat 500 does, except costs less, has more room and four doors, and starts every morning without fail. You miss out on some of the finer points of the 500 (wider color range and styling), but if I had to buy another $15k kickaround car today I’d pick the 2 over the 500 again.

  • avatar
    kojoteblau

    Just bought a 500 in the middle of November. My main concern was price and mpg, so I picked up the base “pop” model with the stick. The dealer had a selection of them for 14k, much better price than I could get for anything else I liked.

    It’s the base model, so no satellite radio or anything, but it still has keyless entry, Bluetooth phone connection, power windows, and the other stuff I wanted. I wish I’d gotten the turbo, for a bit more passing and hill-climbing power, but it’s still fun to drive and peppy on flat surfaces.

    I’ve put 4k miles on it (in a month and a half, yeah) and it’s comfortable for my 6′ self to spend so much time in the seat. As far as mpg, I’m averaging 39.5 on my commute up and down a mountain freeway every day.

    Overall, I’m very happy with it. A bit more power and it would be perfect for me.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    Two thoughts…I’m guessing by the large numbers of low mileage 500′s that pepper the lots of just about every dealer around here, that there’s a fair amount of buyer’s remorse or super cheap leases or both with the 500.

    If you said what your mother’s budget was, I missed it, but it’s too bad she won’t consider another GM product. A nearby Chevy dealer has nearly fifty 2012 and 2013 Chevy Impalas from $12,500 to $13,900, take your pick of colors. If I were in the market for decent used transportation I’d take a hard look at those. Most manufacturers, when then make a model for many years with just incremental changes, get the bugs worked out. The car mag nags consider this to be letting a model stagnate and are highly critical, but for the el cheapos like myself, it’s a gold mine of cheap, reliable transportation.

  • avatar
    Stuck in DC traffic

    My buddy has one of the first run of 500′s brought into the country. Has over 110k miles on it with no major issues. I am impressed on how well it held up. He is however very particular about maintenance and care of his vehicles, so that probably helps.

    I don’t understand the second vehicle need, very few times does it make sense to buy a second vehicle to keep another running, unless one of the vehicles is sports car or antique car. Renting will always be cheaper even if a repair lasts a month or so.

    Dump the trailblazer and get a rx300 or highlander for their Camry DNA. A rav 4 or CRV would be good for a long life vehicle too.

    • 0 avatar
      AMC_CJ

      Lol, I have 6 vehicles in our house hold. 4 we drive regularly, being a nicer newer car each for me and the misses (12′ mustang, 06′ Liberty) and one older “beater” car for each of us (01′ Jetta her, 78′ Malibu me). Then I have a old CJ-7 and another Malibu as play things.

      Actually, since I moved out of the area, my dad had to buy a 2nd vehicle for himself (which was one of my old cars) and my mother is starting to come around to the idea too.

      It makes a lot of sense. I half the mileage on my Liberty every year, it has 82k on it now, and would probably have over 120k if it wasn’t for the “beaters” to commute in. I save that car for going out of town, camping with the trailer, etc. The Mustang is more of a nice night out, day trip, and shopping trip vehicle for her. Since she got a company vehicle, the Mustang really sits, and most days I drive the Jetta to save gas.

      I’m starting to get maxed out here, but I think there is room for about 3 more vehicles. A old truck and Corvair convertible for her, and a 64 Imperial for me.

      Thanks for your input on the Fiat. The others car’s you mentioned though just don’t work. She needs a proper TRUCK, without it actually being a truck, and none of those cars would muster to her needs. Her Trailblazer is fully outfitted with proper all-terrain tires, a bull bar with Hella lights, Gadsden flag license plates, and Betty-Boop stickers. But more importantly, that 2nd low gear in that transfer case means being able to get to and from her cabin, and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Until a car is 5 or 6 years old, the biggest cost of ownership is hidden: depreciation. The effect of low mileage on depreciation is pretty small. This — and insurance — is a fixed cost, which does not vary with mileage on the car. So, the more cars you own, the greater your fixed costs. Distributing your driving among them has very little effect on costs unless one of them is a big gas-sucker that you avoid using whenever possible, in favor of a hybrid or some other fuel-sipper.

        While it may be fun to have a collection of different cars around to drive, it is not a way to save money . . . unless perhaps what you have is a collection of 10+ year old beaters for which you insure liability only . . . and you have enough of them that the odds are good that at least one of them will start every morning.

