QDear Tom and Ray:

My 1995 Honda Prelude has warning labels that say the car's two air bags need to be inspected after 10 years. Well, it's almost 10 years later. Is this really needed? Or was this a warning that was put in before air bags were really understood? -- Seth

ATOM: Without actually setting it off and seeing if it works, there's no way to know for certain that the air-bag material and the explosive charge are still in perfect condition. But based on industry experience, we know they're likely to be fine for the life of the car.

RAY: Volvo, which is known for its leadership in safety, originally told its customers to have their air bags replaced after 10 years. But based on its real-world experience, it later changed that recommendation to 15 years, and now -- with even more experience -- to 20 years. The electronic components of the system, however, can be checked. The air-bag system has a self-diagnostic mode that checks all of its circuits every time you start the car.

TOM: So if you go out to your car and turn the key to the "run" position (just before it cranks), you should see an "SRS" (supplemental restraint system) light appear on your dashboard. It should stay on for about six seconds, and then go off. That tells you the wires are connected and the sensors are working, and the air bag is ready to go. It also tells you that your SRS light works -- which is important.

RAY: If the light doesn't come on, fails to go off or flashes while you drive, then you need to see your mechanic.

TOM: The other part of the inspection is just a visual check of the vinyl covering of the air bags. If you see any cracks or damage, that might hinder the operation of the air bag, too.

RAY: Or if you see a deep imprint of a face in the vinyl, that would suggest that the bag hasn't been working as well as it should. But I suspect you'll find that it's all fine, Seth.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a '93 Honda Accord with 170,000 miles. There's a general consensus among various mechanics that the car's motor mounts are broken, or at least in a state of disrepair. Where I can't seem to find consensus is in how bad this is. Some mechanics have told me that it can cause irreparable harm to the motor if I keep driving like this. Other mechanics -- sometimes at the same garage -- say that, while a nuisance, bad motor mounts are not a critical problem as long as I don't mind the car vibrating while at idle. What do you say? -- Brian

TOM: The vast majority of motor mounts are designed so that even if their rubber isolating component fails, the mounts will continue to keep the engine from falling out on the road.

RAY: So, are you in danger of looking in the rearview mirror and seeing your engine falling to the side of the road? No.

TOM: But there is some real danger in driving around with a bad motor mount. First, you put additional stress on the other motor mounts. If one is not doing its job, you risk ruining the other three fairly quickly.

RAY: And when the engine is allowed to move around and twist inside the engine compartment, you take the risk of shifting the geometry enough to bind up other components, like an accelerator cable, for example. That could lead to real trouble.

TOM: So we're going to suggest that you go against all of your deepest instincts, Brian, and spend money to replace the bad motor mounts.

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(c)2005 by

Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman