CLICK & CLACK : Unclean Machine

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray:

My husband is completely opposed to ever washing our car. I'm not sure why. It's a 1996 Camry, and it's been washed about three times in its life. I wouldn't care so much about the shame of riding around in the filthiest car on the planet, except that we have no garage and have to park outside, where the trees shed debris all over the car. At this point, we have about four years' worth of organic matter caught in the grooves around the doors, trunk and hood. One day, we opened the trunk, and there were actually plants sprouting in the rubber piece that seals the trunk and keeps water from getting in. So, now we're driving our own ecosystem. There's a ton of old, moldy tree debris in the space between the windshield and the hood. Can this stuff get into the engine and cause damage? I'd wash it myself, but I don't drive, so I can't take it to the carwash. -- Gretchen

TOM: Well, if you're not going to be able to persuade him to wash it, Gretchen, at least grow something useful. Plant some tomatoes. Or some Merlot grapes.

RAY: There actually are two potential problems with all of the organic matter. The first is that the area in front of the windshield (we call it the cowl) is where air is drawn in for your ventilation system. So, you could be at risk of breathing mold spores, mouse droppings or any other bacterial byproduct of the compost pile you've got fermenting there.

TOM: Second, the cowl has drain holes at the bottom of it so that when rain comes in, it can escape. If so much organic debris gets in there that it plugs up the drain holes, you could get water inside the passenger compartment. And if the car doesn't smell already, that would create a smell you'd be hard-pressed to ever get rid of.

RAY: But I don't think you're going to be able to persuade this guy, Gretchen. I think he's on a mission to see how dirty he can make the car. Or maybe he was traumatized by a childhood water-rationing program. Either way, you're going to have to take this into your own hands.

TOM: Have a girlfriend drive you to an automotive detailer. It'll cost you $100, plus a generous tip, in your case. But detailers do everything. They wash, wipe, wax, scrub, soak and polish. The good ones even get into small spaces with a toothbrush and make everything shine.

RAY: Then, when your husband gets home and asks what happened to his rolling dungheap, tell him that some neighborhood kids were trying to raise money for the high-school badminton team, and you gave 'em five bucks to wash the car. And give him advanced warning that they do a fund drive every six months.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm interested in purchasing a new, 2006 Dodge Sprinter with a 2.7-liter diesel engine. It has 75 miles on it and has been on a dealer lot, unsold, for two years. The dealer offers a full, three-year/36,000-mile warranty, and it is fully loaded with everything I need. I use an electric wheelchair and need an "accessible" vehicle. I have always used Ford Econoline vans. However, the Sprinter will cost less, give me double the mileage and is just a cool vehicle. Oh, it also can use biodiesel, according to the dealer. Should I buy a vehicle that's been sitting on a dealer's lot for two years? I love it; I just need an objective opinion. -- Katie

TOM: We'll give you two objective opinions, Katie. I say, go for it.

RAY: Me, too.

TOM: I wonder why it's been sitting there for two years. Is it Day-Glo orange or something? In any case, you should be able to get a great price on it, and the only parts that really degrade while sitting on the lot are those made of rubber.

RAY: Right. Ozone in the air breaks down rubber over time. So, things like the weatherstripping around the doors may last, say, eight years instead of 10. The only rubber parts worth worrying about now are the tires and belts.

TOM: Other than that, and some faded paint (which might be a blessing if it's Day-Glo orange), this van should be as good as new.

RAY: It has several advantages over standard Ford and Chevy vans. It has a five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (the newer ones now have six cylinders), which gets very good mileage, and with its raised roof, there's room to stand up inside it -- which is probably great for anyone helping you with your wheelchair.

TOM: So, ask for a new set of tires and a change of belts. The dealer probably will be happy to throw those in, just to get this off his lot after two years. And you'll have a great vehicle. Enjoy it, Katie.

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©2007 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

© 2008 The Washington Post Company