24 Hours of LeMons: Are You Ready?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2006

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'll be hosting a 24-hour endurance race for cars that cost $500 or less. It's called the 24 Hours of LeMONS. Several entrants have now asked me questions I don't know the answers to, and I'm hoping you can help.

Question One: To qualify, each car has to pass several safety tests: Stopping before mowing down a baby carriage, for example, and running for three minutes with a brick on the gas pedal. Some people say the brick test is too strenuous and that no $500 car can survive it. I disagree, having once cinder-blocked a '71 Alfa Romeo with depressingly nonexplosive results, but I'll follow your advice.

Question Two: Would it be smarter to enter a $500 1960s car, on the theory that whatever breaks will be easy to fix, or a $500 1990s car, on the theory that nothing will break in the first place?

Question Three: Should each car have to carry a fire extinguisher? The track workers will have fire bottles, and a fire truck will be on call in the pits. Are all those additional extinguishers more likely to save the day in the case of a wreck, or just guarantee that 45 sleep-deprived chuckleheads will bust out in a 2 a.m. extinguisher fight?

-- Jay

TOM: Let me just state for the record that you're a nut, Jay. But professional courtesy requires that we answer your questions anyway.

RAY: The brick test is a moronic idea. On older cars, you're likely to blow the engine. On newer cars, the rev limiter will keep you from actually blowing the engine, but that's a small consolation.

TOM: Running an old engine at peak or near-peak rpm is one of the worst things you can do to it. It's only going to shorten its already brief life expectancy. And it's not going tell you anything about how safe the car is. It's like forcing Grandma to run the Boston Marathon. What will you learn, other than that she wasn't up to it? So lose the bricks.

RAY: In terms of how old a car to use, I think arguments could be made either way. Personally, I'd opt for an early-'90s Japanese car, like a 1992 Toyota Corolla, if for no other reason than you're going to spending 24 hours in the car. The old-car smell will have had 20 fewer years to ferment.

TOM: And if you allow the use of fire extinguishers, you have to be sure they're mounted using track mounting standards. You can't just let your "chuckleheads" toss a fire extinguisher onto the passenger seat, because in an accident, it can become a lethal projectile.

RAY: And the only reason to have an extinguisher in the car is in case you're trapped in the car and on fire. If it's just the car that's on fire, you pull off the track and run like heck.

TOM: And if these guys all end up having an extinguisher fight in the middle of the night? Well, that might be a safer and better use of their time than driving these heaps around the track. Good luck, Jay. And seek counseling.

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