Dear Tom and Ray:

Am I doing any harm to my cruise-control system by using it for distances of less than a mile in city driving?

-- Adell

TOM: This isn't really a mechanical issue, Adell. It's a safety issue.

RAY: I agree. You won't do any harm to the car or the cruise control by using it in city driving. The cruise control couldn't care less.

TOM: The question is whether you can drive safely while you do so. The cruise control was really designed for highways and sparsely trafficked open roads, where you presumably would be going the same speed for a long time without the fear of bumping into anybody else.

RAY: In the city, it's much more likely that you're going to have to change speeds suddenly because of traffic, pedestrians, red lights or errant hot-dog vendors. And while it's true that you can turn off the cruise control by simply stepping on the brake, that leaves an extra second or two during which the car is not decelerating (which it would be doing under normal conditions if you simply took your foot off the gas). And that extra second could make a difference in a congested area.

TOM: So I'd strongly urge you not to use the cruise control in the city, Adell. Besides, think of all that extra toe exercise you could be getting.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm looking for a car for the next decade, and I'm collecting opinions. In my effort to avoid a minivan, despite a lifestyle that would seem to dictate one, I'm looking at things like the Subaru Outback and the Volkswagen Passat wagon. But my 8-year-old daughter gets motion sickness, sometimes even on short trips if we are on winding country roads. I really don't relish the thought of spending long test drives on winding roads with her and a paper bag in the back. Are there any design features in a car that make motion sickness less likely?

-- Bobbie

RAY: Yes. The most important being a stiff suspension.

TOM: A number of factors contribute to carsickness. One is the type of road. Winding roads--or worse, winding, hilly roads--seem to be the worst.

RAY: Then there's placement of the individual. Drivers rarely make themselves carsick (although my brother is such a bad driver he's been known to do it). Front-seat passengers generally do better than rear-seat passengers.

TOM: People who look out the side or rear window seem to have a higher LCR (lost-cookie ratio) than people who stare straight ahead through the windshield.

RAY: And finally, the "floatier," softer or more boatlike the ride, the easier it is to lose your lunch.

TOM: So, she's 8? Well, I guess you can't let her drive yet. But you can sit her in the front passenger seat. Although it's safest to have kids in the back seat, if she's properly belted in and far enough back from the air bag, she should be fine.

RAY: You also want to train her to look straight ahead, since staring out the side window can contribute to wooziness.

TOM: And finally, you can buy a car that doesn't float around a lot. Taller cars, such as minivans, tend to lean quite a bit, as do large American luxury cars. So of the cars you mention, I'd say the Passat--which has a sporty suspension--is going to produce the lowest LCR of the bunch. You might also look at a Volvo wagon, which has a similar-feeling suspension and is a little bigger.

RAY: And whatever you end up getting, be sure to get the Scotchgard!

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