The Truth About Cars » college The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » college Question Of The Day: Who Gave You The Best Advice… About Cars? Wed, 25 Jul 2012 18:49:02 +0000


The best advice I ever received about cars came from a fellow named Charlie.

He sat me down. Looked right into my 22 year old face and told me,

“You know nothing!”

He was right.

This may shock more than a few of you who have been here since TTAC’s early days.

I grew up not knowing the difference between a V6 and a V8. Cars? Well, my parents and brothers drove them. As for me, the world as it related to cars only changed once I got my learner’s permit.

Cars equated to freedom, and freedom equated to an escape from my life in New Jersey. Two years later I was free as a bird. Four years after that, I found myself caged in an unpleasant conversation with Charlie.

Charlie’s advice that day had nothing to do with cars… not yet.

At that point it had only to do with selling seafood in New York’s Chinatown. My Dad had high blood pressure, 212/108 at one point, and I had been given the assignment of learning that side of the food business while he recovered.

To sell food you have never eaten, in a culture that you never experienced before, in a language you don’t quite know yet… all of it takes an awful lot of listening skills. My work would be humbling and an amazing turnabout from my prior years in school.

In a collegiate world where student participation could count as much as 50% of my grade, I had to learn to say nothing and listen to the implicit behaviors of his customers. I would walk eight miles a day, twice a week, in New York’s Chinatown along with Flushing and Elmhurst on alternating weeks. Lots of walking. Lots of time to think and examine my surroundings.

First, I would take a look at what products of ours were vacating the shelves. Second… what products of the competitors looked the slightest bit aged or dusty. Always without exception, I would wait for the elder Chinese proprietor to acknowledge my presence.  Even if that took twenty to thirty minutes.

They knew English. All of them had kids that graduated from college or well beyond that point. Many even had grandkids that were my age.  But my instructions were firm, “Only Cantonese!”. I would let the owner show me what needed to be restocked and whenever he (or she) would ask about my father, I would only reply in Cantonese. Then after we would go through the restocks, I would announce the names of some of the competitor’s products that were not quite selling.

“Tow-goo”, “Gin-cee-bow”, “Sha-din-gyu”. Mushrooms, pacfic clams, sardines. Hundreds of items would be drilled into me as well as a few dozen basic sentences in Cantonese.

I would point or walk to the shelf with the items that were still gathering that thin layer of dust that showed lack of movement. Sometimes I succeeded in getting a new product on the shelves. Other times not so much. But I always got them to smile and enjoy the experience.

Friendly, smart, reserved, respectful. It was a brilliant act of nuance for my father to force me out of my old habits.

Charlie’s advice that day helped me become a better listener. Eventually other mentors would help me in my work as an auctioneer, car dealer, and writer…. because I listened.

I would always start those experiences with a rock solid assumption… three simple words.

“You… know… nothing!”

It made learning that much easier to do.

So who gave you the best advice about cars? Even in a roundabout way?




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Piston Slap: Keep the Jeep, Change your Name? Mon, 02 Jul 2012 10:43:55 +0000


John writes:

What sort of upgrades would you recommend for a 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited? I bought it to replace my 300CE, which was the feature of a previous Piston Slap. I am planning on keeping this one for the foreseeable future. The only problems with it right now are broken fog lights, the rear window wiper is frozen, and God-awful gas mileage. Aside from the wiper and the fog lights, is there anything you would recommend?

Sajeev answers:

I need more info.  What do you want to do with this Jeep?  What engine, mileage, etc information should we know about it?

John answers:

Actually, it’s probably going to be my DD for the conceivable future. I don’t have a whole hell of a lot of disposable cash at the moment to buy something better for what I’m going to need it for. I’m going to have a nice 52 mile each way commute to college come September, and despite the high miles (220k) it was well taken care of for most of its life. Also, I can usually fix anything major myself. I am kind of concerned about everything wearing out all at once and putting it out of commission either before I can fix it or before I can afford something else to take me back and forth. Perhaps I should change the question: should I save up as much as I can (which, frankly, would not be a whole hell of a lot. Probably no more than $2,500) and buy something hopefully a little better on gas and hopefully with a little less mileage or just invest everything back into the Jeep and keep it going for probably a couple more years? It is a 1995 ZJ Limited with the 5.2, insanely comfortable leather seats, a lovely slow oil leak from the rear main seal that I have been meaning to fix for quite some time now, a new rattle developing every week, and my complete and utter affection despite its many faults.

