Supercar Headaches

Ten grand for a timing belt? You bet. Specialty mechanics divulge the worst luxury and exotic service nightmares.

You’ve heard that old idiom: If you have to ask how much, you can't afford it. Ditto repairs, if we’re talking about a super-luxury or exotic car. Sure, some old Porsches and Bentleys may stoop into a price range you’d consider normal—or at least almost normal. But it's not all that simple. One man’s trash can be another's treasure. One man’s used supercar is a goddamn nightmare.

Those in the know may attempt to sell right before a major service is required, says Joe Ritz, owner of Sports & Collector Car Center, an exotic car repair shop in Tempe, Ariz.

"When you see a Ferrari with 35,000 miles on it, that's considered a high-mileage car," he says. "If the car is priced $5,000 less than others like it, it probably needs $10,000 worth of work."

Andreas Serafini, a technician who, until two years ago, worked as a mechanic at Ferrari, Lamborghini and Aston Martin dealerships, says most people who buy supercars get rid of them after only a few years.

"It's usually the second or third owners who couldn't afford to buy the car new and are getting a used one who get hit with all the maintenance stuff," he said. "If you're buying one that's three or four years old, that's when you're going to start getting huge repair bills."

Still not convinced? Here are a handful of routine repairs that’ll quickly turn a used supercar into a pit of financial suffering.

The car: Lamborghini Murciélago

The job: Clutch replacement

The cost: $15,000, including labor.

Serafini says: "A lot of people drive a manual transmission on a Honda or a Ford or whatever, and can get 60,000 miles out of a clutch. But on a Murciélago, depending upon how you drive, the clutch will only last 10,000 miles. If you really rag on it, it might last 5,000. To get to the clutch on that car, you have to drop the entire drivetrain, which is half the length of the car. It's usually a week's worth of work."

For reference: According to Central Avenue Automotive, in Kent. Wash., a clutch replacement on a late-model Honda Civic costs between $500 and $800.

The car: Ferrari F355

The job: Timing belt change

The cost: $8,000-$11,000, depending upon other service items needed.

Ritz says: "This routine service, on a Ferrari F355, is a $10,000 job. [To gain access to the timing belt, the entire engine must be removed.] I get people from time to time who had seen an older Ferrari for sale for around 50 grand, where it's down in new Corvette territory. They think, 'Hey, for the money, I can buy a Ferrari!' Then they get that first repair bill and realize what they've gotten into."

For reference: According to repairpal.com, a timing belt change on a nineties Toyota Corolla should cost about $400.

The car: Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan

The job: Heater core replacement

The cost: $10,000, including parts and labor.

Serafini says: “Replacing the heater core is a lot of work in almost any car, because it usually has the whole dash on top of it. But the Mercedes S-Class is probably the worst. There are so many components behind the dash, and a lot of insulation so you can drive down the road at 100 mph and not hear a thing. The job calls for 45 hours of labor. On a Toyota Camry, a mechanic could knock that out in 8 hours for about a thousand bucks."

For reference: According to repairpal.com, a heater core replacement for a Nissan Sentra should cost around $750.

The car: Ferrari F40

The job: Fuel tank bladder replacement

The cost: About $15,000

Serafini says: "Normal cars have a tank that lasts for the life of the car, and Ferrari F40s have tanks, but they're lined with bladders that have to be replaced every five years. To get both tanks out, you end up having to pull the whole drivetrain out of the car."

For reference: "Normal" cars don't have fuel tank bladders, so there's really not much basis for comparison here. But you can buy a clean, well-maintained BMW 3 Series for $15,000. As in, the entire car. So yeah.

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So is it worth having an aging supercar? Will you possess it, or will it own you and your poor, poor wallet? Depends upon the person, says Serafini. People with the personal fortitude and mechanical wherewithal can apparently make it work.

"There have been a number of times when a customer has shown up with a Ferrari 308 from the Eighties on the back of a tow truck and said, 'Hey I just got this at an auction for $20,000,' and I'm like, 'I'm sorry.’ I've been into cars for a long time, and whenever someone asks me what car they should buy, I tell them to get a Toyota Camry."