Whitesburg KY

Car Talk

Suggestions for a fun business idea

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am interested in purchasing a vintage/classic ice-cream truck such as the Divco for a new, gourmetice cream truck venture. I have found rusted, inoperable trucks for $2,000 and restored trucks for as much as $25,000. My first question is, Is this a reasonable truck to actually put back into service, and at what price? My second question is if you have a better recommendation for a “cool” commercial vehicle. Or just tell me I’m crazy, like my mother, brother and husband do, and maybe — maybe — I’ll let this business idea go back into the file. — Kara

TOM: We don’t think you’re crazy, Kara. We think it’s a great business idea. And, more importantly, a really fun adventure.

RAY: Yeah. Maybe you can buy a truck from some other nutjob who tried this same idea and recently gave up? If you’re lucky, it even might still have the ice cream in it!

TOM: The cool commercial vehicle right now is the Ford Transit Connect, which is a city-size delivery van. You even can get one that’s all electric. But if the truck is also your “store,” rather than just your delivery vehicle, I like the idea of reviving a Divco.

RAY: The old-fashioned Divco truck, with the sales window on the side, is the one vehicle that really screams “ice cream.”

TOM: I would make two suggestions for your Divco search. One is to look at ones that haven’t been restored yet. You don’t want the $2,000 rusted heaps that have trees sprouting out of them. But if you pay $25,000 for a restored truck, you have no idea how well it’s been restored. You also may be paying for restored details that you have no need for. Do you really care if the gas pedal has been restored to its original factory condition?

RAY: So look for something that’s structurally sound but cosmetically challenged. Find one that runs, so you can evaluate it. But not one that’s had every dent knocked out.

TOM: And the second suggestion is to find a mechanic who’s willing to go with you to look at your top candidates. A mechanic will be able to tell you whether a truck has a solid undercarriage and is worth putting more money into.

RAY: And then, when you restore it, the most important thing is to make sure it’s safe. Obviously, a good suspension system and working brakes top the list. You won’t sell much ice cream in a neighborhood where you regularly run over the kids.

TOM: And then you want to make sure you have refrigeration that you can count on. You can do as much or as little aesthetic work as you like. You’ll obviously paint the outside to advertise your business.

RAY: And then you have to make a decision about the engine. If it’s in decent shape, even if it’s old and burning a little oil, you may just decide to leave it as is. After all, I’m guessing most of your driving will be local.

TOM: And who knows? Maybe the worn-out engine will become your calling card. Instead of listening for the sounds of “Turkey in the Straw,” the kids will keep their noses peeled for the smell of burning oil, which can only mean the ice-cream lady’s coming!

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It’s NEVER cheaper in the long run to buy a new car. Want proof? Order Tom and Ray’s pamphlet “How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows.” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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Get more Click and Clack in their new book, “Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk.” Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com.

(c) 2010 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman Distributed by King Features

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