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Lemons and cherries

By Staff | Jan 21, 2015

We in the car business are often asked what kind of car to buy. I usually start by recommending Rolls Royce and segue down through Mercedes and so forth until they stop asking. There is no best deal. Better built cars cost more money than poorly built cars. However, (and it’s a big however), there are exceptions to every rule. Some high-end cars can be lemons and some low-end cars can be cherries.

That reminds me of a story. An Arab sheik buys a new Rolls. It’s shipped to him. and he goes off on a trip across the desert to show it off to his camel-jockey subjects. It breaks down. A call for help goes out. Shortly a large helicopter arrives and unloads a team of technicians who proceed to repair the car. They then get back into their chopper and take off. The sheik drives on. Many weeks later the sheik sends a note to the Rolls people asking if he owes anything for the rescue. The reply was something like: “Sir, you must be mistaken. We could not have provided such a service because Rolls Royces simply do not break down. Have a nice day.”

The point, (if there is one) is that if a high-end car is a lemon, there is a good chance it will be taken care of by a reputable and skillful dealership. If a low-end car is a lemon, you just have to learn how to make lemonade. If you get a cherry from either end, you don’t care about any of this because you don’t need it.

How can you recognize a cherry? Two things are required. A service history and an expert inspection. A history showing little or no maintenance is not enough, because it might mean that things were neglected and are about to fail. A history full of breakdowns could indicate a poorly built car. The expert inspection is required to validate either type of history.

I have long been recognized that some cars come off the assembly line better built than others. Vehicles built for employees of that factory receive a little extra care during assembly, even if a worker doesn’t like that employee, because they know the employee can track them down and this often results in cherries. Cars built on Monday or Saturday mornings by hung-over disgruntled workers don’t fare as well as those built mid-week. Buyers of new cars don’t know about these things when they buy, but used cars have the advantage of a service history to examine. Service histories can be incomplete, so they are not the bible. The ideal history would show regular preventive maintenance like oil changes and belts and hoses and other routine surgeries which would show that the previous owner had been conscientious about maintenance. If someone brags to you that they have put 100,000 miles on it and haven’t spent a dime on it, you should be afraid. Be very afraid. Run like hell. It’s gonna blow.

When you have bought that new (used) car, begin your own maintenance routine so that your mechanic can catch problems before they get big. Don’t sweat the small stuff like drips and squeaks until you’re sure there are no big things to worry about. Don’t paint your driveway white and then take a lawn chair out to sit and wait for an oil drip to leave a mark, like some of my customers do. Or if you do, put up an umbrella to sit under and have a cooler of beer beside your chair, so that you have something worthwhile to do besides waiting for oil to drip. Even Rolls Royce’s can have oil leaks, so you’re in the same league as the mucky-mucks, however they may have champagne in their coolers.