Q Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm a high school student, and I'm shopping for a car. I had convinced myself I wanted a small SUV -- maybe a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4. But then I started considering the likelihood of a rollover, and I've hit a dead end. Can you recommend a safe car for a 16-year-old with a severe fear of future accidents and a limited price range ($10,000 to $20,000)? I need a solution before my mom and I stop speaking over this ordeal.

-- Barb

ATOM: Volvo has long been known for making very safe, but very ugly, cars. But through some interplanetary magnetic shift, Volvos have become "cool" among high school and college kids. Why? We don't know. Maybe ugly is in.

RAY: My brother certainly hopes so. He's been waiting for ugly to come into fashion his entire life.

TOM: For $10,000 to $12,000, you'll have many choices. You can easily get a late-'90s Volvo 850 or S70 (they're the same car -- Volvo changed the name in 1998). For that money, you should be able to get a 1996-'98 with moderate mileage (something with 50,000 to 60,000 would be ideal). And don't spend all your money on the car. Save some for maintenance and repairs.

RAY: Or you can get an older, classic Volvo, like a 240, which is a real tank. In that case, you'll spend a lot less on the car but you'll need a bit more of the savings to cover the inevitable repairs.

TOM: And whatever you do, make sure any car you're seriously interested in is thoroughly inspected by a mechanic of your choice -- preferably one who knows and works on Volvos. There are plenty of used cars to choose from, and you want to be sure that the one you're buying doesn't have any major problems.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Having recently gone through a horrible divorce, as a reward to myself I bought a five-year-old Infiniti Q45. The car is great. But I need to hide this beautiful piece of machinery from my ex-wife when she drives by my house (if she sees it, she'll think I escaped with more than my life), and I need to protect it from the elements. I don't have a garage, and I live less than a mile from the ocean. No car's finish can survive the salt air coupled with the acid rain. So my question is, can I use a car cover? And what kind of cover would you recommend to protect my new love from the elements? I still have my other clunker, so the Q45 will only be driven about once every 10 days, and occasionally on longer trips.

-- Lonnie

TOM: Sure, you can use a car cover. And if you really want to keep your ex off the trail, stencil "Custom Yugo Cover" on it.

RAY: There are a number of reputable manufacturers, including Mosom, Tyvek and Coverguard, as well as some companies that make their own. From what we've heard, Stormshield covers are among the best and most expensive.

TOM: But whichever brand you choose, there are two important things to look for. One is that you want a cover that protects the car from your specific conditions. Some covers are designed to block the sun; others are designed to keep out dust. Neither of those will help you. You need a cover that's designed for exterior use and that keeps out rain and snow. You also want a breathable material so moisture doesn't get trapped between the car and the cover.

RAY: You're also better off with a custom cover, one specifically fitted for your Q45. That'll give you the best fit and greatest protection from the elements.

TOM: And here are two more pieces of advice. One, throw a good coat of wax on the car every three months or so. And two, drive the Q45 every day. What are you saving it for? Your next divorce settlement?

Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post or e-mail them through the Car Talk section of the Cars.com Web site.

(c)2002 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman