Q. Why do women seem so dumb about cars? – R.G., Chicago

A. Most women are uninformed about cars because they have little or no interest in them. However, they are good at zeroing in on safety and convenience items in a vehicle. Unlike many men, most don’t care about what type of engine is under the hood or horsepower, but just want a car that merges and passes safely. Vehicle reliability is the key issue with women.

Q. I like classic Italian sports cars because they’re the most sexy and fun to drive. But they have a reputation for being unreliable, at least in America.  Why is that? – H.K., Oak Brook

A. The warmer climate in Southern Italy (where most money to buy such autos was located) was more friendly to the marginal electrical systems those sports cars had than it was in often-frigid North America. Also, while fast and gorgeous, most of these cars weren’t mass-produced, and thus were built erratically. Remove the body from a classic old Ferrari and look at its tube frame. Chances are, you’ll see poor welds. It’s been said that Enzo Ferrari figured that many of his costly1950s and 1960s road cars would soon be crashed by wealthy, generally unskilled drivers, anyway. He sold them to finance his racing operations, which was his only lifelong passion.

Q. The main thing I care about with a car or truck in winter is the battery because a vehicle won’t start if it doesn’t work. Do you have any simple rules to keep a battery in good shape? – M.S., Cicero

A. Vehicle batteries supply energy to start the engine and to retain the memory in the onboard computers. Here are key tips from CarMax, a large national used car retailer:
--Make sure terminals where cables connect are tight and corrosion-free.
--The battery should be firmly secured to its mounting bracket An unsecured battery can become damaged and cause short circuits.
--Keep the battery case clean. Dirt conducts electricity and can discharge the battery.
-- Batteries may all look alike, but come in different sizes. When replacing a car battery, choose the right size for your vehicle. Bigger is not always better when it comes to car batteries.
--Always disconnect the negative cable first and reconnect it last.
--Charge a battery in a well-ventilated area. Switch a charger to a low-charge setting.
--Don’t charge a dead battery with a car’s alternator. An alternator is not designed to function as a charger and may be damaged or have a shortened life as a result.
--Don’t charge a frozen battery because it might explode. One visual sign of a frozen battery is that the sides are bowed out. That condition is dangerous, and the battery will need to be replaced.
--Don’t disconnect battery cables when the engine is running.

Q. When will be Chicago Auto Show be held and will it be be less gloomy than last year’s show? How come the smaller Detroit show, which precedes the Chicago show by just weeks, gets the most media coverage? – E.W., Oak Park

A.  The Chicago show will be held Feb. 12-21 at McCormick Place. Attending the event is almost a ritual for Chicago area residents.  It’s a family affair and lets visitors view virtually all new production cars, trucks and crossover vehicles under one roof, with no sales pressures, besides concept vehicles. The economy is generally in better shape than it was last year and automakers thus are more optimistic and willing to provide better displays. But the atmosphere will be far more businesslike than it was years ago,when there were more interesting concept vehicles and a variety of entertainers. The general public isn’t invited to the few “media days” preceding the show, which are more civilized than the Detroit auto show’s media days. Those have turned into an overcrowded affair, with many so-called journalists elbowing each other in the teeth for a press release. Yet, the Detroit show walks away with the most publicity because many auto buff magazines and trade publications are based in the Detroit area. The far more spacious Chicago show is a better event.

Q. I see speeding older cars driven by teens on Chicago-area expressways and often wonder if there’s anything left to the steering, suspensions and brakes of their cars. Frankly, those cars and drivers scare the hell out of me.  – E.H., Wilmette

A. Avoid those jerks, who often are saved from crashes by their youthful reflexes—but not always. Steering and suspension systems largely determine a car’s handling, and bad brakes easily can cause a loss of control at high speeds. Those components should be checked at least once a year, usually with a wheel alignment. Over time, steering, suspension and brake system parts wear out and need replacement. Many reckless young drivers are more interested in equipping cars with the latest sound systems than spending money to have those components checked and replaced, if necessary. And it’s often necessary, judging by the appearance and sloppy handling of those youth-driven potential death traps.

Back to Q & A main section