Convertible-loving mom needs a taller car

Dear Car Talk:

My soon-to-be-80-year-old mom is a lifelong convertible driver. She currently drives a 2005 Chrysler Sebring Convertible with 64,000 miles on it. Over the years, the car seems to have gotten lower to the ground, and she's having difficulty getting into and out of it. For her birthday, I was thinking of replacing her car, and I wanted to get her something a little "taller," as it were. Of course, it still has to be a convertible – at this stage of the game, she wants what she wants, and she gets what she wants. I looked at a 2016 Buick Cascada, but even the base model comes with all sorts of things she'll never use, like a navigation system, XM radio, etc. Can you suggest anything that might be a little "simpler" yet still higher off the ground than the Sebring (which leaves out the ubiquitous Ford Mustang convertible) in or around the same price range as the used Cascada? Thanks. Trying to stay in the will. – Rory

RAY: Rory, if you were any kind of son at all, you'd go right out and buy your mom a brand-new Bentley Continental GT Convertible. If you go in at the end of the month, when they're trying to hit their quota, you probably can pick one up for less than $250,000.

If she generally likes the Sebring except for the spring-sag, I think you’ve homed in on the right replacement for her in the Cascada. That’s the closest you can get, these days, to the Sebring in terms of design, comfort and handling.

I mean, you can consider a few others. VW makes a Beetle Convertible, and Mini makes a Cooper Convertible. But she might not like the way those look. And if she thinks the Sebring is a good-looking car, I’m guessing she’ll turn her nose up at the VW Beetle or Mini. But you can show them to her. Maybe she’ll love one of them.

Audi makes a very nice A3 convertible, but that’s not going to be in the same price range as the Cascada. Neither is the BMW 4 Series convertible.

And if you get her a low, little sports car like the Mazda Miata, you’ll also have to install a winch in her driveway to lift her into and out of it.

So even though the Cascada has technology she might not use, I think that’s probably your best bet, Rory. All cars have new technology now. Some of it (the safety stuff) is wonderful and doesn’t require her to do much to use it – she just has to know what the warning lights or sounds mean.

The rest, she can ignore. If she doesn’t want to listen to satellite radio, then she doesn’t have to subscribe. If she doesn’t want to use the navigation, she can just drive around and get lost, like she does now.

As long as she can get comfortable using the basic functions of the car – starting it, changing gears, steering, stopping and turning on the windshield wipers in case it starts to rain when she’s on her way home from the early bird special – she should be very happy in the Cascada, Rory. I hope so.

Against all odds, miracle car is still running with its original oil

Dear Car Talk:

I bought a 2009 Honda Accord in 2009, which now has 125,000 original miles on it. I have never changed the oil or transmission fluid. The car still drives perfectly. What did I do wrong? – Rev. Marvin

P.S. What is an original mile?

P.S. 2: Have you ever driven a car with at least one unoriginal mile?

P.P.P.S. I am 80, so please answer quickly.

RAY: I'm writing as fast as I can, Rev.

I can only guess that you have some higher mechanical connection that the rest of us don’t. Because failing to change the oil for 125,000 miles would croak most engines. The fact that your car is still running perfectly is a testament (no pun intended) to how well Honda designed and built it.

We’ve seen engines whose oil hasn’t been changed for only three or four years, and they’re already toast. The sludge and varnishes on the valve train would make you cross yourself in fear – unless you’re a mechanic with kids in college. Then you’d say grace for what you’re about to receive.

So you can either go for the Guinness Book of World Records and see how long this thing will run without an oil change, or you can rush over to the dealer before it starts blowing blue smoke and trade it in while it’s still worth something. You can tell the dealer it has original miles and original oil.

The transmission fluid is less of an issue. In fact, lots of cars now don’t even call for transmission fluid changes; the transmission is sealed at the factory. But the engine oil – even superior synthetic oil – is supposed to be changed every 10,000 to 15,000 miles at most.

To answer your other question, Rev., there are several theories about the term “original miles.” There’s the theory that since odometers used to turn over at 99,999 miles, a car could show 25,000 miles and really have 125,000 on it. So the 25,000 would not be “original miles.”

A similar theory says it came from the time when it was much easier for a used-car dealer to roll back the odometer with an electric drill. So it meant “actual miles.”

But my understanding is that the term “original miles” dates back to when engines typically lasted only 50,000 or 75,000 miles before needing to be replaced or rebuilt. So if you had 80,000 “original miles,” that meant the car had its original, un-rebuilt engine in it.

Or, in other words, when you saw an ad for a used car that said “80,000 original miles,” you knew you’d be due for a rebuild on the way home after you bought it.