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Dear Tom and Ray:



Everyone in our family loves your column and radio show, and we trust your advice -- making our judgment suspect! We are having a crisis of conscience. My husband is an editorial cartoonist, and I'm quite certain he holds the world record for anti-SUV cartoons. Unfortunately, our moral superiority is about to be flushed down the drain. We are building a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin, a lifelong dream. We have been using our trusty Taurus wagon, with more than 90,000 miles on it, to ferry building materials up to the work site every weekend. We've had to walk in several times during the winter (about 1/2 mile or so) carrying our gear when the snow was deep, and we thought that was the worst of it. That was, until the spring, when we got stuck so deep in the mud (in a downpour, of course) that we had to be towed, and the tow-truck driver almost refused to come in himself. I'm afraid we need a different vehicle. All we want is something that's safe, reliable, has four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (I don't know the difference), is relatively fuel-efficient and inexpensive, and has good ground clearance. Is that so much to ask? -- Mary

RAY: Well, some people actually need SUVs, Mary. In that case, there's nothing wrong with owning one. But I'm not sure you've crossed the line yet, since we're really only talking about a single half-mile of road that's the problem.

TOM: There are a couple of directions you can take, Mary. One is, obviously, to find a single vehicle that suits all of your needs.

RAY: But if you really need to navigate deep, unplowed snow and wet mud, you'll need a real SUV. And depending on how much comfort you want in a day-to-day vehicle, that could run into serious money. Not to mention the additional dough you'll fork over at the gas pump.

TOM: So instead of spending that money on an SUV, why not pay somebody to grade you a road? If you build a road that final half-mile to your cabin, you can have someone come and plow it when it snows. Mud won't be an issue at all.

RAY: Another option is to buy an old, beat-up four-wheel-drive pickup truck, like a Chevy 1500 or Ford F-150, and leave it up there. Make an arrangement with a friend or a local gas station to let you store it nearby. When you go up to your cabin, stop and swap vehicles, jump-starting the truck, if necessary, and take the old four-wheel-drive the final few miles.

TOM: That way, you can drive your trusty Taurus wagon the vast majority of your life, and your husband's detractors will never know that you've crossed over to the dark side. Think about it, Mary.

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