QDear Tom and Ray:

I have just been told by our Toyota dealer that our 1998 Avalon with 55,000 miles needs new "strut plates" and struts, for a mere $1,600. The car is incredibly noisy (thunk, thunk, thunk), and there is a very, very bad vibration on the passenger side at high speeds (50 mph). The dealer initially blamed it on "poor" tires that we bought elsewhere (new BF Goodrich tires, which we have since replaced with another set of new ones, with no change in the noise). Having bought Toyota's "flagship" car, I certainly do not think it's reasonable that we need to incur this great expense at fairly low mileage. Do you?

-- Sara

ARAY: If I were you, I'd sit in the middle of the showroom and throw a tantrum.

TOM: It sounds as if the diagnosis is correct. The Avalon has mounting plates that sit on top of the struts and attach to the body of the car. And they do go "thunk, thunk, thunk" when they wear out. On many cars, they last for the life of the vehicle. But on Toyotas, we often replace them around 80,000 miles. Even by that measure, yours appear to have gone to the great junkyard in the sky too early.

RAY: There are two possibilities. One is that your mounting plates and struts were defective or under-designed, and failed prematurely through no fault of yours.

TOM: The other possibility is that it's your fault. If you consistently drive on bad roads, you could easily wear out the struts and mounts well before their time.

RAY: The only thing you can do now is shop around for a better price. An independent repair shop might be willing to do the job for less than the dealer, so it's worth calling around. And in this case, don't worry about getting genuine Toyota parts, because they obviously weren't that great to begin with.

TOM: But if you never drive on lousy roads, ask the dealer to put you in touch with the zone representative for your region. The "zone rep" is empowered to offer you things that the dealer is not -- like free parts and labor. He might also tell you to get lost. But it's worth a try.

Dear Tom and Ray:

After 12 years of driving bondo-colored bolt buckets with beach towels for upholstery, I finally got a "real" car (one made in the current decade). It's a 2001 VW Golf, and I want to take care of it. I am also planning a cross-country road trip this summer. Which tools and safety equipment should I keep in the car?

-- Brian

RAY: Well, a case of ignition coils should be the first thing on your list. VWs and Audis have been suffering from sudden ignition-coil failure, and VW finally agreed to recall half a million cars.

TOM: The affected engines are in 2001-2003 models that use individual coil packs for each cylinder -- most notably the 1.8T four-cylinder turbocharged engine and the 2.8-liter six, but there are others, too. You can get the full list on the Car Talk section of Cars.com.

RAY: Unfortunately, there's another Golf engine that hasn't been recalled yet. It's the 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's the base engine for the VW Golf. That engine uses only one coil. But we've replaced an unusual number of coils in those cars, too. So if you have that 2.0-liter engine and you're going across the country, you might want to carry a spare just in case.

TOM: Other than that, we recommend a cell phone, an auto-club membership, a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of vise grips, a set of jumper cables and a posse of duct tape. Anything you can't fix with those tools, you're not going to be able to fix on your own anyway.

RAY: You should also familiarize yourself with your gauges and warning lights.

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