If you’ve been reading Jalopnik for any length of time, chances are that you know that I own enough vehicles to make a city inspector take up chain smoking. In my lifetime thus far, I’ve owned 26 cars, two buses and over 30 motorcycles. But rarely have I ever owned multiples of the same car at the same time. I do right now, and I’ve found a silly but actually pretty freaking useful benefit. Having multiples of the same car makes troubleshooting a breeze!
Now, some of you that have read this site for years are sure to point out that I have four Smart Fortwos at my disposal and have been sitting at four of them since 2018. This is true; however, each one is usually significantly different than the other. My imported first-generation 2005 Fortwo, for example, has a different chassis and engine than my second-gen 2012 Fortwo. And that 2012 has a different chassis than my third-gen 2016 Fortwo. When any of those three break you can’t use one of the others as a point of reference.
But my number four Smart as of 2020 is a 2008 Fortwo, which means it has the exact chassis and powertrain as my 2012. Perfect.
Recently, I brought home a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI, which meant that, at least for now, my 2012 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI has a twin that’s identical in every way but its transmission. Both of these situations helped greatly with two recent car problems.
The first is the one I wrote about earlier this year when I decided to bring my 2012 Fortwo back to life. Back then, the engine wasn’t starting, and I couldn’t figure out why. Various Smart groups offered a bunch of different possibilities from missing engine ground straps to missing wires. But none of them offered any pictures for where I could find this stuff.
When it came to looking for the engine ground strap, I was told to look in the corner of the engine bay next to a post. I looked there and found nothing. I was about to conclude that this car simply didn’t have a ground strap until I got the idea to check the 2008. Sure enough, it didn’t have a strap there, either. Because I had a working car as a reference point, I was able to determine that the ground strap was actually somewhere else and that both cars had them intact.
Every time I ran through a troubleshooting step with the 2012 Smart, I was able to double-check using the working 2008. It happened again just yesterday with the 2010 Volkswagen Sportwagen TDI. I took a road trip over the weekend to a cabin in a forest in southeastern Ohio.
On my way home I discovered that the engine’s oil level was shockingly low. Admittedly, I didn’t check it when I bought the car because a recent service record indicated that it should have had a full fill. But either the car’s burning oil or the oil shop workers underfilled the car. I have no way of knowing for sure, so I did an emergency roadside oil change.
Either way, I began worrying that the car got damaged from running low on oil. I convinced myself that the engine was making a knocking sound. I was so anxious about it that I couldn’t really enjoy visiting the Cleveland house where some of A Christmas Story was filmed.
Now, normally, I’d be stuck listening to a dismal engine clip on YouTube, but having that 2012 Jetta Sportwagen TDI still laying around means that once again I have a good frame of reference.
While the 2012 has over 140,000 more miles, the engine’s in great shape. I mean, the tailpipes have no soot in them and the check engine light is still off.
I hopped into the 2012 and quickly learned that I was indeed freaking myself out over nothing. The two cars sound exactly the same, with the caveat that the 2010 is slightly louder. But it’s slightly louder making the exact sounds. I haven’t figured out what’s going on there (perhaps seals or insulation), but it’s not like I’m driving a bomb like I thought.
So, while having multiples of the same car can be sort of silly, it does have that pretty good benefit. See, hoarding does have its advantages! Having a working car as your reference point helps a lot in troubleshooting problems and answering questions, regardless if they’re real or imagined.
Sadly, my setup won’t really last. I plan to swap the Smart at some point for a diesel from Canada, which will mean that all four of my Smarts will each have different drivetrains. And the Sportwagen? Well, even though it’s in such great condition, I don’t really want to have two of them. So this will be leaving my fleet. Replacing it? Oh, I can’t say, but I’ll hint that it’s probably one of the last vehicles you’d expect me to own.