        If your mom needs a truly off-road capable SUV, it is true that the choices are increasingly limited. So, the best course is to keep the Chevy Trailblazer going and well-repaired until it reaches the point of being unreliable. If it gets to that point, then maybe buy a Wrangler Unlimited (which strikes me as much more practical than a straight-up Wrangler and nearly as capable off-road) with a Cruze or something like that for around-town duty.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          But if you keep a car long enough, depreciation becomes largely irrelevant. I also posit that those first depreciation heavy years are the most valuable years, as the car is new and presumably at its best.

          There is a happy medium of driving a car just enough, but not too much, assuming you have a nice warm dry protected place to keep it. I suspect that for where the POs Mom lives (and her age), insurance is largely a non-issue, as it is for me. $600/yr for a 2yo BMW is rounding error in my case.

          So I think there is a lot to be said here for keeping the miles off the truck and getting something cheap and fun to zip around town in. Cheap and fun doesn’t get any better than a 500. I put 6K on mine this year, and 9K on the BMW. If she runs around town as much as my Mother of a certain age does, the fuel economy difference will pay a good chunk of the payment even after she pays a little bit more for insurance. My Abarth costs me $400/yr for that after the multi-car discount. Those rates are for full coverage with high limits and low deductibles – it’s good to be middle-aged and live in Maine.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Thanks for the input.

    The Trailblazer is a 06 with about 85K miles on it. I’ts in near perfect condition though, she keeps it in the garage and anything. The only real major issues was with the lights, which, after an ordeal, GM and to some extent too, the local dealer, and stepped up to fix the issue without really charging her for it. It took awhile, but I’ll give credit where it’s due and eventually they came around for her. It was just somewhat of a lengthy process.

    If it needs replaced, hands down, Toyota 4-runner. But she loves it, and besides it’s aformentioned issues it’s in such great shape and she’ll take such a hit on the trade in. I believe the Trailblazer has a great drivetrain and chassis that is brought down by a few subpar GM quality issues in the smaller stuff. In fact, I’d say the same for my 06′ Liberty CRD too; just replace “GM” with “Mopar”. But like her, I couldn’t imagine getting rid of my Liberty either for much of the same reasons.

    Oh, and there is a dealer right down the street from her. Her main house is a pretty urbanized area of VA.

    Anyways, this is just the kind of Feedback I’ve been looking for.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I have a 2013 500 Abarth with about 12,000 miles on it. Mechanically it’s been perfect and the only flaw I’ve had was a loose piece of exterior trim that was replaced under warranty.

    It is also my second car… we have a Mazda5 that does family hauling duty but honestly we use the Abarth most of the time. It’s just too much fun to drive and the kids (ages 9 and 4) fit in the back seat comfortably and really love the car. I think she’ll find that the car is perfectly practical for 90%+ of the driving most of us do and, in her case, without passengers to haul frequently perhaps even more. With the back seats down it has accommodated large Costco runs for me and even driven like a, well, Abarth, I still average over 32 mpg around town.

    The base Pop can be had new for around $14k and I think it would be a great buy at that. Just have her drive it to see if she really wants a car that small. I think most people used to heavy SUVs feel intimidated at first but after a while the other car just feels too big and wasteful.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Get a car with better value, like a Cruze, Rio, Elantra, or Forte. The 500 has too many compromises, like no rear seat room and a weak drivetrain. She can get more car for the same money.

    • 0 avatar
      WhiskerDaVinci

      She said she doesn’t need a practical car, so back seat space is wasted on her. Also, the Rio, Elantra, and Forte have terrible ratings on the small overlap test. They don’t seem interested in improving it either. Getting any of those is a compromise on safety, and that’s not a compromise one should be making to get more back seat space that they say they don’t need.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Have you sat in the back seat of a Fiat 500? I’m over 6′ tall and 300+lbs, and I can sit back there with the front seat set for me – and this is in a Abarth with thicker seats than the base cars. They are not as small as they look, and are incredibly efficiently packaged. The turbo and Abarth are anything but weak, the base engine is more than adequate for urban running about. The trunk even holds a pair of standard airline carryon bags easily. And in those cramped urban environs it will be a breeze to park. That’s actually a big reason mine spends so much time at the airport…

      I would hardly recommend one for a family with several small kids, living in Wyoming, but it seems like the ideal fashionable runabout for an empty-nester. Ultimately, a large part of the car’s appeal is that it is cute. I’m OK with that, because it works really well as a CAR too. Even my totally not caring about cars friends tend to giggle like idiots after a ride in my Abarth.

