The story behind our Pixar ‘Cars’ characters

Ray Magliozzi
Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

Is there a story behind the cars Tom and Ray were depicted as in the “Cars” movies? I own a Dodge A100 and it’s cool to see one in such a big movie series. Thanks for any information. — Kolby

RAY: There is a story behind those cars, Kolby. In the early 2000s, when Pixar was making the original “Cars” movie, they called and asked us to be in it. Director John Lasseter was very into cars and wanted to know about meaningful cars we’ve had in our lives.

So my brother, Tom, chose his then-current car, which was a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible with rust up to the windows and a family of racoons that lived in the back seat. It was not a great car, but the top went down and that was all he really cared about.

And he drove that car happily until his teenage son drove it into the back of an ambulance one day (all parties escaped injury, except the Dodge Dart).

I had fond memories of my 1967 Dodge A100 window van. And if you own a Dodge A100, you know it was also a lousy car. Mine was plagued by overheating. Every time I drove it, the heat gauge on the dashboard would go into the red zone. It drove me nuts. Despite every attempt I made to fix it (including replacing the entire engine), the needle would creep up to “hot” everyday.

I got so frustrated with it that, one day, at a red light, I picked up a hammer that was sitting on the floor of my van, smashed the glass that covered the gauge cluster and physically bent the temperature needle back to “normal,” where it stayed forevermore. And I drove the van blissfully after that.

When I first got the van, it was snot green and white. But it rusted like crazy.

And back in the mid-70s, there was a company called Earl Scheib that would paint a car for $49.95. And for $59.95, I think, they’d even roll down the windows first.

Anyway, they wanted a whopping $75 to paint my van, and I sprang for it and had the van painted gas-company-orange. My wife hated the color. So the next time a fender rusted out, I had it painted lemon yellow. I guess I must have been subconsciously obsessed with getting scurvy back then.

Anyway, we were featured, along with our cars, as Dusty and Rusty, the Rust-Eez Brothers in the original “Cars” and in “Cars 3.” So those two heaps have, despite Dodge’s best efforts, managed to obtain immortality.

What’s the sweet spot when buying a “new” used car?

Dear Car Talk:

I tend to drive my cars “into the ground.” The exception being my minivan, which I bought to replace my Mustang GT after my twins were born.

Well, that van now has 275,000 miles on it. At 210,000, I had to decide whether to replace the motor (which had self-destructed) or move on. It was close, but I put a new engine in it.

Now the body and chassis are rusting apart. Although I could replace the entire front suspension, tires, exhaust system, hood, doors, front fascia and rear brakes, I think I may be reaching the end of the road with this van. But the AC and original alternator are still good!

Here’s my question: When should a person move on from a car? And what is the sweet spot between price and age of a car when buying a “new” used one? — Lyle

RAY: I’d say the time to dump a car is at 209,999 miles, Lyle.

I’m all for frugality, but I think you overdid it by putting a new engine in a van with 210,000 miles on it. As you quickly found out, every other part of the van also had 210,000 miles on it and was also ready to self-destruct.

There’s no absolute answer we can give you to this question. It varies by car and by how it was engineered, driven and cared for. But I can give you some general guidelines.

If you get 150,000 miles out of a car, you’ve done fine. You’ve rung the bell and gotten your money out of the vehicle. If you get 200,000 miles, you’ve done more than fine.

So, if you get eight-10 years and 150,000 miles out of a car and something big goes wrong, no one is going to criticize you for trading it in or selling it and starting over at that point. And if you sell the car privately, you can still get some money for it, even with 150,000 miles.

If you decide to keep it at that point, understand that there’s a good chance it’s going to be less reliable in the future. When you’re buying a used car, I’d say the sweet spot is two-three years and 24,000 to 36,000 miles. At that point, lots of cars will have depreciated by about a third. Some more, some less. But with most new cars easily going 100,000 to 150,000 miles, you’re buying the majority of the car’s life, for a third off.

Plus, by buying a car that’s only two or three years old, you can often get the latest, or much of the latest, safety equipment. And most importantly, the first owner of the car won’t have had enough time to really grind his personal smell into the vehicle yet.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk 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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