Buying a VW Beetle could be a dream come true

Dave Conklin arrives Voss Hoss Cruise In driving his turbo VW Bug. © 2107 Photograph by Skip Peterson
Dave Conklin arrives Voss Hoss Cruise In driving his turbo VW Bug. © 2107 Photograph by Skip Peterson

Dear Car Talk:

I have read your column for years, and I have learned a lot from your advice and really enjoyed your comedy and bad jokes.

I have liked the Volkswagen Beetle from the very beginning. I even considered buying a VW Thing back in the day but never did. I’ve never owned a Beetle but always wanted to. Lately I have been thinking seriously of purchasing a used one.

A convertible is a must, as well as an automatic. This would be a second car, just for fun. I believe the last year of production was 2019. Would you offer some advice as to whether I should pursue this purchase, and, if so, what to look for in my search? Thank you. -- Cathy

Ray Magliozzi
Ray Magliozzi

RAY: You should absolutely get a Beetle convertible, Cathy.

Look, some people have always wanted to climb Mount Everest. That costs at least twice as much, and those people come back with only four toes and half a nose.

By comparison, fulfilling your lifelong dream is a piece of cake, Cathy, and I can’t see any reason you shouldn’t do it. Tomorrow.

Mechanically, the Beetle is the same as the VW Golf, which is a perfectly good car. The engine in the Beetle is a little harder to work on, because the shape of the hood forced them to cram the engine in there. But Golfs and Beetles have shown at least middle-of-the-pack reliability over the years.

Regardless of where you search for a Beetle -- a dealer, classifieds or one of the single-price used car delivery services like Vroom or Carvana -- it’s important to have your own mechanic check it out from stem to stern before you buy it.

Even if the seller promises a 489-point pre-sales check, get someone you trust to test drive it and put it up on a lift.

Ask your mechanic to tell you if there’s anything that needs to be fixed right away, if anything is obviously wearing out, or if there are signs of excess wear and tear or abuse. You can then use that information to negotiate with the seller, and either ask for the failing items to be fixed or get a reduction in price.

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Obviously, the fewer miles on the car, the more reliable it should be for the first few years. So if you can find one with 30,000 or 40,000 miles on it, you’ll have a lot of miles ahead of you. And a less likelihood of unremovable dog odor.

And don’t stress too much about this decision, Cathy. Remember, it’s only a car. If you change your mind and suddenly decide that you always wanted a Ford Pinto, you can always sell the Beetle.

When checking oil levels, temperature is key

Dear Car Talk:

My daughter has a red 2013 Subaru Outback with 85,000 miles on it. She was driving from Omaha to Wichita when the “check oil level” light came on in the remote prairie of Kansas.

She dutifully pulled over at the next exit and checked the dipstick. She did it properly, I believe -- wiping it off before reinserting it and then removing it.

The dipstick showed the oil as being only half a quart low. I advised her that since it was only half a quart low, it was OK to drive the remaining 150 miles to Wichita and have it checked there.

When she got to Wichita, her friend’s father checked the oil and got the same reading: half a quart low. We decided it was OK for her to drive back to Omaha and then figure out why the oil level light was misbehaving.

Her Omaha mechanic told her that there was nothing wrong with the light, and that she was indeed low on oil. Is it possible to get a “false positive” on a dipstick? If so, how can this be prevented? Thanks. -- Alan

RAY: It’s absolutely possible. And, in fact, it’s likely, based on your description.

When the engine is hot -- as it certainly would have been when she first pulled off the highway -- the oil is not only thinned out, it’s also splattered all over the place. Including all over the inside of the dipstick tube.

So it’s entirely possible that, even after wiping off the dipstick, oil from the sides of the tube got on the stick again when she dipped for the second time to check the level. And if her friend’s father checked it soon after she arrived in Wichita after 150 more miles of driving, the same thing could have happened.

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So most likely, she was a quart or more low when the light came on, and the mechanic was the only one who got the level measurement right.

You don’t say how low the oil actually was when the Omaha mechanic checked it. If it was just a quart or so, it’s unlikely she did any damage to the engine.

But if this happens again, even if the dipstick only shows half a quart low, the safest course of action is to stop at the nearest 24-hour Walmart off the highway, buy a quart of oil and dump half of it in.

Then, the next morning, check the oil level properly. When the engine is stone cold, all of the oil will have run down out of the dipstick tube, and you’ll get a perfectly clean reading. As a bonus, you don’t even have to wipe off the dipstick. Or burn your fingertips trying.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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