Piston Slap: FIAT 500…Good or Garbage?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap fiat 500 8230 good or garbage

TTAC commentator AMC_CJ writes:


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…

[Image: Fiat/Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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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5 of 87 comments
  • 05lgt 05lgt on Dec 27, 2013

    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.

  • LeeK LeeK on Dec 27, 2013

    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.

    • See 2 previous
    • DannyFiat DannyFiat on Jun 21, 2015

      @bfisch81 Yup, you have to decide whether a car is a financial investment - in which case it is always bad BTW - or a life-enriching investment that helps enrich your life - either by doing what you need to do (haul kids, gear, etc) or doing what you want it to do - make you feel good about driving it. She has a car that enriches her life by doing what it needs to do. She wants a car that does what she wants it to do - make her feel happy and good while driving it. Few cars do that as well as the Fiat 500, and almost none for that price. Smiles per dollar, it is a winner. If she is a mom, she probably has made most of her choices in the first category, God bless her. Nothing wrong with a little joy for all the hard work she has put in. I rent small cheap cars all the time for my job, and one has recently come into the cycle of cars I get stuck with, and that is the little 500. And none of the others puts a smile on my face, and makes the trip and the distance away from my family, as bearable as getting that rental. I don't own one, so I cannot speak to the main issue of reliability. But I have driven the Fit, the Cruze, the Focus, the Mazda 2, and a host of Korean cars. Now when I stop by the Avis counter I always ask if they have an Italian job on the lot. There is always a price for joy. But joy is fleeting, hard to find, and priceless to possess. And if the 500 does that for her, I would say go for it. Otherwise we would all own Tercels and yawn our way through life.

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