QDear Tom and Ray:

I bought a 2003 Ford Explorer with an automatic transmission. I took my boss to lunch one day (first mistake!), and when we got back to the office, I pulled into my parking spot, turned off the ignition and put the vehicle in Park. My boss was aghast: "You'll ruin the transmission," he cried out. "Put it in Park first, and then turn off the ignition." Does it really matter whether I put it in Park before or after turning off the ignition? -- Garland

A RAY: It doesn't matter to the transmission. There's nothing that happens when you move the shifter from Drive to Park when the engine is not running that would damage the transmission.

TOM: When you go from Drive to Park, you're doing two things. First, you're disengaging the gears. If this were a manual transmission, this would be the equivalent of stepping on the clutch and putting the shifter in Neutral. You can do that whether the engine is on or off.

RAY: The other thing you're doing is engaging something called the parking pawl. It's a lever that locks up the output shaft of the transmission and prevents it from turning. That's what keeps the car from rolling down the hill when you put the transmission in Park. And that can be done with the engine on or off as well.

TOM: But that's not the real issue here, Garland. Bosses are concerned about efficiency, are they not? And it's more efficient to shut off the car his way (and, by the way, the way 285 million other Americans do it).

RAY: The key cannot be removed until the transmission is in Park. So when you turn off the ignition, then put it in Park, then remove the key, that's three steps.

TOM: Whereas if you put it in Park, you can then turn off the ignition and remove the key at the same time, reducing the action to two steps. That increases your car-turning-off productivity by 33 percent, which is why your boss strongly favors it.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I've been looking around for a new car, and I noticed that touch screens are becoming more common as part of the dashboard controls (e.g., Toyota Prius, Acura MDX, Lexus 330, etc). I think they are unsafe and, moreover, just tacky. What is your opinion of this trend? By the way, I'm no Luddite -- I'm a retired computer-graphics software developer, and I love gadgets. -- Dan

TOM: You used to be able to adjust the heat in your car by reaching over and twisting a dial, sliding a lever or pushing a button. You could do it by feel. Radio volume? Same thing. Change the station? You know where the tuning knob is -- reach over and give it a twist.

RAY: But with these idiotic systems, you have to drill down through several layers of hierarchical menus, each time looking at a screen to make your selection, and all the while hoping that nothing happens on the road in front of you while you're trying to figure out how to make the computer switch the radio from AM to FM.

TOM: Automakers must figure that we're easily impressed by lights and beeps and screens. And I guess some of us are. But using visual controls to operate basic, frequently used automotive functions is a dangerous step backward in auto safety.

RAY: So if you don't like these things, the clearest, loudest message you can send is to not buy a car that requires you to use a video screen for basic, everyday functions. Make it a deal-breaker.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com.

(c)2005 by

Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman