As it turns out, slimy used car salesmen have been conning people for the past 100 years. The difference is that since automobiles were still a fairly new commodity at the time, the most second-hand car customers were even more clueless about mechanics than today's average person. In this article, published just a three years after Henry Ford began mass-producing his Model Ts, we taught readers how to spot hidden flaws in used cars. For instance, if you wanted to confirm that the 1917 Ford you were buying was actually from 1917, and not the 1913 edition in disguise, you could telephone the nearest Ford agency and ask them to check the date of sale against the engine number. That way, you could also confirm that the seller himself didn't buy the car second-hand while claiming that it is new. Other tips: check your gears for heavy oil and ground cork installed to hide parts. If you're considering a second-hand Ford, buy it from a reputable agency. Unlike other cars, Ford automobiles could use parts from other models. This made it easy for dishonest sellers to install enough parts so that an older car looked brand new. Make sure you aren't being ripped off -- no car made before 1913 is worth more than $100. "Among all liars we take off our steel helmets to the sellers of old cars," we wrote. Read the full story in "Buying a 'Used Car'"
Before Ford’s Model T entered mass production, cars were largely a novelty, a curio for those privileged enough to afford them. They sputtered odorous gases, crawled at speeds barely faster than a horse’s gallop, and stirred up so much dust that you’d need to wash up after disembarking. Pretty cool!
Once cars became affordable, we jumped on the opportunity to help our readers make the best financial choices. Thanks to the rivalry between Henry Ford and W.C. Durant, car prices had been lowered from around $1000 to just over $250. Even better (or so it seemed), people could buy cars second hand for as low as $75 — far cheaper than a phonograph, even. Not wanting our readers to get into car accidents, or to spend thousands of dollars on repairs, we dissected cars and took their inner workings to our pages. How do you tell the difference between a 1913 Ford and a 1917 Ford? Check the engine number and call an agency. How do you know you’re being ripped off? Check the gears to see if the seller has concealed their flaws with cork and grease.
Despite accidents, con men, and business feuds, owning a car was fun. We showed readers how to stuff tents and awnings into their cars for greater comfort. Car parts don’t last forever, so we held a contest for ideas on what to do with an old tire. People suggested everything from converting it to a baby walker to turning it into a hose.
Click through our gallery of Popular Science’s early coverage of automobiles.