Check The Dipstick: Should You Correct Someone About Their Own Car?

We've been wanting to try out an advice-type column for a while, because it seems like a fun way to engage with our readers, whom we adore. So I'm going to do it. These questions can be car-related or not, but just keep in mind you're getting advice from me, a career idiot. So that should keep things fun.

As far as my qualifications go as the advice-giver, I think the best thing I can say is that, to look at me, you'd think you were dealing with a guy who spends his evenings staring off into space, softly sobbing while cleaning out the synthetic anus of a partially-deflated and heavily duct-taped sex doll. When, in fact, I hardly ever do that! I write about cars make stuff and have a lovely wife and an adorable kid. So, there you go.

Alright, I'll start us off with a question of my own, which I'll answer, and we can all debate that answer. This one is car etiquitte-related. Here's what happened:

I was in a grocery store parking lot, and I saw a nice old Beetle, a '66. Like I almost always do when I see an interesting car in a parking lot, I walked over to get a better look. The owner was there, so I started talking to him about his car. I asked about the engine he had in there, and he told me it was a 1600, and, even better, it was the original one that came with the car.

So, here's the thing. I know that statement isn't true. 1966 Beetles came with a nice 1300cc engine — hell, it even said "1300" on the engine lid. This guy's car was missing that bit of trim, which is too bad.

So now I had an etiquette conundrum: do I correct this guy and let him know that whoever sold him the car lied? Or do I not spoil his dream and just go on my way?

This can happen a lot in an information-dense subculture we car-enthusiasts live in. Information is presented, gets challenged, and that's how you either start brutal fistfights or lifelong friendships, or both. But in this situation, where you just meet a guy at random, is it worth potentially being a pushy jerk and letting people know they're wrong?

The answer I came to is sort of about context. In a parking lot of an Albertsen's, where you're both there for only a moment or two, I think it may be okay to just let it go. Perhaps just put the seeds out there, but it's probably not worth pushing there.

Now, in a context where someone is in a place about/for car-related talk, I think it's different. If I saw this guy at, say, a VW meet or something, I think it'd be my responsibility to tell him what I knew that was counter to what he said, and to back it up with something real. Since we all carry tiny internet devices in our pockets and dental implants, that's easy now.

And, in the case of this guy, he has a right to know that he was not sold a car with the original engine. That may be important to him, and he was misinformed. You're doing the guy a favor. But, in two minutes in a parking lot, are you going to convince him of anything? Probably not. But you can at least give him something to look into.

I think as long as your goal is to be helpful and not just humiliate or show off your arcane knowledge, it's always good to share information.

Okay! There's some advice! Now let's get some better questions from you guys. You know, strange, intensely personal stuff that makes us all cringe, That kind of thing. Send them to jason@jalopnik.com and put DIPSTICK in the subject so I know what they are.

Sound good? Great. Let's try it.