Dear Tom and Ray: I’m a young man of 24 who is about to start business school. The trouble is that I drive a ’98 Ford Ranger with 110,000 miles – not exactly a model known for being an executive’s car. I’ve been looking around online, and I’ve found some great deals. I’ve found a ’97 Porsche for less than $6,000, and an ’87 Alfa Romeo for less than $4,000! This list goes on. Can these cars possibly be the bargains they appear to be? All of them have slight cosmetic or mechanical issues, but I’m somewhat mechanical, so these deals are all the more appealing. My question: Are these great cheap cars, or money pits? – Gareth

Ray: They’re money pits. The reason they’re cheap is because they’ll cost you a fortune to keep running. And even without the benefit of business school, I’m going to recommend that you buy one, because, as a mechanic, I know it’ll be good for MY business.

Tom: I’d actually encourage you to keep the Ranger. First of all, you’re not an executive – you’re a student. So you don’t need to impress anybody with your car. You need to impress people with your hard work, your intelligence, your judgment and your creativity.

Ray: Second, in my opinion, the old Ranger pickup makes a better impression than an old Porsche or Alfa. Why? Because it’s a better business decision. Would you hire an executive who appears to be prudent and careful with his own money, or one who wastes his money on expensive, showy accessories? Which guy would you want running YOUR company and spending YOUR money?

Tom: I think the Ranger sends exactly the right message for an aspiring businessman: that you’re practical, economical, grounded, confident enough to drive whatever you feel like, and more concerned with function than flashiness.

Ray: And OK, you don’t have much fashion sense. But as long as you’re not interviewing at Estee Lauder, you’ll be fine. Good luck, Gareth.


Dear Tom and Ray: I have a 2007 Kia Spectra EX that does not start all the time, and it is getting corrosion on the battery terminals. My husband cleaned the terminals just a few weeks ago, and the corrosion is back! Can you tell me what is going on, and if a new battery will fix this issue? – Jennifer

Ray: Probably. When you’re getting corrosion on the battery terminals, it’s often a sign that your battery is out-gassing.

Tom: It’s the battery equivalent of eating a couple of double-cheese-and-bean enchiladas.

Ray: Out-gassing usually is an indication that the battery is on its last legs. It often signifies that you’ve got a dead or dying cell, which in turn means the battery is putting out 10 volts, or 9.5 volts, instead of the usual 12. That’s not enough to start the car reliably.

Tom: And unless you’re parking on the beach, the fact that the corrosion came back just weeks after you cleaned it suggests that there’s a whole lot of out-gassing going on. My guess is that it’s time for a new battery.

Ray: But it can be checked. Have someone test the battery and charging system for you, and if you need another battery after five or six years, it wouldn’t surprise me.