Q. I got a kick reading in
your recent Q. and A. column about the silly, supposedly clever
headlines newspapers put above auto-related articles and noticed such
headlines above auto articles in the November 2 Wall Street Journal, a
newspaper that should know better. They are “Auto Makers Face a
Long Ride in Low Gear,” “Ford Stirs Hope of Car
U-Turn” and “Ford’s New Lease on Life (article on
Ford auto leasing). – J.H., Evanston
A. It’s discouraging that newspaper professionals suddenly become 17-year-olds and come up with such headlines.
Q. In all your years of auto writing, did anyone offer you a rare or exciting, valuable classic car because, say, it was left by a deceased family member? – P.G., Highland Park
A. Never. Most called and asked about the value of an old car usually left by someone such as a deceased relative. Such cars were usually low-value sedans with little or no collector appeal. I gave them the car’s estimated value from collector car price guides and they usually were surprised to learn that the auto wasn’t worth much. Many felt it was worth far more just because it was old.
Q. Did you ever suspect that your test cars were modified by an automaker to give above-average performance? – W.H., Orland Park
A. I was lucky if test cars even had the right tire pressures—tires were usually inflated on the low side, which led to sloppy steering and handling. That’s why I bought a tire pressure pump, as “service stations” began eliminating air hoses. Virtually all test cars come from a “media fleet” assigned to a certain area and many are abused by so-called auto journalists seemingly out for a free ride—although automakers began refusing to loan cars to these jerks a few years ago. One auto writer freely gave test cars to his wife and daughters, one of whom wrecked an expensive foreign auto—at no consequence to him.
Q. Please settle an argument. I’ve bet that the early (1960s) Mustangs—not the loud, modified, hard-riding ones from legendary racer Carroll Shelby—were sports cars. – J.M., Berwyn
A. Standard 1960s Mustangs never came close to being sports cars, although the general car-dumb media called them sports cars—and still does. They essentially were economy Ford Falcons with nifty body styles, a few different engines and transmissions--and lots of options. Ford and its dealers often made more money on Mustang options and accessories than on the cars.
Q. What are the top priorities for women auto shoppers? – M.S., Riverside
A. Not flashy styling or horsepower. Rather, when choosing a car to buy, more than 60 percent of women selected price and reliability as the most important factors, says a survey for CarMax Inc., a national used car retailer. Fuel economy was in third place. Space was noticeably more important for women with children under age eighteen, it was found.
Q. Are sports cars falling out
of favor now that we’re in hard economic times? – T.M.,
A. Online searches for sports cars on carmax.com have increased since August, says CarMax Inc. The most searched car on carmax.com for September was the Mustang, which (surprise!) this outfit calls a “sports car.” Next came, respectively, the Chevy Corvette, Nissan 350Z (both true sports cars), Chevrolet Camaro and BMW M3. “Sports cars remain an American classic (whatever the heck that means, especially since the 350Z is Japanese and the M3 is German), said Craig Beiner, purchasing manager for CarMax in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Q. Dos the 2010 Lexus ES 350 need premium fuel? – F.W., address unknown
A. Premium fuel is recommended for the best performance.
Q. It’s getting darker, with winter approaching. How do I increase vision in my car to protect myself from fellow motorists, who seem to be driving worse than ever? – M.K., Burr Ridge
A. Get new wiper blades and make sure headlights are in good shape—and periodically cleaned. It may surprise some that wiper blades can deteriorate faster and need more frequent replacement in desert states, not in sloppy winter northern states, says the Car Care Council. Also make sure headlights are properly aimed because otherwise they blind others and reduce your ability to see the road. (Don’t “overdrive” headlights—you should be able to stop inside the illuminated area.) It’s also necessary to be seen by others, so make sure taillights and turn signal lights are in good working order—and clean.
Q. Do people still shop a lot on used car lots, or is that something I just see in funny movies? – E.W., Franklin Park
A. Actually, Internet shopping has reached parity with visits to dealer lots as the primary method for used-vehicle buyers to locate such vehicles, says J.D. Power and Associates’ 2009 Used-Vehicle Market Report. It found that the percentage of used-vehicle buyers who rely on the Internet as a method for locating vehicles for sale rose from 40 percent in 2008 to 46 percent in 2009--equal to the percentage of buyers who visit dealer lots as their main shopping method. J.D. Power says Internet shopping provides prospective buyers with the chance to search through “enormous amounts of specific vehicle information without leaving home, allowing a more efficient medium of matching buyers with unique used vehicles in the market.”