It's almost back-to-school time and perhaps time to buy a typewriter.

Your first big decision is whether to get an electric or a manual. I assigned my intern, Pat Meisol, a journalism student at Catholic University, to look into the subject. She needs a typewriter, so she has a double interest.

Pat says the average student is probably better served by getting a manual typewriter because they cost less and are much easier to maintain. They have fewer working parts to go wrong and are not inclined to be in the repair shop when you need them most.

But manuals have some distinct disadvantages. If you have a lot of typing to do and it must be super neat with uniform type impressions, then an electric typewriter is your best buy.

With a manual, the degree of inked impressions depends on the force with which each finger hits the key. Some come out with a heavier imprint than others. Electric typewriters have automatic, even impressions for every key.

Also, if you have to type most of the day for days on end, there's less fatigue with an electric, especially those with electric carriage return. You get a bit more speed and it takes less work.

Your next decision is whether you should buy a new or used machine. Again, Pat says, the least expensive machine is the used, sturdy portable manual model. Because they tend to last a long time without repair problems, used manuals make excellent buys. Your best bet is a used manual, vintage 10 to 20 years back. The less plastic used in construction the better off you are.

When you buy a used machine - manual or electric - check the warranty or service guarantee. You should get a 30-day service contract which includes free parts and labor.

New typewriters have full-service warranties for 90 days to one year with five-year and 10-year defective part warranties. Make sure the dealer has adequate service facilities and repair experts. If your machine has to be sent back to the manufacturer, it can take weeks. Normally, repairs only take a few days.

If you're interested in portability, and most students are, manuals are usually lighter and easier to carry around. Electrics can be heavy and some of them don't even come with carrying cases.

With electric typewriters, you have to be sure you're not buying more gadgets than you need. Each item costs extra. If you're going to do a lot of typing, consider getting the electric carriage return. It can cost $50 to $75 but it makes for less fatigue.

Slide-in ribbon cartridges are convenient and give you a variety of colors (including an erasing cartridge), but you pay more. Replacement cartridges cost from $2.50 to $3, and they're one-shot deals - you have to replace them more often.

When shopping for a typewriter, pick a conveniently located dealer that has a good repair shop. Try out various makes and models and ask a lot of questions (prices, availability of service and warranties).

Then, go home and call several other dealers to see if you're getting competitive prices. Dealers that specialize in typewriters and office machines tend to give better service than department stores - but not always.

Try the typewriter out in the shop before you take it home. Then, at home, give it a week or so of hard use. This is the period when things can go wrong and you want to be sure you're covered under the warrantly period.

BOOKS AND BOOKLETS: Buying a mobile home is just half the battle. Finding a place to put it is the other half. "How To Choose the Best Mobile Home Site" is a handy, 20-page guide that gives you a checklist on what to look for in a mobile home park (or lot). You get a packet of questionnaires you can use to evaluate each site and a guide on how to compare rents. Copies cost $1.95 at: Hughes Publishing Co., 2031 East Glenn St., Tucson, Ariz. 85719.

Q. How safe are the county fair and amusement park motorized rides? Are they inspected for safety?

A. A lot depends on what kind of licensing and safety inspection is required by your state and county. For example, California passed a law in 1969 that required permits for amusement rides and regular inspections. Since passage of the law, safety statistics have tightened safety standards (such as better guard rails) and there have been less accidents. Check your own county or state information offices to see what's required.

In general, safety engineers give these words of advice to people who go to carnivals, fairs or amusement parks:

Don't pull small children on large, fast rides. Tots should be confined to kiddie rides where they won't be wrenched about.

Make sure all safety bars, straps and doors are used correctly.

No horseplay (standing up can be fatal on some rides). Wait for the ride to stop and keep your hands and arms out of the way when the operator closes the door or gate.

(Peter Weaver welcomes questions from readers for possible use in this column. Please write to him in care of this newspaper.)