Q: Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm 16 years old and have about $3,000 to buy a used car. I am looking for something that will be safe and reliable. I have been looking at '83 to '86 Volvos and small trucks. What do you think?

-- Trevor

A: TOM: "Safe," "reliable" and $3,000, huh? That's a tough combination.

RAY: But I think you're on the right track with the Volvo. An older Volvo will certainly be safe, and can be had for 3,000 bucks.

TOM: But it won't be all that reliable. Nor will it be cheap to fix. So I'd look for a $2,000 Volvo and put a thousand bucks aside for the inevitable repairs. You'll end up with an older, more beat-up Volvo. But, truthfully, how would you even know?

RAY: Another option is to see if your folks--in the interests of getting you into a safe car--are willing to let you spend all $3,000 on the car, and then help you out with a repair fund.

TOM: Now, if you happen to live where it snows, you should immediately forget everything we just said. Old Volvos happen to be among the world's worst cars in snow. So if you live in the Snow Belt, you're going to have to look for a front-wheel-drive car. And in that case we'd suggest something like a late-'80s or early-'90s Ford Taurus.

RAY: It's not quite as hefty and safe as a Volvo, but it's a substantial car. And starting around 1990, all Tauruses came with driver-side air bags (they were among the first models to have one standard), which will provide you with some additional crash protection. They're also fairly reliable--as 10-year-old cars go--and relatively cheap, especially if you find one of those blue or silver ones with the paint that's peeled off!

TOM: Now, we should issue you one final warning, Trevor: You won't get any dates with either of these cars. But what do we look like, miracle workers? You want "safe," "reliable," $3,000 and "babe magnet"? C'mon!

Dear Tom and Ray:

I purchased a 1984 four-cylinder Toyota Camry, and I love the car. However, one thing is driving me crazy: The accelerator is so lightly sprung that you cannot let your foot rest against the gas pedal without the car accelerating. When driving, I was spending more time keeping my foot off the pedal than on. This made my whole right leg ache. So I hooked up a stronger return spring under the hood on the carburetor linkage, and now the pedal feels great! My concern is this: Will this extra tension mess up the automatic choke and the cruise control?


TOM: I can say without a shadow of a doubt that your new spring will not harm the automatic choke one bit, Charlie. How can I be so sure? Because you don't have an automatic choke. You don't have carburetor linkage, either. This car is fuel-injected. And that's exactly why your new spring won't hurt anything.

RAY: The warm-up mode and the cruise control both work on a feedback system controlled by the car's computer. So if you set the cruise control to 55 and the car is only going 45, the computer will adjust the throttle position until the vehicle speed-sensor says the car is going 55, no matter how stiff the throttle spring is (within reason).

TOM: And the same is true during warm-up mode. If the computer wants the engine to be running at 1,800 rpm for the first 90 seconds, it bypasses the throttle entirely and increases the rpm by opening the idle air control.

RAY: There is only one thing to be concerned about, Charlie. You want to make sure that your new spring doesn't interfere with the free operation of the throttle in any way. If the throttle linkage were to get caught up in the spring, it could be very exciting--especially if it happens at high speed. So have a mechanic check that out very carefully, okay?

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