QDear Tom and Ray:

I am interested in purchasing a new car; I currently drive an Isuzu Rodeo. I am interested in hybrid technology and, in particular, the Ford Escape Hybrid or Toyota Highlander Hybrid that are coming out in the next year. Based on my understanding of the technology, the braking is what charges the battery. Are hybrids good for longer drives and multiple hours on the freeway, or would I be disappointed in the performance? Thanks. -- Ramona

ATOM: While regenerative braking (taking the change in velocity that's created when the car slows down and turning it into electricity) is one way a hybrid charges its battery, it's not the only way. In fact, it's not even the primary way.

RAY: The gasoline engine is the main source of electricity for the battery pack. So, anytime you're driving -- highway or city -- the battery can be charged up if it needs charging, and it should never run low. Now, you might have heard someone say that "hybrids do better around town than on the highway." That's true if you're talking about gas mileage. Because a hybrid makes more extensive use of the electric motor in stop-and-go driving, that's where you get the best gas mileage.

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 17-year-old daughter was in a car accident when her '93 Ford Contour was T-boned by a 2002 GMC Yukon. She was wearing her seat belt, but her seat back broke. She's still recovering, and it looks like she's going to be okay. My question is, should the seat back break during an accident? Thank you. -- Susan

RAY: Geez, Susan, we're glad to hear that your daughter is going to recover. Not many people recover after getting T-boned by an SUV.

TOM: There ARE regulations that govern the strength of seat backs. Seat backs are designed to withstand a good amount of force when the car is hit from behind. They're designed to brace the occupant's back in an accident so that the other restraints -- seat belts, air bags -- can do their jobs.

RAY: The problem is that your daughter's car wasn't hit from behind. And without a complete accident reconstruction, it's just impossible to know what kind of forces hit that seat.

TOM: We know from past experience that it's not unheard of for a car company to cheap out on something. But if it were me, in this case, I think I'd just be thankful that my daughter survived getting T-boned by a three-ton behemoth, and be grateful for the protection the car DID provide. The manufacturer obviously did something right. Good luck to both of you, Susan.

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(c)2004 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman