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About a year ago I bought a Chevy Bel Air...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



About a year ago, I bought a 1968 Chevy Bel Air for $1,500, supposedly with
75,000 miles on it. I don't know if the "little old lady driving to church"
story was true or not, but the interior looks good, the doors and windows
are tight, and after I had the valve seals replaced, it runs great. I have
two questions. Is there really any way to tell whether a mileage story like
I was told is true? And how do I get replacement body and interior parts
for a car this old? -- Michael

TOM: Well, the only way to know whether the little old lady was driving it
to church or drag racing with it on the weekends would have been to follow
her before you bought it, and it's too late for that now. I suppose you
could also try to get her to tell you the truth by threatening to call the
AARP and have her membership revoked, but that wouldn't be sporting. There
are other, more ingenious ways of figuring out whether the odometer is on
its second or third trip around.

RAY: Right. A good mechanic ought to be able to tell you pretty quickly
whether the car has 75,000 miles, 175,000 miles, or 275,000 miles by
checking for evidence of wear in some key areas.

TOM: The driver's seat is one such area. 175,000 miles worth of butts
sliding into and out of that seat looks a lot worse than 75,000 miles. The
same with the pedals. The rubber on the gas and brake pedals are really
worn down after 175,000 miles. After 75,000, they still look OK. And there
are other parts an experienced mechanic/sleuth can look at to draw a
conclusion.

RAY: And while most mechanical parts for this car are still available
through regular auto-parts stores, you're right that interior and body
parts may be a little harder to come by. For those, I'd suggest you pick up
a copy of Hemmings Motor News (which is published in Bennington, Vt.).
That's a phone-book-sized directory of old heaps and parts for old heaps
like yours.

TOM: In fact, that's probably where that little-old-lady racer got those
replacement seats and pedals so you wouldn't know she was selling you a Bel
Air with 175K on it!

* * *

What's one secret of financial success? Driving a used car! Read How to Buy
a Used Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don't Want You to Know. You can order
it by sending $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope
to Used Car, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.
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