Q. The Ford Model T was the
best-selling car for many decades and “put America on
wheels.” But I read that it was very difficult to learn how
to drive a Model T. So why was it so popular? – A.M., San
A. The Model T had goofy controls, by today’s standards. It takes even a seasoned motorist not used to the car more than an hour to learn how to drive it. But it was a hit because it was cheap, extremely durable—especially for the primitive “roads” many were driven on—and easy to fix.
Q. Which cars use less gasoline—those with manual or automatic transmissions? – F.T., Miami Beach
A Most drivers will get better fuel economy with an automatic, if only because they never learned how to correctly shift gears. For instance, they may leave a car in lower gears too long before upshifting, and that will suck up gas. Moreover, today’s “automatics” are far better than the old ones. Some have more gear speeds for greater efficiency than manual transmissions.
Q. I read that the Packard, which disappeared in 1958, once was a more prestigious car than the Cadillac.— J.G., Chicago
A. Packard was more prestigious than Cadillac for decades until World War II—not that Cadillac didn’t sell formidable models. The last great Packard was the 1955-56 Caribbean hardtop and convertible. The Caribbean was a big, sporty car with an advanced torsion bar suspension, a V-8 with 275-310 horsepower, tasteful three-tone paint and such items as reversible cloth or leather front seat covers. Although a 1950s car, and unlike Cadillacs from that decade, the Caribbean had no tailfins. Famous eccentric multimillionaire Howard Hughes bought a Caribbean for a female friend, but she reportedly never drove it.
Q. My 10-year-old Honda has been driven 188,000 miles and is still going strong. But I’m looking to treat myself to a new car this year. I’m torn between the Hyundai Sonata Turbo and the Kia Optima Turbo. Which do you recommend? – R.W., Glenview, Ill.
A. I’d recommend both, so it’s up to your personal taste. The redesigned Optima is sportier and looks more rakish than the Sonata, which is pretty stylish. Both turbo engines produce 274-horsepower. Hyundai controls Kia, so the Optima is built on the same platform as the Sonata.
Q. Where can I find a Honda Accord for around $7,000 for my son? – G.P., via Internet
A. You would have to get a 2002 Accord, at the latest, for that amount, according to the Automobile Red Book. And a model that old would likely have lots of miles and thus would be more susceptible to potentially costly problems. Your son might be better off with a Honda Civic.
Q. I see hot rods are making
comeback—you know the modified Fords of the 1930s, for
example, with lowered tops and bodies and high-performance engines. Is
this a nostalgia thing? – E..W., Los Angeles
A. Nostalgia has something to do with it, but hot rods never really went away. The hot rod is a purely American creation. Some look fantastic. But really good ones are very expensive, whereas they were fairly cheap in the 1940s, 1950s and even early 1960s, when Detroit muscle cars began replacing them.
Q. Do you recommend teaching my kids how to drive “stick shift” cars. None are offered in their high school driving school. –T. B, Dallas, Texas
A. Definitely, although initially teach them in deserted areas until they really get the hang of coordinating the clutch and gas pedal. Learning how to shift gears will make driving more enjoyable and will help out in emergency situations when only a stick-shift car is available to them.