What to consider when buying a car.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1991

RAY: You know, a lot of people have a tough time deciding what kind of car to buy.

TOM: Yeah. Last year I agonized over whether to buy my '63 Dodge Dart or a '61 Rambler that had my name written all over it.

RAY: I'm talking about new cars, you knucklehead. And, you know, an even bigger problem than deciding which car to buy is knowing what options to get.

TOM: Right. So let's spend some time talking about the major op?tions available on today's cars.


TOM: An air bag is an absolute must. If you're going to spend all that money on a new car, you want to get the most up-to-date improvements available. And an air bag is the most significant safety improvement of the last decade.

RAY: You wouldn't buy a toilet without a seat, would you? And you shouldn't buy a new car without an air bag.


RAY: Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are a little more controversial in my book. They definitely improve safety, but not in the way most people think. ABS won't necessarily help you stop faster. But it will allow you to keep control of the car while making an emergency stop.

TOM: My only concern about ABS is its reliability. We know that timing belts last about 60,000 miles. We know engines can last from 100,000 to 150,000 miles. We know that Yugos last about 30,000 miles. How long will the average ABS last? And when it fails, is it so complicated that it will it need to be replaced rather than repaired? (probably) How much will this cost? (a lot) So we recommend ABS for safety, but we're not sure we've heard the whole story yet.

RAY: And by the way, if you do get ABS, make sure you under?stand how it works, because you basically have to forget all the old stuff you've learned about pumping the brakes in an emergency.


RAY: Sometimes, the base engine offered in a car is really under?powered. A good example is the four cylinder engine offered in the base Dodge Caravan. It's a good thing the Caravan carries seven people, because with the little engine, you need six of them to get out and push when you come to a steep hill. So in this case, you should definitely get the optional 3.3 liter six cylinder engine, which is great, and has plenty of power.

TOM: You also have some cars that come with perfectly adequate base engines, like the standard six cylinder engine in the Ford Thunderbird. They offer a V-8, but you really don't need it, and there's no reason to pay for it.

RAY: The only way to really know is to the drive the car extensively. The mistake a lot of people make is that they go on the test drive by them?selves, or with an 80 pound pencil-necked salesman. Then, after they buy the car and get the kids, a dog, and a girthy mother-in-law in there with the air conditioning on high, they find the car's power woefully inadequate.

TOM: If you can't take the family with you on the test drive, just stop at skid row and pick up a three or four drunks. You'll get a more accurate test, they'll probably enjoy the ride, and you might even get to test out another option--the stain-resistant carpeting.

RAY: Next week, we'll talk about rust proofing, extended warranties, power seats, power door locks, power windows, and power trips.

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