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I am writing to you on behalf of Bookie my...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I am writing to you on behalf of "Bookie," my low-mileage 1988 Acura Integra. Although she has spent all of her life in the happy confusion of Southern California, Bookie has less than 40,000 miles on her and, to her credit, remains in excellent health. Although I religiously pamper her with regular oil changes, fluid checks and other necessities, Bookie is rapidly approaching midlife, and there are a number of crises -- beyond new tires and windshield wipers -- that I feel should be anticipated lest they impinge unfavorably on her reliability, my pocketbook and our relationship (the reason I'm nervous has to do with Sheila, my Chevrolet Beretta, and her treachery, but that's another, sad story). Here are my questions: When should I replace Bookie's computer? When should I replace her timing belt? And dare I risk her general health by pulling a trailer with the contents of a one-bedroom apartment from Maine to California? -- William

TOM: Let's take your problems in the order in which they're presented, William.

RAY: Your first problem is that you've got way too intimate a relationship with your car. That indicates to us that you need to develop a much more active social life. So, with your permission, we'll forward your letter on to Dr. Ruth after we've answered your car questions.

TOM: I would not replace the computer until one of two things happens: Either you run out of room on your hard drive (that's a little computer joke, William), or the computer stops working. A computer for this car costs about $600, just for the part! And it might never need to be replaced. So if I were you, I'd just leave it alone and keep driving.

RAY: The timing belt normally needs to be changed at 60,000 miles. So, theoretically, you can leave that alone for another 20,000 miles. But given the age of the car (and therefore the belt), I'd go ahead and change the timing belt now. You don't want it to break while you're driving.

TOM: Finally, if you love this car as much as you say you do, I wouldn't tow a trailer full of furniture across the country. This Integra is a little, four-cylinder car, and it's not designed to tow one-bedroom apartments from Maine to California. If it's a stick shift, you'll definitely wear out the clutch crossing the Rocky Mountains. And even if it's not, you'll shorten the life of the engine due to all the extra wear and tear.

RAY: But if you decide to ignore our advice and do it anyway, then in addition to a clutch and a set of rings, be sure to bring along an extra computer. No, not the car's computer -- a laptop. Then at least you'll be able to logon to the Internet and shop for a new car from wherever you happen to break down, William. Good luck.
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