Tube City Almanac

January 17, 2008

Bad Car-ma

Category: The Blacktop Jungle || By

Would you get mad at your spouse if they got a skin blemish? Of course you wouldn't.

And only a real jerk would dump their spouse because they got cancer. (And yes, I'm looking at you, Newt Gingrich.)

Well, I'm not married to her, but my sleek, gray Mercury is starting to show her age.

No, not crow's feet or liver spots --- it's the dreaded tinworm. I noticed a little paint blister on the driver's side front fender at Christmastime and decided I'd better investigate. What looked like a tiny spot of surface rust apparently goes straight through the other side.

. . .

I applied some emergency salve to soothe the lesions (a little rustproofing and some primer) but surgery is going to be necessary in the spring.

And this, friends, is what happens when you live in a state that dumps tons of salt on the roads every time a single flake lets fly. Do you know that in some northern climes and parts of Canada they limit the amount of salt on the roads? 'Struth. They actually learn to drive in the snow, and use sand and cinders to improve traction.

Besides rusting cars, salt also helps to ruin pavement. I know it's hard to feel any sympathy for PennDOT, but look at it from their point of view: We cry and moan if there's 1/16th of an inch of snow on the ground, so they dump a truckload of salt. That pokes a hole through their budget.

(PennDOT spends $179 million per year for winter maintenance, and that's not counting all of the townships, boroughs, cities and counties that maintain their own roads.)

Of course, the melted snow and salt runs down into the cracks in the pavement, where the water eventually freezes and causes the pavement to buckle. And then we drive to a state where they don't salt roads in the wintertime, and we complain because their roads are so much nicer (and their taxes are lower) than Pennsylvania's.

That's leaving aside the public health impact of all that salt, which (according to a 2005 report in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science) has helped lead to an increase in hypertension and high blood pressure. It leeches into the groundwater and finds its way into crops, you see.

And if you're a hunter, you might be interested to know that road salt makes deer, bears and other animals sick. Basically, they consume so much salt they get drunk.

I'm just sayin' that perhaps we don't need so much salt on the roads, that's all.

. . .

Anyway, at about the time I was picking rusty scabs off of my car, it turns out that the guy I bought her from is leaving the new-car business. Community Motors in Canonsburg was the last remaining dealer that only handled Mercury vehicles. Every other Mercury dealer handles at least one other Ford Motor Company product, usually Lincolns.

In December, according to Automotive News and the Observer-Reporter, "Mercury Joe" Mastrangioli voluntarily returned the dealership's Mercury franchise.

Some pundits are calling this evidence that Ford plans to discontinue the Mercury brand altogether. Well, maybe, but Mercury's the only line of vehicles Ford makes that's attracting young women into showrooms.

I tend to think Community Motors was a special case. Community Motors was the last of a breed in more ways than one. The showroom held a grand total of two cars; when I bought my car, Mastrangioli's wife wrote up the paperwork by hand, with carbon paper. Mastrangioli's 92-year-old mother worked in the office until recently. They almost got wiped out by a flood in 2004, and recovered.

Mastrangioli notes that the 57-year-old dealership, like all small, family-owned new car dealerships, was under pressure to sell or consolidate with a bigger firm.

. . .

Car companies don't want to deal with neighborhood stores that sell only a few dozen cars a month --- they want "superstores" like Cochran or Kenny Ross, preferably with multiple locations. Even the independent, mid-sized dealerships on the way out.

Competition from bigger dealerships, combined with slow new-car sales, led Mastrangioli to give up his franchise.

(By the way: A reliable source tells me that the Ford agency in Monongahela --- larger than Community Motors, but about the same age --- might give up the new car business soon, too. You read it here, first.)

Community Motors will stay in business selling used cars and doing repairs, which is probably more profitable than selling new cars anyway. If you have a car and you live around Canonsburg, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them.

. . .

Incidentally, a couple of years ago, I wanted to do a story on "Mercury Joe," since he was the sole Mercury-only dealer in the world. None of the car-collector magazines were interested, and neither was One of America's Great Newspapers.

Of course, when Mastrangioli dropped the franchise, then he became news. Honestly, I still don't understand journalism.

. . .

I'll probably check Community Motors when it comes time to retire this beast, which I hope doesn't come right away. When I get the fender fixed, maybe I'll seize the opportunity to have the whole car painted. I did that with my '89 Mercury --- $300 at Earl Scheib under the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge, and it looked like a new car.

Well, until some drunken idiot hit me head-on a week later.

Remember, Earl Scheib will paint any car for $99.95. Sometimes they even remember to roll up the windows. No, they did a good job for me, but that store has since closed. Maybe I'll see if Mercury Joe will paint cars, too.

. . .

Which reminds me --- my AAA membership is expiring, and I'm not in the mood to throw another $60 at them. Has anyone tried the "Better World Club," which advertises on "Car Talk"?

They promote themselves as an "environmentally friendly" alternative to AAA --- the big auto club has a history of lobbying against things like public transportation and pollution controls.

To be honest, I'm not exactly "Mr. Environment," but AAA's track record, combined with the cost of their memberships and the desire to support an underdog makes me wonder if I should take a flyer on Better World; they claim to deal with all of the same repair shops and towing places that AAA uses.

Unfortunately, they won't come out and fix rust. Then again, neither will AAA --- or "Mercury Joe" Mastrangioli, for that matter.

Hey, there's a thought. Maybe he should start an auto club. I'd join, wouldn't you?

Your Comments are Welcome!

An alternative to AAA? Hmmm. Sounds like something I’d try. But $60 for a membership? What office are you dealing with?
Eric - January 18, 2008


Since you are so concerned with environmental issues, how about a little expose on cell phone towers? In particular how tower companies are targeting schools and financially strapped communities.

Councilman Shelly
Paul Shelly (URL) - January 20, 2008

Cell phone site of interest:
Paul Shelly (URL) - January 20, 2008

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