Nora's mom loves her damaged Fiat. Is there any hope?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 2011

Dear Tom and Ray:

My mom is great. I love her, and I need to know how to help her. She has a '74 Fiat Spider convertible. It's adorable and fast, and she loves it. But it's not running. AGAIN. It's been parked for about a year or so now, covered with a tarp. The canvas roof has a hole, so it would need to be replaced. The interior has water damage, so that needs to be cleaned or replaced. The clutch (the reason it was parked) needs to be replaced, and now the battery is dead. My dad also thinks the carburetor is shot.

My mom literally burst into tears at seeing its accumulated damage, and has despaired over not taking better care of it. My dad and I think we should get her a Mazda Miata. What's your advice? Do I try to help her keep the Fiat, or is it better to stop fighting it and let it go?

-- Nora

RAY: Nora, you've come to the right place. It just so happens that we've run an identical experiment recently, involving someone who's unnaturally attached to a decrepit Fiat Spider --

TOM: That would be me.

RAY: -- and a sympathetic, wiser, more detached family member, who replaced said Fiat with a Mazda Miata.

TOM: That would be my brother, except for the "wiser" part.

RAY: My brother has been nursing along a 1978 Fiat Spider on which almost nothing works. How do I know? Because he keeps asking me to fix it for him.

TOM: Well, I've been busy. So when it won't start, I ask my brother to have a look at it and figure it out.

RAY: Yeah, he's been busy staying home from work because his car won't start! So I decided it was time for an intervention.

TOM: He decided not to fix it anymore. And then, the next weekend, he was at a garage sale, and he found a 1993 Mazda Miata with 53,000 miles on it, for $3,000.

RAY: I found it between a brass bed and a couple of tricycles. It cost more than the tricycles, but less than the bed. And the car was in perfect condition -- for my brother. Everything worked, but the car looked like it'd been worked over with a bag of chisels. That's why it was cheap.

TOM: But my brother had it painted, for another $1,500, and now it's absolutely beautiful.

RAY: It won't be for long. But it starts every day, doesn't it?

TOM: It's a miracle!

RAY: It's not a miracle. That's what most cars do.

TOM: They do?

RAY: And you know what's great about it? Everything works.

TOM: Yeah. The windows work. They go down AND up. The windshield wipers work, the heater and air conditioner work, the top doesn't leak. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner.

RAY: Because you're a hoarder and a cheapskate. And because YOU didn't have to do the repairs on the Fiat -- I was doing them for you. But Nora's mom doesn't have that luxury. So she's a perfect candidate to trade up and "reverse the curse," as we Red Sox fans say.

TOM: Yeah. I hate to admit it, but my brother's right. Unless you're a mechanic, or you have a brother dumb enough to chew up his knuckles for you, you're much better off with a Miata, which will provide all the fun of the Fiat, with five times the safety, and at a fraction of the maintenance costs.

RAY: And with a fraction of the smell. So tell your mom that your suggestion has been endorsed by Click and Clack.

TOM: And if she wants to sell her Fiat, let me know. In its current condition, it sounds like my kind of car.

RAY: If he buys it, I'll kill him, Nora.

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