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TOM: If you've been following our column for the last few weeks, you know we've been talking about the options you can order on new cars these days.

RAY: We've talked about safety features like air bags, and anti-lock brakes. We've talked about luxury options like power windows, sunroofs, and sound systems. We've talked about maintenance options like rust proofing and extended warranties.

TOM: And today, we'll try to obfuscate just a few more of the options available on today's new cars.

FOUR WHEEL DRIVE

RAY: A lot of people who don't really need four wheel drive buy it anyway. It used to be just the nut cases who thought that the best time to go out and buy light bulbs was right in the middle of a raging blizzard. But now lots of people apparently need light bulbs during blizzards, or they just want that "extra edge" to keep them from getting stuck.

TOM: Our best advice is to take a realistic look at your own experience. If you really do get stuck occasionally, then you should consider a four wheel drive vehicle. But if you've gotten stuck once in the last five or ten years, and have gotten by fine all the other times, then why bother? Four wheel drive is ex?pensive, not only to buy, but to re?pair when it breaks. So unless you really travel in horrible conditions much of the time, a front wheel drive car with good snow tires, or a heavy rear wheel drive car with good snow tires is probably good enough.

TRACTION CONTROL

RAY: This is one of the best gad?gets we've seen in the last few years. It's expensive, and up until now, it's only been avail?able on high priced cars like Infiniti, Lexus, and Cadillac. But it's now working its way down to other cars.

TOM: Rear wheel drive cars in particular have a real disadvantage in wet or snowy weather. The rear wheels tend to slip, which causes the rear end of the car to slide around or "fish-tail." Traction control is a computerized system that works with the anti-lock brake system to prevent the wheels from spinning, and there?fore prevents fish-tailing. If you are buying a rear wheel drive car or even a powerful front wheel drive car that offers traction control, and you live where it snows during the winter, you should absolutely get it.

AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION

TOM: The only thing we have to say about transmissions is that you should get whichever one you prefer to drive, and disregard the question of which will save you money.

RAY: Lots of people get stick shifts under the mistaken belief that stick shifts save money. It's just not true.

TOM: First of all, modern automatic transmissions now get nearly the same gas mileage as their standard counterparts, and a few even do better.

RAY: Moreover, clutches on stick shift cars eventually wear out. And even if you only have to replace one clutch during the time you own the car (some people go through two or three), that's $400 plus down the drain.

TOM: So if you really like to shift, then get a stick shift. Otherwise, get an automatic, and don't feel guilty. It's not costing you any more money.

CLOCK

RAY: One of my pet peeves is that I can't get rid of the clock in my truck. It's built into the radio, and it flashes the time on the radio display automatically, whether the radio is on or off. I want to be able to NOT know what time it is. I want to be able to pop a casette in the tape player and forget about the fact that I have a dentist appointment in 45 minutes.

TOM: Ahh...just another of the many advantages of owning a 1963 Dodge Dart.

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