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My -year-old mother owns a Ford Escort station wagon with...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



My 75-year-old mother owns a 1993 Ford Escort (station wagon) with a manual shift. She has developed physical problems that keep her from driving the vehicle, and we want her to exchange the car for one with an automatic transmission. The problem is, she's in love with the car and doesn't want to start new with another. My question: Can a manual transmission be removed and replaced with an automatic? Would it be cost-effective in the long run, or should we just convince her to bite the bullet and get a different car? -- Heidi

TOM: Yes, no and yes.

RAY: It can be done, Heidi, but you will rue the day you decided to try it. Your mechanic will run in the other direction. It's a complete pain in the neck, and definitely not worth the money.

TOM: I mean, if this were some kind of classic car, some one-of-a-kind vehicle, really worth keeping -- like an '89 Renault Alliance or an '86 Hyundai Excel -- then I could see considering such radical surgery. But since it's such a common car, I'd say just trade it in and find another one with an automatic.

RAY: If you go to www.cars.com and click on "Used Cars for Sale," you'll find hundreds of used Escorts (you enter your ZIP code to find the ones closest to you), some of which have relatively low mileage. And the vast majority of them have automatic transmissions.

TOM: I'm sure you could even find another 1993, probably in the same color, if you wanted to. But maybe Mom wants to move up a little bit. C'mon. Pamper her! Get her a '96!
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