My $1,500 Abarth Is Still Going Strong After a Year and 15,000 Miles
I don't think this car is anywhere near as bad as people lead me to believe.
Let’s take it back to March 8, 2021. The Facebook Marketplace algorithm took notice of my incessant Fiat searches from the few weeks prior when I bought a broken 500L. At 9:30 p.m. I accidentally tapped Marketplace on the Facebook app and was greeted with “2013 Fiat 500 Abarth, blown engine – $3000” in my “you may be interested in” tab. I read the listing and saw the seller really only wanted $1,500, but Facebook said it wouldn’t let him list it that low. I figured the car was as good as sold, was probably a phishing scam, or had something screwy with the title. Luckily, I was wrong, and the car was real. I got a beloved rust-free, accident-free, hot hatchback for a little more than a stimulus check.
That was a year and about 15,000 miles ago. All the haters who said the car would catastrophically explode? Y’all were wrong. Oh, and I paid a lot less than more than a few Youtube and automotive personalities. Sorry, y’all, I have to use this time to gloat and stunt at least a little bit.
After fully experiencing what this car has to offer, I’ve had the time to examine some niggles and general thoughts about ownership. Here’s what I learned.
My Fiat Does Consume Oil
Yes, it’s true, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned a car that didn’t consume oil in high-mile circumstances, especially a high-pressure turbocharged engine. My 225,000-mile Chevrolet Sonic used about a quart of oil between oil changes before I sold it to a guy who promptly turned it into a track rat. Hell, he even tried to sell it back to me in better shape than I gave it to him.
My car consumes about a quart and a half between its 8,000-mile oil life intervals. Compression is normal, the car doesn’t puff or idle sloppy, and it drives fine. According to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), this technical service bulletin (TSB) says losing a quart of oil every 750 miles in cars with more than 80,000 miles is completely normal. I don’t believe that either, though, because that sounds insanely excessive. From what I’ve read and experienced from working on the service drive at a BMW dealership, a quart or so of oil consumption seems to be the norm for most European turbocharged cars.
Still, the oil consumption hasn’t gone unnoticed. I suspect my positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valve in my oil/air separator may not be doing its job very well. I have a new OEM oil/air separator ready to be installed. Hopefully, that will reduce some of its consumption.
The Dog Smell Returned
The Abarth’s previous owner had a huge husky with medium-fiber hairs. He took the dog with him everywhere and even replaced the backseat with a dead panel to do so. Thus, there were dog hairs on every surface, slobber on all the windows and plastics, and general dog-related detritus strewn throughout the car.
A year later, I still find stray dog hairs, and I’ve learned more about car interior detailing because of it. One flew into my mouth while I was driving down the freeway with the sunroof and windows open. TikToker Jessica Tran gave me recommendations for more astringent fabric cleaner, so I’ve got a new spring cleaning job to do. At least, after I get the i-MiEV and CR-Z fixed first.
Other Typical Fiat Trivialities Have Made Themselves Known
If you’ve been in any Fiat 500 forums for more than five minutes, you would have learned these cars have mediocre build quality and questionable design choices. It’s not as world-ending as a Twitter denizen would leave you to believe, but they are issues nonetheless. The driver’s side exterior door handle is sometimes finicky, and I expect it to break very soon. The electronic trunk release is also finicky, likely due to a chafing wiring harness. The OEM sticky tape that holds the side skirts to the body needs to be reapplied, as well.
Otherwise, that’s about it.
I Convinced My Mechanic To Pick One Up
My mechanic’s steadfastly been working on whatever craigslist claptrap horseshit I dredge up from the boonies of Central Ohio since 2014 now. Some of the cars I’ve had, cough cough Ford Fiesta cough cough, have been pretty terrible to work on or a little bit joyless to drive. He’s also an avowed Honda guy who has a built turbocharged all-wheel-drive Integra, so there’s a natural assumption that he wouldn’t have much interest in some shitty European city car.
Well, that’s wrong. The Fiat’s not exactly a peach to do big services on (he was adamant that the clutch and flywheel job were somewhat annoying), but he drove mine and fell in love. More importantly, his wife stopped by the shop and fell in love with mine, too. She told him “Oh, I want one.” Eventually, another broken Abarth popped up in the area, and he’s excited to get it back on the road. I got another Fiat convert, y’all.
It’s Timing Belt Time
The 1.4-liter turbo Multiair block is an interference design with a timing belt. FCA says the service interval is 150,000. I’m currently at 142,000 miles, so I technically have quite some time until I’m due. Yet, 150,000 miles seems like a stretch, and my mechanic’s Abarth only had 103,000 miles when the timing belt snapped and ruined the motor.
The timing belt service doesn’t look all that intimidating, and Fiat even makes a special set of tools to make the job completely foolproof.
It should go easier than the last timing belt job I did on a 1999 Honda CR-V. I did it four times. Each time I would forget a step, only to have to start over, but that was a long time ago. I’m smarter and a more competent mechanic today. At least, I think I am.
In all, this is the best $1,500 I’ve ever spent. I’ve spent less than WatchJrGo, Yuri Tereshyn (thestraightpipes), Tyler Hoover, and most all U.S. and Canadian car personalities who purchased a used one or rehabbed a beat-up Abarth.
Is the Fiat the most reliable or solidly built car out there? Probably not, but I’ve had a mostly fuss-free 15,000 miles. I like this car. I went to Miami for a week and I missed it, truly. I was in a sunny, hot weather state, surrounded by Miatas, Mini Coopers, and other Abarths. Instead, I was in a new Altima, wishing I had my little brappy bulldog making a menace of South Florida streets. If something were to happen to it, I’d be sad. I don’t know if any manufacturer makes anything directly comparable to it.
I am willing to go the distance for my Abarth because I like it so goddamn much. To me, this is what car enthusiasm is all about. It’s not about obsessing over crazy reliability data, or pitting what your favorite internet celebrities have to say about a car. Car enthusiasm is loving cars, because you like something about them, no matter what anyone else says. I didn’t know very much about the Abarth before I bought it. It fell into my lap via happenstance, like most of my cars, but I love it as if I had been searching it out for years.
If it breaks down, then I’ll fix it again, Tony.
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