      Funny how as usual around here, the people who would never DREAM of buying one dump all over them, but the people who own them love them.

      • 0 avatar
        WhiskerDaVinci

        Right? My Fiat was a fantastic little thing. I’m quite upset that my lower back issues required me to get rid of it, because I really had no intention of giving it up for any reason.

  • avatar
    WhiskerDaVinci

    My husband and I had a 2012 500 Sport with a manual for a year and a half, and it was actually a great car. It didn’t have reliability issues, was well built and servicing was very easy and well done. It seems like a fair bit of hate for the car is given by those that haven’t actually lived with it either at all, or for more than a week. I can say that I absolutely loved the little thing, the Bose stereo was fabulous, and parking it was an absolute breeze. It was my daily car, and I didn’t need more car than that, the back seat didn’t matter to me because no one ever went back there. She said she doesn’t need anything really practical, just a smaller second car. So saying “get (blank) because it’s more practical”, isn’t actually factoring in what she says she wants. If doesn’t need more car, why tell her to buy it? My fuel economy in it was fabulous. I was averaging about 39.8 per tank with combined driving, so I’m not sure how those other options will do better on that front. I did a lot better than EPA.

    The only reason that I got rid of it, was simply that it wasn’t comfortable enough for me. I have back problems, that are getting worse, and uncomfortable seats and harder suspension aren’t really something I can live with anymore. I’m the only one that complained about comfort, so don’t actually factor that in. I replaced it with a 2011 Volvo C70 T5, which is has been a great car as well, just in different ways.

    Quite simply, the Fiat 500 was one of the most enjoyable cars I’ve ever owned. I had no issues with the idea of keeping it out of warrantee, as it never gave me a reason to. I lived with it for almost two years, and can actually talk about it better than those who haven’t. A lot of the hate against it isn’t really well deserved. It’s a small car, yeah, but so what? If it’s just her in the car, and she says she doesn’t need practicality, then there’s no reason to buy a bigger car that’s going to get worse fuel economy. I miss my Fiat deeply, and would really recommend it to someone who needs a smaller second car. That’s what mine was for, and it excelled at it.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    id recommend a scion iQ. small, cheap, funky, safe, durable.

  • avatar
    z9

    I recently saw a 500 after a serious freeway accident that involved two other larger cars (a Dodge Ram pickup and a Honda Accord I believe) and it fared amazingly well. It wasn’t going to be driven anywhere, but compared to the other two vehicles it was definitely the winner.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    You did mention a vehicle for running around town in, but you didn’t mention MPGs as being of primary concern. I, for one, think that when someone has two cars, they don’t have to be so different. You don’t have to have a really nice, large car for occasions and a really cheap, efficient one for daily tasks. I see no reason you can’t alternate between two nice cars. That’s not to mention the fact that if you want a dependable, turnkey little runabout, the 500 may not be the one. Therefore, my recommendations are for cars that would actually be considered nicer than a TrailBlazer, because I think your mother should have two great cars that she can be proud to keep in excellent condition. She sounds like a prime candidate for one of the Camry-based Lexuses, like the ES 350 or the RX 330/350. They are quite dependable and simple to fix, and have great materials. Lexus’ wood veneers last a long time, and the leather is some of the best in the industry. Plus, the Lexuses are comfortable, and your mother wouldn’t have to worry about safety—or a lack thereof—in a subcompact car.

    Also, your mother could ditch the TrailBlazer and just get a GX 470, and then she’d have the Lexus quality in a body-on-frame package…

    • 0 avatar
      WhiskerDaVinci

      Who says that a smaller car can’t be nice? Maybe they should consider a Volvo S60, great interiors, comfortable, reliable, cheap to insure and very safe. They depreciate poorly, so you can get one that’s a few years old at a very good price. Small, nice, safe.

      The problem with pretty much anything from Toyota is that their ratings on the small overlap tests are poor, pretty much across the range of cars. So safety is actually a major concern when you remember that a lot of the accidents that happen are of the small overlap variety. I can’t really say that a car that gets a “poor” rating on any test parameter is “safe”. The Civic, and therefore the ILX did a lot better than that. These days, size has almost nothing to do with how safe a car actually is.