Also, I should have mentioned that there is practically no rust, and the only off-roading I do is the occasional light trail work. And here is a picture of the Jeep in question:

Sajeev concludes:

You went from a 300E to a Jeep ZJ. But I must be losing my marbles, as I previously called you “Fabio” but am now speaking to someone named John.  I think Fabio is a good name for that Benz, John is good for the Jeep.  I need to get you in a Grand Marquis, then change your name to Mildred.  Perhaps next time, that.

Almost any time someone with limited financial funds (and a non-European vehicle) such as yourself writes in, I say you need to stick with the problems you currently have.  It could be a lot worse. Do not save your money for another hooptie, this Jeep sounds pretty much okay. Save your money far beyond your college tenure, for when you will have a better job and enough income to actually afford a good, late-model car.

Fix all the little things as needed.  Buy the factory shop manuals and read up on the forums.  Tackle small projects between classes, studying, work, etc.  I know this plan is good, I did this for years with my 1988 Mercury Cougar during my BBA, my 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII during my MBA.  Hey, I’ve seen dumber things!

With any luck, the Jeep will make that time go by very fast. And then you can dump these old cars and get something decent, trouble-free and somewhat entertaining.  Or, when that time comes, get something very cheap and keep your old clunkers just for funzies.  That’s how I roll and I’ve yet to regret it.

Keep the Jeep, but I like “Fabio” better.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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New or Used: “Ja-nee” on short term Rentals? Mon, 30 Jan 2012 07:34:08 +0000


Cody writes:

Dear Sajeev and Steve,

I work as a research scientist, and currently we have a visiting scientist from South Africa working with us for six months. Normally visitors stay in university housing and are able to take the shuttle bus to our lab, but our current visitor is bringing her husband with her and staying in a house they found themselves. She should have about a 30 minute 20 mile drive to the lab and just looking for reliable transportation around a medium sized city, and maybe the occasional weekend sightseeing trip. She does already have a rental scheduled at the airport for the first week (probably an Impala), but for more long-term what type of newer car should she be looking for that will retain its value when she goes to sell it at the end of her stay, or would it be more reasonable to rent for six months? I will mention she drives a Land Cruiser most of the time in South Africa and seems to like it a lot.

Steve Answers:

The question for your friend may not be ‘the car’… but ‘the owner’.

Forget about rental. If she wants to make a mid-four figured donation to the nearest automotive for profit that’s fine. In the world of dollars and sense long-term rentals simply don’t make sense.

What she needs is a well maintained vehicle in the $4000 range. Let them spend a few weekends shopping among private owners, or, they can go on Ebay and find a nearby seller with strong positive feedback and a vehicle that they would likely enjoy.

Good luck!

Sajeev Answers:

Steve, as per usual, is right.  My father is a professor/research scientist, and it seems that the PhD/Post-Doctoral lifestyle is far from platinum grilles and Bentleys. Honestly, it’s also far from buying a late-model family sedan for short-term use, either. Someone in your friend’s shoes needs a short-term vehicle that’s cheap to purchase, have close to no depreciation, and mainstream enough (no finicky European whips) to guarantee a quick sale on Craigslist when the sabbatical ends.

She likes her Land Cruiser?  My advice is to get a sub $10k Jeep Wrangler, Toyota Tacoma/4Runner, Ford Ranger, 1st-2nd Gen Explorer, Nissan Hardbody/Pathfinder, Jeep Cherokee, Chevy S-10…or any other cheap to own, easy to sell trucklet. No Suzukis or Isuzus, please: they seem fairly hard to re-sell in a hurry. The smarter money is on a 5-10 year old W-body/Panther, older CamCord or anything else Honda or Toyota, but they aren’t teenagers with no finances to speak of.  Spending a few hundred extra for a non-Impala is understandable, and acceptable.

My fav of the bunch would either be a 5.0 Explorer or a nice V6 Tacoma with a stick. Both are a definite Ja-Nee given the circumstances.

Need help with a  car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make  the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.


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New or Used: College Priorities, Automotive Compromises Thu, 14 Jul 2011 17:33:42 +0000 Animal...housed?


Brenden writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

My buddy is in college and needs a used set of wheels.  After 2 years of depending upon Baltimore’s awful public transportation system and the generosity of friends, roommates, frat brothers, and total strangers for car rides, his school work is starting to suffer and he’s decided to buy a car.  Unfortunately, his budget is about $2000.  His living situation and total lack of mechanical skills rule out anything German, Swedish, or otherwise maintenance intensive.

