Q. Why do prospective car buyers kick the tires of a vehicle they’re thinking about buying? It won’t help find out anything about the vehicle. Yet it’s common for folks shopping for a car or truck to say they’re “going to kick some tires.” – K.C., Kansas City 

A. “Kicking tires” is an old habit—and vehicle-buying expression—that has been around forever. Why? Partly because many consumers are nervous when considering the purchase of a vehicle while negotiating with a salesperson—and kicking a tire helps them stall for time. For one thing, they feel it indicates to the salesperson that they are undecided and want a better deal. After all, kicking another part of a vehicle such as a fender could damage it. 

Q. A couple of years back, I asked you about buying a 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora. I’ve driven the car only 120,000 miles but have been told that my baby needs a new engine. – S.T., Berwyn, Ill.

A. Your letter indicates you really like the car, which means you’ve given it at least routine maintenance and that it’s been sensibly used. Its mileage shows it has been driven below the usual number of annual miles (12,000-15,000). Consequently, there should be  no need for a new engine. If it’s not running as well as you’d like, it probably just needs small items such as new spark plugs. Ask around to get the name of a reputable repair facility.


Q. We read your auto reports when living in Chicago. We’re now in Florida and will soon begin looking for a new vehicle. In the mid-size car list, I’m considering the Mazda6, Volkswagen Jetta, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata and Chevrolet Malibu. As we’ve become older, we’re also considering an SUV/crossover vehicle that sits higher and thus are also thinking about the Kia Soul, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-7, Chevy Equinox, Dodge Journey and Honda CR-V. I’d like to stay under $24,000. Your thoughts? – B. and P., via Internet

A. You’ve done some homework, because the vehicles you mention are all good choices. Off the top of my head, I’d recommend in the car group the Sonata, Accord or Malibu. In the SUV/crossover area, I’d give a nod to the Sportage, Santa Fe and Journey, now that the 2011 Journey has an improved interior. By all means, though, test drive the ones you finally are considering—and under your normal driving conditions.

Q. The media seems overly impressed by any “green” electric or hybrid gas/electric vehicle that comes along. Why? I’m for cleaner air as much as the next guy, but regular gasoline-engine cars, which account for nearly all new vehicle sales, seem largely or completely ignored by the media—although they’re virtually pollution-free these days. – E. S., San Francisco

A. “Green” cars are considered all the rage these days by major media outlets, just as large SUVs were when music industry stars and actors bought them. Only a handful of people buy “green” vehicles, and their future is a question mark. But most media outlets have bosses who are automotive know-nothings. Gasoline-engine vehicles are being vastly improved, with such items as direct fuel injection, lighter weights, etc. Even larger cars now get an estimated 40 miles per gallon on highways. J.D. Power and Associates in its “Drive Green 2020” report on global hybrid-electric vehicle demand found that consumers have a variety of concerns about hybrid electric vehicles and battery electric vehicles—including dislike of their look/design; worries about the reliability of new technologies; dissatisfaction with overall power and performance; anxiety about driving range, and concern about the time needed to recharge battery packs. 

Back to Q & A main section