      Go to the IIHS website and watch the small overlap tests of both the ES, and the IS and tell me if you still consider them safe. Toyota’s aren’t as safe as you think they are. Thus why I’d suggest the Volvo S60.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Not all Toyotas scored poorly on the small-overlap, but the Camry, Prius and RAV4 definitely did. I had read somewhere that the current-gen (2013-) ES did excellently in the small-overlap despite being a stretched Camry, but I was wrong, and the ES did just as poorly as the Camry. I’m not sure if it’s been tested or not, but it’s a safe bet to assume the the Avalon will also be pretty poor. I don’t know about other Camry-derived vehicles like the Highlander, Venza and RX.

        The S60—the current one, not the ugly previous-gen one—is actually one of my favorite cars, alongside its closest competitor, the Buick Regal. Plus, I just have a thing for Swedish cars. So I’d recommend that one, too. But, because I actually don’t think a TrailBlazer is that nice or really worth preserving, I still think that the mother should dump the TrailBlazer and the two-car plan, and find a well-cared-for Lexus GX 470, which would both wear well and be *highly* unlikely to leave her in a lurch such that she’d need a second car.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        The post 05 Volvos hold their charm depending on what you like but they are pretty expensive for what they are and can be expensive to repair (at least at the dealer).

        • 0 avatar
          WhiskerDaVinci

          BMW’s, Audi’s and Mercedes-Benzes are also expensive to repair. That’s owning a Euro luxury import. My Volvo’s cost less to service than the Germans certainly, after the complimentary service, that is. So I don’t complain to loudly. Audi only gives you one service, and a pre-pay service program, so that will be quite expensive. Mercedes offers pre-pay as well. At least Volvo tries to reduce the cost to owners by quite a bit. So they aren’t as expensive to own and maintain as the less well equipped German marques.

          They’re also priced pretty fairly compared to the Germans as well. You can spend much the same for an S60 as you can for a 3-Series, a C-Class and an A4, but you get a better quality interior, standard high quality leather and better prices on other options. An S60 feels more expensive than it is, a 3-Series doesn’t.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            My Volvo is built like a tank and extremely cheap to repair but its worlds different than the product they have been pushing since 2000. I haven’t worked on the newer Volvos very much but peak in the engine bay of an S40 or S60 if you ever get a chance… everything is so tightly packed your “book” repair hours are much higher for something simple as a spark plug change or a water pump replacement on an S60 vs a 200/700/900 series sedan.

            If you look at an gen 2 S60 and say its cheaper to repair or a better cost/value proposition than a C-class, 3 Series etc you may be correct (I routinely see gen 1 and gen 2 S60s beyond 100k). I look at it as what is the better cost/value proposition for a FWD near premium car, and that’s were Volvo has trouble competing. There is little to zero “heritage” associated with the current lineup why is there any more reason to buy the Volvo over any of its contemporaries? Acura, Lexus, or even Lincoln will sell you the same thing and I would wager their routine service costs are significantly less.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        If the small overlap test is determining your car purchases, then you’d be better off with a bus pass.

        The small overlap test is new, so many designs have yet to take it into account. Many cars have yet to be tested for it, while many of those that have been tested thus far have earned something less than a score of “good”. The current generation of cars is going to need to be redesigned, and that cycle will take several years to complete.

        “The problem with pretty much anything from Toyota is that their ratings on the small overlap tests are poor”

        4Runner – not tested for small overlap. Top Safety Pick.
        Avalon – not tested for small overlap.
        Camry – “Acceptable” for small overlap. Top Safety Pick.
        Corolla – “Marginal” for small overlap. Top Safety Pick.
        FJ Cruiser – not tested for small overlap.
        Highlander – “Acceptable” for small overlap. Top Safety Pick+.
        Prius – “Acceptable” for small overlap. Top Safety Pick+.
        Prius c – not tested for small overlap.
        Prius v – “Poor” for small overlap.
        RAV4 – “Poor” for small overlap.
        Tacoma – not tested for small overlap.
        Tundra – not tested for small overlap. Top Safety Pick.
        Venza – not tested for small overlap.

        Your assertion isn’t holding up to scrutiny. Most of the cars haven’t been tested for small overlap, while the positive results outnumber the “poor” ones.

