CLICK & CLACK : Bugged by a 'Midlife Crisis'

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I just turned 40, ughhh, so I guess I have hit my "midlife crisis." Unlike my friends, I don't want a Porsche or a Ferrari. I want a late-'50s to early-'60s VW Bug. That's right, a VW Bug. I live in Kentucky, and you are more likely to find a vintage Camaro or Mustang than an old VW that still has a floor. I have, however, found several for sale at very reasonable prices in Southern California. Would I be crazy to fly to Los Angeles, buy a VW and then drive it across the country back to Kentucky? I have never been on an airplane and have never been more than 300 miles from home. I think this could be one of the great adventures of my life -- or not. What do you think? -- Don

TOM: I think it's a great idea, Don. Midlife crises occur when we get that first ugly inkling of mortality -- which often happens in our 40s. And we say to ourselves, "Self, I don't want to leave this earth without ever having --------." Fill in the blank.

RAY: And some midlife crises are more realistic than others. But I think yours is doable, Don.

TOM: Yours involves owning a car that you find romantic and doing some traveling, which you've never done. That's all good fun that doesn't do anyone else harm. So here's what we suggest.

RAY: First, leave yourself plenty of time. You'll need time in Los Angeles to see several cars and have a mechanic of your choosing check them out. Try our Mechanics Files, at, where you can find mechanics who've been recommended by other readers and radio listeners. Call them in advance, and tell them what you're doing and when you're coming out. And make arrangements for them to look at a couple of cars for you.

TOM: If they specialize in old VWs, they may even know of a good one for sale. Once you find the Bug for you, and it's approved by your mechanic (or approved once X, Y and Z are fixed), then you're ready for your cross-country trip.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help! I have an '04 Chevy Trailblazer, and I live in the far north of Canada. It's minus-24 degrees as I write this. Can you tell me what the benefit is to my engine of using a block heater? -- Emily

TOM: Well, the primary benefit is that your car will start, Emily.

RAY: A block heater is an electric heating element that's installed in your engine block. You plug it in overnight with an extension cord, and it keeps the engine block, and the coolant inside of it, warm. And that, in turn, keeps the oil from thickening.

TOM: When an engine gets bitterly cold, the oil gets thick, like molasses. If the moving parts of your engine have to push through this thick oil just to get started in the morning, they may not be able to do it. So the block heater keeps the coolant warm, and that, in turn, keeps the oil just warm enough so that it moves easily.

RAY: That has benefits for your engine as well. Most significantly, since the oil moves more easily, it circulates faster and gets to moving parts of the engine faster. So there's less time just after the engine starts when key metal parts are unprotected -- or underprotected -- by oil. That means your engine lasts longer.

TOM: The prewarmed coolant and oil also allow your engine to warm up faster and reach operating temperature sooner. That means you get less oil dilution from cold, unvaporized gasoline, and better fuel efficiency.

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Copyright 2007 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

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