Q. I own a 2006 Toyota Matrix with all-wheel drive. According to the maintenance schedule, I need not change transmission fluid for the life of this car, unless I drive under severe conditions, which I don't. Is the factory fluid that good? I don't want to have transmission problems later. -- M.M., Chicago

A. Vehicle fluids effectively last a lot longer than they once did. You're probably OK not changing your car's transmission fluid, but see how its maintenance schedule defines "severe driving."  Lots of stop-and-go driving, which is common in many metropolitan areas, falls under the "severe driving" category.

Q. How do I know if my car was correctly repaired after it has been in an accident?
-- W.B., Northbrook, Ill.

A. First, check out the shop, its reputation, business or trade associations they belong to and if their technicians are I-CAR trained. And don't rush. When picking up your car, allow at least 30 minutes to complete the process. If it's raining, ask to inspect the car inside. Review the final bill and make sure it's detailed and explained to you. Repair shop personnel should walk around the car with you while reviewing the bill. Make sure the paint matches and that body gaps are uniform after inspecting them around the doors, trunk lid and hood. Also make make sure the radio, heater and air conditioner blower fan work. No dashboard warning lights should be on. Don't pay the final bill and accept the car without checking repaired areas--you have less recourse in getting problems fixed after you've paid. Make sure you get a warranty for the repairs and understand where the warranty is good at and what its limitations are, says Carstar, a large auto collision repair chain.

Q. Do you know of any driving schools in the Chicago area that do a great job teaching how to drive with a manual transmission. My sister has been given a 2005 Volkswagen Golf with a five-speed manual transmission and doesn't know how to drive it. The only time I drove a manual transmission auto was when I rented an Audi with a five-speed gearbox when in the Army in Germany way back in 1990. -- D.,A., Chicago

A. It won't be easy finding such a school in any area of the country, but they exist. Check the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory or try the Internet. I called half a dozen driving schools listed in the West Suburban Chicago area telephone book before I found one that taught how to drive with a "stick shift." You'd think there would be more such schools because many young drivers like sporty cars with a manual transmission. Incidentally, automatic transmissions are considered a luxury item in Europe.

Q. I drive cars to death and keep putting off buying a new one. I'm considering the least-expensive Audi, a mid-range Volvo, Subaru Forester or Outback--or a Volkswagen Tiguan or Jetta SportWagen with the turbocharged diesel engine. -- S.F., via Internet

A. Those are all good cars, but I'd suggest the versatile new fun-to-drive compact Tiguan crossover or, most especially, the Jetta SportWagen. It has a potent, very refined diesel engine that will withstand lots of abuse and will last practically forever while delivering outstanding fuel economy (29-30 mpg city and 40-41 highway).

Q. It's been suggested that I clean off my engine block. Why? Nobody sees the engine under the hood, and I'm not entering it in car shows with the hood open to reveal, say, a chromed engine. F.K., Berwyn

A. The block should be cleaned every 30,000 miles with, say, a foaming engine degreaser to remove gunk and buildup that impacts performance and makes oil leaks hard to find. Just spray the degreaser on and rinse it off, following instructions about its use. (You don't want to screw up engine-related electrical components.) For one thing, a clean engine block cools more efficiently.

Q. I'm thinking about buying a classic 1954 MG TF sports car with the 1,250 c.c. four-cylinder engine or a 1955 TF "1500" with a 1,466 c.c. four-cylinder. They look identical, with sweeping fenders, cut-down doors, fold-flat windshield and outside mounted spare tires at the back. But classic car price guides give the 1955 TF a higher value. Why? Both have small four-cylinder engines. -- J.B. Oak Park

A. The 1954 TF engine is too small for modern driving, except in town. The appreciably faster 1955 TF is the last classic MG that does a reasonable job of keeping up with modern traffic, although it's still no car for fast-moving interstate highway traffic. The National Automobile Dealers Association's NADA Classic, Collectible, Exotic and Muscle Car Appraisal Guide & Directory puts the price of a 1954 MG TF in average condition at $22,800 and the price of a 1955 TF in the same condition at $25,200. Incidentally, the 1955 TF was given the "1500" designation because its 1,466 c.c. engine size is rounded off in size to 1,500 c.c. That's probably because "1,466" looked like an awkward figure. The far more modern MGA replaced the TF in 1956.

Back to Q & A main section