        • 0 avatar
          GeneralMalaise

          The youtube video of what constitutes “marginal” on the Corolla looks like a probable serious injury or driver fatality to me… good luck with that.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Most vehicles have yet to be tested in the small overlap test. It’s not possible to make comparisons to vehicles that have not gone through the same testing.

            And as I noted, many of those cars that have been tested to date have not performed well in this test. Even IIHS isn’t expecting them to do well in this test, as the test is new.

            You’ll have to wait for a full model cycle before a good performance for this test becomes commonplace. Try hard not to die over the next five years or so.

        • 0 avatar
          WhiskerDaVinci

          A fair few cars have done acceptable, and even good. The new Impreza did good, as did the new Forester. The new Civic did good, as did the Mazda 3. The Outlander and Outlander Sport did good as well. Almost everything from Kia and Hyundai have done poor or marginal.

          If a car is properly engineered and designed, it’ll do good or acceptable. A lot of cars that did good or acceptable did so right when the test came out, so they weren’t thinking about that test when engineering safety. Going off of that it almost feels like Toyota and Kia/Hyundai are simply designing the cars to be safe for current testing, not to be genuinely safe. There is a difference between the two. The test being new isn’t really an acceptable excuse when you consider some cars did quite well from the start. It’s
          just shoddy engineering to a certain extent. A marginal rating might as well be poor when you actually look at the tests of marginal ratings.

          I don’t need a bus pass, I just buy Volvo’s, which have done good on the small overlap on every model. Even models whose safety tech is quite dated. The XC90 for example, has not had a huge safety updated since it was released, and it did good. Same with the S80, which is also the V70 and XC70. They were designed long before the test and received good ratings. Companies that actually car about safety do better on the test than companies that don’t actually care.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “The test being new isn’t really an acceptable excuse when you consider some cars did quite well from the start”

            Most cars haven’t been tested at all. You’re one for making sweeping generalizations that aren’t supported by facts.

            “Going off of that it almost feels like Toyota and Kia/Hyundai are simply designing the cars to be safe for current testing, not to be genuinely safe”

            I just posted a list of every Toyota vehicle that debunks your claim. You can keep saying it, but the list of cars doesn’t support your position. (And that came straight from IIHS; there’s no secret alternative list that will prove you right.)

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Ah the two (or more) car strategy, I’m reading you loud and clear AMC_CJ. My thoughts are you will have ten to fifteen more years of maintaining that Trailblazer for Mom and between now and then you might have many niggling issues to solve, so whatever she chooses needs to be reliable to the bone. You may also want to keep in mind between now and twenty years the Trailblazer may be damaged beyond economic repair (read: deer) and depending on your parents fortunes the new second car may have to become the primary. Oddball exotics aren’t cutting it in my mind given what will be needed. Bearing this in mind I have three suggestions:

    1. Non-CVT Toyota Corolla.

    -Either the MY13 or earlier 4spd automatic new or CPO, or a manual.
    -Alex did an excellent review of the ’14 and its predecessor is “old” dating from 2007 so hopefully few if any bugs left by the 12 or 13 MY.
    -Corolla is Toyota’s most important global model, parts won’t be an issue nor should reliability.

    2. Japanese assembled Honda Fit.

    -I agree with lostjr, I’m not a Japanese car guy but if I’m buying Japanese I would prefer one built in Japan over Mexico or even the US. (The only time I wouldn’t is if I’m looking for something specific I can’t get from Japan ie Indiana only Subbie).
    -Parts should be available for a long time.
    -Worst case scenario you dump it in ten years if it gets discontinued and probably start a Craigslist war between Hondaphiles desiring made-in-Japan examples over the Chinese built ones of the day.

    3. W-Body Chevrolet Impala

    -The platform is older than some of the commentators.
    -Bugs were ironed out years ago.
    -New production will probably continue to at least 2016.
    -Good in the snow.
    -Cheap to buy CPO and own (about the same cost as a new Fit or Corolla).
    -Assuming the above point, there will be ten years worth of production in the current body style with five using the current engine/trans setup.
    -Parts are plentiful… now let alone in the future.
    -Reliability should be close to the Corolla if not on par @ 5K a year.