His criteria for the car are reliable/durable, fuel efficient, and cheap to run.  Working AC and heat would be a bonus, but he really only intends to drive the car about 15-20 minutes per day for school.  He has absolutely no pretensions about the car’s badge, perceived coolness, sporty driving dynamics, etc., but he probably won’t spring for a total crapcan like a metro or echo. Also, he’s currently unemployed, and I don’t think he intends to find a job due to his course load.

His prior cars have all been automatic Volvos, but he’s driven drunken frat brothers’ manual-equipped cars before, and he’s willing to drive a stick on a daily basis.  Any kind of repairs on a high mileage automatic would probably bankrupt him.  Personally I would never advise anyone to buy a high mileage automatic; I’d feel like I was telling them to buy a ticking time bomb.

My first advice for him was to budget at least $1000 for future repairs, maintenance, taxes, registration and insurance out of his original $2k. What are your recommendations/advice for finding a sub $1000 set of wheels that won’t kill my buddy with repair bills?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Saturn S cars – as long as he avoids the DOHC motors, which I’ve heard require head gasket replacements every 70k or so.
  • Geo/Chevy Prizm – it’s basically a toyota with heavier depreciation, and I haven’t heard of any ‘known’ issues with these cars.
  • Corolla/camry/Civic/Prelude/Accord – again, do you know of any issues with these cars for the 90′s models?  I checked Craigslist and autotrader and couldn’t find any examples of these within the $1000 price range.
  • Neon – I’ve heard that except for the last few model years, the Neons had head gasket issues, so I’m inclined to tell my buddy to avoid these.
  • Focus – no clue on these
  • Contour – Mondeo FTW!  Obviously, the I-4 motor.
  • Cavalier – again, no idea whether these had common problems

So, what advice can you offer regarding vehicle selection?  Buying from a dealership would be ideal, since it would be easier to take the car to his family mechanic for a pre-purchase checkup, but I think we’re going to end up on Craigslist and at auctions.  Assuming we can’t get any of our mechanically inclined buddies to show up, what checks can I reasonably perform on the cars to weed out total dogs?  Offhand, I know to check oil levels and check for oil frothiness/discoloration, check transmission and hydraulic fluids, coolant levels and colors, belts and chains, and to do things like run the AC, wipers, etc.

Steve answers:

I would avoid the dealership like a harsh case of psoriasis. You need to go to the private owner. As for the sub-$2000 car in this economy you should look for…

  1. No A/C: This automatically knocks off $500 to $1000 off the price
  2. The EXTRA car: Folks who already have one more car than they need will sell the leftover ride for cheap. I was able to buy a 10 year old Camry for $500 back in the days when I was getting started. Don’t bet on that happening in today’s times.
  3. Older folks: Owners who are middle-aged and beyond tend to be less abusive than younger folks. Feel free to visit some of the retirement communities in your area and you’ll see exactly what I mean. 4) Gas Guzzlers: Although any vehicle in good condition will do, your friend may actually come out ahead by buying an older vehicle that drinks gas but requires minimal maintenance.

The brand name is completely unimportant at this price point. What is important is that once your friend finds what will work, it is immediately taken to an independent mechanic for an inspection.

Once he buys the car he will want to bring the car back into ‘day one’ condition with it’s fluids. I would buy a Mityvac and replace all the fluids as soon as possible. $80 for a manual pumping Mityvac and about $50 in fluid and filters should be more than enough if his friends are willing to help him out. If not then let the mechanic do the work.

Right now your friends only concern should be to get good grades, great work experience, and a pathway to a good job. Don’t worry about the ‘type’ of car. Just by something that has been well kept and keep focused on the work and grades.

Sajeev answers:

Both your and Steve’s assessment are correct. Quite honestly, you will buy the first vehicle on Craigslist with a smattering of service records and a sub $1000 asking price.  And yes, anything European is entirely out of the question, but automatic transmissions are a hit or miss at this price point.  I would not rule them out, especially if you stick with slushboxes made by GM or the major Japanese brands.

From there I can only guess: any GM sedan, a non-Z car Nissan, or some other non-Honda and non-Toyota from Japan (i.e. resale value) is a good idea. In theory.  Or maybe an ex-cop car Panther, in reality.  Because, why the hell not?

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder. In a rush? Don’t be shy about asking to cut in line.

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