Articles

Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

The Myth of Low Miles

Every switch and control felt like it had been mauled by a five-year-old with melted candy in his hands, and I was amazed our buyer still wanted the car

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—July 2009 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

From Portland to Kauai and back again
From Portland to Kauai and back again

Columns beget further columns, and my May story, “When 25 Miles Doesn’t Matter,” which dealt with an Enzo that had crossed the magic 1,000-mile mark, resulted in a flurry of emails regarding the desirability vs. the perils of ultra-low-mile Ferraris.

I’m amazed at how many would-be Ferrari buyers have an odometer fetish, defined by low miles or a one-owner history. Buyers accept the half-life issues of an older ultra-low-mile or one-owner Dino or a Daytona, as these cars are now 35-plus years old. But the same type of odometer-fetish buyers are all too often in denial that modern Ferraris also deteriorate with time. Even if they aren’t driven.

A Ferrari with no place to run

A recent example was Ferrari 575M s/n 131963, which was sold new in 2003 by Ron Tonkin Gran Turismo of Portland, Oregon, to Norm Caris in the small beachfront town of Anahola, on Kauai, Hawaii. In October 2003, s/n 131963 was shipped to Hawaii, but as a personal third car on an island with a single road less than 50 miles long, our feature 575M had only 2,809 miles after five years of driving. In late January of this year, the car was sold to Skeets Dunn in Rancho Santa Fe, California, and as part of the sales agreement it was treated to a 30k-mile cam belt major service by the Ferrari of Hawaii service center. New cam belts and tensioner bearings were fitted and the engine oil, trans. fluid, power steering fluid, freon, and coolant were changed or topped off. The a/c was recharged and the oil, fuel, and cabin air filters were replaced. A multi-point vehicle inspection was also done for a total of $7,448.94. Mileage after the service was a mere 2,815, so in theory this “as-new” Ferrari was perfect, as one would expect a near-new Ferrari to be.

A short list lengthens

The 575M was shipped to the mainland, arriving in March, and the first problem was found. While the Ferrari of Hawaii service invoice mentioned that all four low-pressure tire indicators needed to be replaced, as their batteries had died, they had not been replaced. At a list price of $319.16 each, that was an annoying oversight. Additionally, no one had advised that all of the dash controls, switches, and vents were “sticky” from the Hawaiian heat and would need to be removed, painted, and sealed. After a few further miles, the checklist of minor but unresolved problems was growing, and so the 575M was dropped off at Symbolic Service in San Diego. The checklist included minutiae such as replacing a loose screw in the left door panel, repairing a minor paintless dent below the body line, balancing the tires, and adjusting the handbrake. In the “while–you’re–at–it” category, the brake disc hubs were painted silver to eliminate the minor surface rust showing through the wheels, and the scuff in the left rear wheel was polished. On the more expensive list were the omitted low-pressure tire indicators. Dunn also decided to sell the car, so a pre-purchase compression and leakdown test was also preformed. Total invoice was a modest $1,067.25, excluding the yet-to-be-resolved “sticky switches” and the still-on-order low-pressure tire sensors.

The quest goes on

In an interesting twist, the salesman at Ron Tonkin who had sold the car new had a Portland-based buyer for this low-mileage 575M. The 575M was shipped to my home in Newport so I could show the car to the prospective buyer, who was flying in the following Sunday. Alas, keeping these cars blemish—and problem—free is a never-ending process. Although our feature 575M had been serviced by two dealers in only 90 days, it still had a minor but annoying problem list. The truck bringing the car to Newport had scuffed the left rear wheel with a tie-down, the tire-pressure sensors had been ordered but not yet replaced, and we found that the car vibrated badly in the 110–120 mph range on our test drive. Combine that with every switch and control feeling like it had been mauled by a five-year-old with melted candy in his hands, and I was amazed our buyer still wanted the car after the inspection and test drive.

Back to the shop

With a promise to rectify the problem list, the 575M was trucked back to Symbolic Service, where the high-speed vibration was diagnosed. Although the car had a mere 3,144 miles, the tires had developed flat spots from sitting for months at a time, so all four were replaced and balanced, eliminating the vibration. Since the tires must be off to install the tire-pressure sensors, the sensors were sent to the tire shop to be fitted when the tires were replaced. The left rear wheel was repolished and the car was treated to a four-wheel alignment to ensure the vibration was eliminated. The labor-intensive task of disassembling the dash, the control switches, and gauge bezels was completed. The controls were painted and sealed to end their stickiness. The tie-down strap for the books and tools located in the trunk was broken, so a new strap was made. Mission accomplished, with the final bill at $4,354.62 for the service work, the sensors, and the tires.

Odometer or cost per mile?
Odometer or cost per mile?

But wait, there’s more

With the agreed problem list resolved, the 575M was paid for and then delivered to Dunn’s home to await a truck going to Portland. Always the perfectionist, Dunn took the 575M for a short test drive to find that the tire-pressure sensor light was still on. A quick check with Symbolic confirmed the tire sensors had been ordered, had arrived, but had not been installed. Due to a mis-communication with the tire shop, the sensors had somehow found their way back to the parts department. Additionally, while a new trunk strap had been made, it had not been riveted into place. Because the truck was due to pick up the car, it was agreed the sensors and tie-down strap could be installed in Portland, but the labor would be paid for by the seller.

When someone pays for a Ferrari, he usually wants it now, but after a week of waiting, the 575M was still in Rancho Santa Fe. We went to work on the phone and found a trucker who was in San Diego and was going straight to Portland. After a week of waiting, the 575M was finally picked up and on its way.

The bottom line

As this sale shows, low miles are no guarantee of perfection, as receipts for $12,860.81 in 90 days clearly demonstrated. The good news is that the missing tire sensors were shipped to Portland, the tie-down strap was finally fitted, all the work promised was done, and both the buyer and seller were ultimately happy.

Having a patient and understanding buyer, a seller willing to follow up and write the check, and a consensus that they are “just cars” with problems bound to surface made it all work. No one test drives a Chevy or a Toyota at 120 mph, a 30k-mile service on a Chevy or a Toyota doesn’t cost $7,448.94, and Chevy wheel sensors are $75 each, not $300 each. $12,860.81 and multiple visits to the repair shop are all part of the price of the performance, perfection, and exclusivity of low-mileage Ferrari ownership.