  • avatar
    sirbunz

    I owned a Fiat 500 Abarth for 1 year and 30k miles. Overall, it’s a great little car that’s quick, fun to drive, gets lots of attention, and easy on gas, and a great daily driver for someone packing light. The car had lots of plastic, a cheap paint job, and some other flaws one should expect from from a low 20k automobile. The downside really was the dealer for me. From the lack of overall knowledge about the vehicle, improper diagnosis of a Check Engine Light (turned out to be bad gas), breaking the wiring harness clips at the ECU and trying to hide it from me, refusing to fix the grinding-into-reverse issue, I was left with ill feelings towards Fiat USA and zero confidence in owning the car outside of warranty (fearing past Audi/BMW/VW horror stories). I purchased a Ford Fiesta ST as it’s replacement, mainly due to the need to accommodate a larger Real Estate sign my company switched to and the Fiat couldn’t fit. “If” the Fiat had better dealer support and I didn’t have to fit larger signs, I would have kept the car to 100k without thinking twice. I will always cherish the year of ownership with my Abarth, but I will not be a future Fiat customer without evidence they have changed.

    -M

  • avatar
    Tinker

    Toyota Corolla or Toyota Yaris. The proportions of the Yaris are a bit awkward, but it sounds like mom doesn’t buy cars on that basis.

    Just curious, but are 6-12 car garages very popular in your neck of the woods? My wife and I have consolidated down to a single vehicle. We cope with repair visits by loaning to/borrowing from our daughter and granddaughter.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I consider the 500 to be more of a trendsetter type thing — a way for hipsters to strut their stuff — than a practical small car option. I will admit the sporty Abarf model is neat but there doesn’t seem to be much to recommend the 500 over a Corolla, Cruze, Civic, or whatnot if you’re just looking for a reliable, economical car.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    The bad: There are no experienced Fiat mechanics.

    The good: This is because they don’t break.

    These cars have been out since 2008. There’s a reason Fiat chose the 500 as the comeback model. Get the turbo (500 Turbo for a softer ride, Abarth for a sportier one) and the stickshift.

  • avatar
    SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

    The German car mag Autobild did a long term test of the Fiat 500 (1.4). While it didn’t fail catastrophically, the conclusion was that once you put on the mileage, the small but expensive parts will start to fail and the overall cost of ownership becomes expensive. An important note in the conclusion was that the parts that failed were not always because of the high mileage.

    If she wants a cheap companion, a CVT Corolla seems to be a much better buy.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Doesn’t seem like she wants an appliance. The 500 is cute, but Fiat may not be around for the long term. Since it’s not for snow and she may even prefer to shift, why not an mx5?

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Hi CJ. I read through the comments (importantly yours) and while I’m a day late it sounds like your mom wants a tercel about as much as mine would. For a second car when the other is capable of hauling cargo and pulling through mud/snow I stand by the Miata or if frugality and low total cost are more important than spirit (not MY mom) the TTAC hated Prius should get a look.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    Once again, people answer from the frugality point of view and not from the heart. Your mom has how many driving years left? She thinks the 500 is cute and fun and will give her peace of mind knowing that she has a backup car if one or the other fails. Does she have enough money in her portfolio to warrant such a purchase? Is she doing something drunk and disorderly in regards to her future financial viability? If the answer is no, then what is the harm? You’ve now heard from a number of owners above that the 500 is a pretty reliable car. If it brings a smile to her face and doesn’t put her in financial jeopardy, then encourage her to do it. Life is much too short to suffer from the automotive stinginess so often seen in posted comments here by curmudgeons.

    Go have her drive a 500. If it passes muster, then have her pick out one exactly as she wants it, from engine and transmission choices right down to the color. It is likely the last car purchase she will ever make. Might as well make it a good and fun one.

    • 0 avatar
      bfisch81

      AMEN, Leek!

      For a site supposedly read by car enthusiasts there are tons of people who seem to want to advise others to drive boring cars.

      1. Drive what you like.
      2. Why be boring?

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      +1. My grandmother, who left us at 98 (!!!) bought her last car in 1988. She went to the Chevy dealer and he tried to sell her a Chevette. She said, in as close to verbatim as I can get: “F**ck you. I am not driving an OLD WOMAN’S CAR. I want something that goes FAST.” She left with the last RWD V8 Monte Carlo that had been sitting in inventory for over a year. She was happy as a clam with it and she drove with scarf, sunglasses and leather driving gloves — albeit not very far or often but always very quickly — for almost another 15 years.

      We don’t know how old Mom is and people live a lot longer now, but all things being equal let her get what makes her happy. If she wants fast. Let her get fast. She wants small and stylish, let her get that.


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