Dear Tom and Ray:

I purchased a new 1997 Mercury Cougar. After I drove it for two weeks, the hubcaps were covered with black brake dust. I went back to the dealer, and the service manager said: "That's normal. All Fords have brake dust. Look in the owner's manual and it'll show you what to do." I looked in the manual, and there's no mention of brake dust! So I wrote to the chief executive officer of Ford Motor Co. at the time, Alex Trotman, and related my story. I told him the removal of brake dust with a toothbrush every two weeks was not acceptable maintenance to me. He never replied. I checked with another Ford dealer, who recommended non-stick cooking spray or silicone spray. The cooking spray attracted flies, and the silicone left a black smudge. I tried Castrol Super Clean for brake dust, and it was no better than soap and water. Any suggestions?

-- Dick

A: TOM: Well, I can't understand why Alex Trotman never got back to you. I know he was trying to run a multinational corporation and all, but brake dust is important!

RAY: It's an absolute scourge, isn't it? It's related to the design of the wheels and how the brakes are ventilated. It's important to keep air moving over the brakes so they cool off. But if the air is drawn out through the wheels, it also draws out dust from the brake pads.

TOM: And if you leave that dust on the wheels--particularly if they happen to be alloy wheels--it can eventually react with the metal and cause pitting.

RAY: Some car companies are solving this themselves by redesigning their wheels. They obviously got tired of having their CEOs spending four days a week responding to letters about brake dust. So you might want to check with your Mercury dealer to see if the wheels have been changed since 1997 to correct this problem.

TOM: Other than that, your only choice is to clean them every week. If you keep up with it, the spray-on soaps--such as Castrol's or the foam cleaner made by Kiwi--work pretty well. But if you let it sit for more than a week, you'll probably have to get on your hands and knees with the toothbrush.

RAY: That's what my wife does. Hey! I wonder if that's why I've been getting that funny taste when I'm brushing my teeth . . .

Dear Tom and Ray:

In a recent column, you said you've had some success with a product called Restore. Under what conditions do you recommend it, and where can I find it?

-- Bill

TOM: Under desperate conditions, Bill. Restore is one of those "ring job in a can" products. But it happens to be the only one we've ever had any occasional success with.

RAY: Sometimes a customer will come in with an old beater that's burning oil. He may need it to last another six months while he finishes graduate school--or till he can knock off his mother-in-law and inherit her Coupe DeVille. And if he's got nothing to lose (if the alternative is junking the car or rebuilding the engine), we'll often recommend a can of Restore.

TOM: And even if it doesn't work, no harm is done because he's going to rebuild the engine or junk it anyway.

RAY: So it's a last resort, in our opinion, and not recommended for your '98 Caravan, for instance.

TOM: The Restore folks say it's sold in most Wal-Mart and Kmart stores, as well as auto parts stores. And if you can't find it locally, you can call them at 954-563-7001.

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

1999 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman