Q. There seems to be more emphasis on checking tire pressures, whereas few people  used to check such pressures. Is this because many new cars have low-tire-pressure dashboard warnings? — S..N., Champaign, Ill.

A. Tire pressures significantly affect safety, handling and fuel economy.Those warning lights are better than nothing, but most warn when tire pressures are still too low for the best handling and fuel economy. It’s encouraging that Hankook Tire found from its Fall Gauge Index survey that most respondents (83 percent) have checked tire pressures in the past six months. (It should be done on a monthly basis.) Hankook also found that that 80 percent of respondents choose safety as the top reason to check pressure, and 77 percent choose saving money. A majority (77 percent) are aware that a change in season affects tire pressure. And 65 percent percent of survey respondents said they keep a tire gauge in the glove compartment. Still, it was found that “just over half” of respondents say “confidently” that they “definitely” know what their vehicle’s ideal tire pressure is. 

Q. I’m looking to buy the 274-horsepower turbocharged Kia Optima SX, but am leaning toward the non-turbo EX model instead of the SX. For one thing, the EX is cheaper, and I’m worried that the SX sport suspension will be too bumpy over roads. What say? — F.W., Glenview, Ill.

A. It sounds as if you should go with the EX, which has more than enough power (200) for the Chicago area and larger tires with wider sidewalls for a more comfortable ride.  

Q. Automakers have gone crazy with air bags. I hear General Motors plans to add even more of them.True? — G.B., Indianapolis

A. True. GM has announced it will install the world’s first front-center air bags between the two front bucket seats in three of its mid-size crossover vehicles, starting in the 2013 model year. GM says they’re designed to be especially effective in passenger-side impacts.


Q. Despite higher gasoline prices, I hear that pickup truck sales have increased, despite automakers touting new fuel-efficient cars more than trucks. — K.A., Dallas

A. Sales of all pickups rose 8.5 percent in the first eight months of the year, compared to the same year-ago period, according to Autodata. It said sales are being helped by slightly lower gasoline prices and a slightly improving economy for commercial buyers—although sales are still being held back by the housing downturn. Contractors and builders are traditionally a major market for pickups. Cash rebates of as much as $2,000 and interest rates as low as 3.9 percent are convincing folks to buy pickups, Autodata said.

Q.  I read that Volkswagen is making a major push to sell far more cars in America, despite higher sales of American, Japanese and South Korean cars. I remember when the original VW “Bug” was the most popular foreign car in America in the 1960s. — R.A.,  Lakeland, Fla.

A. For one thing, Volkswagen has designed its new Passat sedan expressly for the American market and expects to be profitable in the United States this year. (VW hasn’t been profitable in America since 2003.)  VW has lowered prices, and this spring opened its new U.S. manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to build the Passat. Its new, larger 2011 Jetta sedan was designed with America more in mind, and its redesigned new two-door Beetle model looks like it has enough changes to be more of a hit, especially among American male drivers. Most buyers of the discontinued “New Beetle” have been women, although VW says the latest Beetle should also appeal to them.

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