Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Why can't there be a fine for breaking down on the Beltway? I spend the money to keep my car in good working order, then tear it up in the stop-and-go traffic on Interstate 270 and Interstate 495 because somebody has broken down in the middle lanes.

At least if you have a car that is not in good shape, keep to the right so you can pull off if it dies on you.

The broken-down cars always appear to be in the middle lanes, where they cause the most congestion. And when a car does break down and causes backed-up traffic and disrupts others' lives, someone should be fined.

Maybe that would get people to keep their vehicles in better running order.

Belinda Talkington

Germantown

Dr. Gridlock has compassion for both parties. People who break down in the middle lanes of the Beltway or I-270 don't plan on being there.

Maryland and Virginia advise, through roadside signs, to pull off the road if your vehicle is disabled or involved in a minor accident. But that's not always possible in heavy traffic.

I can't see fining the victims for failing to anticipate a breakdown; they are suffering enough. Motorists are pretty good about dialing #77 from their cell phones to report disabled motorists.

What do you folks think?

It Pays to Be Honest

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read with interest the comments from Dennis Jay, executive director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud (Dr. Gridlock, Jan. 19), who talked about the risks of registering your vehicle in Virginia to avoid the higher insurance rates in Maryland.

The same thing could be said for buying a car in Virginia, when you live in Maryland, and using a relative's Virginia address to avoid paying the higher Maryland sales tax. Here's my story:

In November 2001, my 1980 Ford Taurus was at the end of its useful life, and I needed to get another vehicle quickly. A trusted friend, who works at a Maryland Mazda dealership, showed me a Mazda Tribute SUV, which I really liked. The only problem was I wanted blue, and nobody local had that color available.

So, when I visited my sister in Williamsburg, I started calling Mazda dealerships in the area. I found one in Hampton that had the Tribute in blue.

I went down there, and during the negotiations, the salesman convinced me that I could save a lot of money if I used my sister's Virginia address and registered the vehicle in Virginia.

I knew quite a few people who were doing just that. The old adage "Just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right" couldn't have been more true.

Six months later, I got a letter from my insurance company telling me that the state of Maryland had been going through its records and realized there were a lot of cars with Virginia plates and Maryland insurance.

Busted! It cost me $600 to transfer my tags. But that's not the end of it.

Remember, Virginia has one levy that Maryland does not -- the personal property tax. That cost me another $200.

So, the total cost of this misadventure was $800. There's another old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Buyer beware.

Nola Miller

Silver Spring

Thanks very much for sharing this sad story. Perhaps others can learn, too: You need to have your car registered and insured in the state where you live (an exception for active-duty military). Are there similar lessons to be learned?

Fit to Be Towed

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have a 1990 Toyota 4Runner. During a snowstorm about 10 years ago, I got some good advice I'd like to pass on to all the other people who now own 4x4s: Buy a tow strap from your auto parts store. It is inexpensive (about $15), and you can use it to help motorists stuck in the snow.

On my way to work, I stopped to help a young man who was trying to dig out his Acura sedan, which had run into a snowbank. I used the tow strap to pull his car free. It only took 10 minutes, and I didn't even get dirty.

Over the past 10 years, I have also used this tow strap to move dead trees that have fallen across the road. It is a valuable part of my emergency kit.

Mary Ryan

Lutherville, Baltimore County

What a good Samaritan you are, Ms. Ryan. Adverse weather seems to bring out the best in us.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mail to drgridlock@washpost.com or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.