Today: The Cutlass Supreme and What Might Have Been

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 05, 2012

Dear Tom and Ray:

What went wrong with my baby? Years ago, I owned my favorite car ever: a 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme in Triple White (white paint, white top and white leather). That car was amazing. The best road-trip car I've ever seen, it would run at 2,000 rpm at 75 mph. Beautiful. Anyway, about six years ago, the car developed a strange problem. When it wasn't warmed up, it would never shift out of first gear. As soon as the car warmed up, everything ran just fine. On a cold morning, I would have to run the car for 30 minutes before I could leave the house. I had to trade in the car because I thought I couldn't afford to fix it. Then, one month after trading it in, I discovered that the car dealer I traded it to had fixed it and started using it as his personal car. Six years on, I just saw him driving around in it the other day. It is still his personal car, and it got me wondering: What in the world was wrong with that car, and was it something I could have fixed easily?

-- James

TOM: Yes, you could have fixed this easily, James. All it would have taken was money.

RAY: And maybe not that much money. Shame on you for not getting it checked out at the time. It could have been something as simple as a solenoid that was sticking or some dirt in the valve body. Maybe a transmission flush might have fixed it.

TOM: Or, it could have been complete transmission failure. But it would have been nice to know before you traded in your baby.

RAY: Now all you can do is guess. To make you feel better, James, let's assume that the transmission itself was dying, and that it would have cost you $2,000 to buy and install a new one. If that were the case, you might have decided to let the car go, right?

TOM: Keep in mind, too, that the dealer can fix stuff a lot cheaper than you can. He's got a mechanic on staff he can make use of. So it may have been a different financial calculation for him than it would have been for you.

RAY: But there's nothing you can do now, James, except move to another city. Seeing this guy happily tool around in your beloved car every week clearly is not doing you any good.

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