QDear Tom and Ray:

I am writing to you on behalf of "Bookie," my 1988 Acura Integra. Bookie has less than 40,000 miles on her and remains in excellent health. Although I religiously pamper her with oil changes, fluid checks and other necessities, Bookie is rapidly approaching midlife, and there are a number of crises -- beyond new tires and windshield wipers -- that I feel should be anticipated lest they impinge unfavorably on her reliability, my pocketbook and our relationship. Here are my questions: When should I replace Bookie's computer? When should I replace her timing belt? And dare I risk her general health by pulling a trailer with the contents of a one-bedroom apartment from Maine to California? -- William

ATOM: Let's take your problems in the order in which they're presented, William.

RAY: Your first problem is that you've got way too intimate a relationship with your car. That indicates to us that you need to develop a much more active social life. So, with your permission, we'll forward your letter to Dr. Ruth after we've answered your car questions.

TOM: I would not replace the computer until the computer stops working. A computer for this car costs about $600, just for the part! And it may never need to be replaced. So if I were you, I'd just leave it alone and keep driving.

RAY: The timing belt normally needs to be changed at 60,000 miles. So, theoretically, you can leave that alone for another 20,000 miles. But given the age of the car (and therefore the belt), I'd go ahead and change the timing belt now. You don't want it to break while you're driving.

TOM: Finally, if you love this car as much as you say you do, I wouldn't tow a trailer full of furniture across the country. This Integra is a little four-cylinder car, and it's not designed to tow one-bedroom apartments from Maine to California. If it's a stick shift, you'll definitely wear out the clutch crossing the Rocky Mountains. And even if it's not, you'll shorten the life of the engine due to all the extra wear and tear.

RAY: But if you decide to ignore our advice and do it anyway, then in addition to a clutch and a set of rings, be sure to take along an extra computer. No, not the car's computer -- a laptop. Then at least you'll be able to log on to the Internet and shop for a new car from wherever you happen to break down, William. Good luck.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I was told that a good way to extend the life of a car is to periodically replace the radiator. Is this an urban myth, or a useful suggestion? Pattsi

RAY: Trust us, Pattsi. If there were any validity to this theory, we'd already be advertising an "oil, filter and radiator change" special at the garage.

TOM: The radiator is not something that should be replaced as a matter of routine maintenance. It is, however, something that may require attention from time to time.

RAY: A number of cars are now coming with "lifetime" organic coolants that never need to be drained and replaced. But there are lots of cars on the road that still use traditional coolant, and that should be drained and replaced every couple of years to remove any crud and update the rust inhibitors.

TOM: And no matter what kind of coolant your car uses, if you live in a part of the country where they salt the roads in the winter, you should also have your mechanic check the integrity of the outside of your radiator, starting in the fourth or fifth year of the car's life. You want to make sure that the metal fins are not rotted, because that can cause inadequate cooling. And that will definitely cause you to cook your engine over time.

RAY: So check your owner's manual, Pattsi. If it suggests that you drain and replace the coolant, do that. Then, if you live in the rusty portion of the planet, have your mechanic inspect the outside of the radiator and replace it when he sees signs of corrosion. But there's no need to replace it proactively before then.

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 www.cartalk.com.

(c)2004 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman