Q Dear Tom and Ray:
My 20-year-old daughter, who drives my old, safe 1994 Volvo 960, has informed me that she just purchased a 1970 Volkswagen Bus to take camping. It has a picture of the "Purple Rain" album cover airbrushed on the back. She has a good job, and she paid for it with her own money. She attends the Colorado School of Mines, majoring in environmental chemistry, and she usually makes good decisions. However, I'm concerned about this one. My first concern is safety. My second is that the painting on the back could be a police magnet. Because I am a child of the '60s and '70s myself, my arguments against this "lifestyle vehicle" don't carry much weight with her. Can you give me some good arguments as to why this purchase may be dangerous and/or stupid? -- Judy
ATOM: Sure! This is the easiest question we've been asked all week, Judy.
RAY: As much fun as this VW Bus may seem, it's really quite a deadly vehicle.
TOM: The problem is that in an accident, your knees are your first line of defense. You sit right up at the front of this vehicle, with your legs right behind that big VW emblem between the headlights. So, if you hit anything head-on, or get hit by another vehicle, you'll be spending the rest of your life in a motorized wheelchair. If you're lucky.
RAY: The other problem is that they handle terribly, which increases the likelihood of an accident. A medium-size gust of wind is enough to blow this vehicle into the next lane.
TOM: On the plus side, they're a hell of a lot of fun, aren't they? And cool-looking, too!
RAY: If I were you, Judy, I would just ask your daughter to restrict the VW Bus to local trips. Ask her to stay off the highways and stick to roads where the speeds are, say, below 40 mph. It doesn't guarantee that she'll be safe, but it'll certainly improve her chances.
TOM: Since she's obviously a smart kid, she may discover on her own that she feels quite unsafe driving this rig. She may get tired of the buckboard ride, the swaying around in the wind and the dearth of heat in the winter.
RAY: And the old-car smell.
TOM: But she's obviously rebelling a bit. I mean, you can't find two more disparate vehicles than a Volvo 960 and a VW Bus. So I'm guessing she's feeling the need to break out of the "mom-mobile" and make her own statement. And you're going to have to accept that.
RAY: If you're really desperately worried about her, Judy, offer to help her sell both of her current vehicles and buy a brand-new Honda Element. That's today's modern, safer version of the VW Bus: a cheap, versatile, funky recreational vehicle. And I'm sure that if you talk to your Honda dealer, you can get the "Purple Rain" cover airbrushed on the back. Good luck, Judy.
Dear Tom and Ray:
After spending the day working under the hood of my 1989 Honda Accord, I found myself cursing the Japanese engineers who vomited this forsaken labyrinth into my engine compartment. Then I wondered: Which makes and models out there, made within the past 10 years, are the easiest for the average shade-tree mechanic to work on? -- Bill
RAY: I feel your pain, Bill. Your car is, in fact, one of the biggest pains in the ball joints for an amateur to work on. You couldn't access anything inside that engine compartment without taking off at least 10 vacuum hoses.
TOM: I remember the vacuum-hose diagram for that car. I think it weighed about 14 pounds. I think that was true for all the Accords from about 1984 through about 1990. And the '84 and '85 carbureted models were the worst.
RAY: That was the era in which vacuum hoses and solenoids were the preferred methods of emissions control, especially by the Japanese automakers, who insisted on maintaining high mileage while controlling emissions. Nobody really knew how to do that yet, so they were patching together anything they could find that would work. And to Honda's credit, the stuff did work. Its cars had low emissions and great gas mileage, and they were very reliable. But all that stuff did make it difficult for shade-tree mechanics, who always ended up with 16 vacuum hoses and no idea where to reattach them.
TOM: The truth is, almost any car made in the past 10 years will be better. By the mid-'90s, carmakers were switching over to much more sophisticated computerized engine-management systems to control emissions. And by the late '90s, most of them had made the transition. So, today's cars have just a handful of vacuum hoses.
RAY: In my opinion, the easiest cars to work on are late-model four-cylinder Japanese cars. Anything from 2000 on will be a piece of cake compared with what you're used to, Bill.
TOM: So, you got hosed, Bill -- vacuum hosed. But don't feel bad. So did all the rest of us who worked on cars from that era.
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(c) 2004 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi
and Doug Berman