CLICK & CLACK : It's Time to Re-Tire

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1995 Buick Regal that I purchased new before I retired. I drive the car approximately once a month. The car has 55,000 miles and is always kept in the garage. The tires are the original Goodyears. Should the tires be replaced because of the age?

-- Arthur

RAY: Unfortunately, yes. There are some things that wear out only when you use them.

TOM: But there are other things that degrade over time, whether you use them or not. Rubber is one of those things. It's degraded by ozone in the air. And over time, it dries out and cracks, and loses its pliability.

RAY: You got more than your money's worth out of your current set, Arthur. So bite the bullet and spring for some new rubber. And if you're still driving this car in six years, you can celebrate your good fortune with another new set of tires.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1992 Chevy Lumina with 432,686 miles on it. I'm losing coolant. The "low coolant" light goes on, on cold mornings and stays on for about one to two minutes before it goes off. The cooling/heating system has been checked by three different mechanics, who all have pressurized the system and have not found any external leaks. I've been told that the antifreeze is going out my exhaust. The car continues to give me incredibly good service, and I'm reluctant to part with it. Is there something I can repair, or should I just be giving my car a regular drink of antifreeze? -- Faye

RAY: If you're burning coolant, you have a blown head gasket, a cracked head or a cracked block. None of those is trivial.

TOM: And with your car's mileage approaching that "round trip to the moon" milestone, I'd be reluctant to spend a lot of money on major engine surgery. You certainly can do it, but with that kind of mileage, something else major -- a transmission, a rack and pinion, an air-conditioning compressor or the frame -- is likely to fail relatively soon. And you don't want to put $1,500 into a new head only to have to junk the car a month later.

RAY: So you can take one of two approaches. Approach No. 1 is the scientific method. You take the car to a mechanic you trust and ask him to examine it from stem to stern.

TOM: If he tells you that the rest of the big, expensive components appear to be in decent shape, then you consider either rebuilding your engine or replacing it with a used engine from a junkyard.

RAY: There's some risk in that. But it's less risky if you have the car thoroughly inspected before making a decision.

TOM: Approach No. 2 is the "fate" approach. In that approach, you acknowledge that this car's days are numbered. And that someday, the engine is going to overheat and fail suddenly and catastrophically.

RAY: If you choose the "fate" approach, we'd recommend several things. (1) You keep a close eye on the coolant and refill it regularly -- just like you're doing now. (2) You make sure you have an up-to-date auto-club membership so you can have the car towed to the junkyard when it dies. And (3) you relegate the car to short trips, and rent a car when you need to drive a long distance so you don't get stranded far from home.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at http://www.cartalk.com.

Copyright 2007 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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