Q. Dear Tom and Ray:

I leave my '88 Buick Park Avenue in my garage in Florida for about four months a year. I was told to have an oil change just before I leave the car for the summer, and then to disconnect the battery. Just what is the proper thing to do? I saw an ad for this thing called the "Exergizer," and the ad claims this device "exercises" your battery while you're away. It apparently places a 65-amp load on the battery for 17 seconds twice a day, then recharges the battery over the next couple of hours. An audible alarm and a "fail" light come on if there are any problems. It claims that it keeps your battery in operating condition, just as if you were starting the car every day. Would this be a good idea for these long periods of inactivity?

-- Gerald

A. RAY: My brother has long periods of inactivity, and we don't do anything special for him.

TOM: I think it's a bad idea, myself. First of all, you're only going to be gone four months. For four months, you really don't need to do anything. I'd disconnect the battery, and that's it. My guess is that the car will start perfectly when you get back.

But I'd be concerned about safety. Although it may make noise and turn on a light if something goes wrong, who's going to be around to see it?

RAY: So if it fails to shut off, melts your battery and sets your car, your garage and then your house on fire, it'll be nice to know a little red light came on, but will that do you any good after the fact? I'm sure the Exergizer folks will tell you that's a rare or nonexistent occurrence, but there's so much energy in a battery that I don't see any reason to take a chance.

TOM: If you're not convinced, read the next letter.

Dear Tom and Ray:

My beautiful 1993 Caprice Classic four-door sedan with only 28,000 miles on it is now a pile of junk. While the car was parked in front of my home, the engine burst into flames. The firefighters had almost fiendish looks in their eyes as they swung their axes to get the hood open to reach the fire. I paid $18,000 for the car, but my insurance company paid me just more than $9,000. The Chevy garage blamed the fire on a short circuit. Is there any warranty to cover this, and do I have any recourse?

--Harold

RAY: Your warranty, in this case, is called "fire insurance." That's probably all the recourse you have. If you recently had some electrical work done to the car, you might be able to make a strong circumstantial case that those mechanics were responsible. Short of that (no pun intended), you're out of luck.

In terms of your settlement, you can look up the used-car value yourself. Go to our Web site, the Car Talk section of www.cars.com. Then click on "Model Reports" and fill in your year, make and model. If you think the insurer is trying to low-ball you, you have the right to refuse the offer and bargain for more.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper.

(C) 1999 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman