•Q. My wife’s first car (in the early ’70s) was a purple-sparkle dune buggy built on a VW Bug frame — one of the least safe but coolest cars ever. As we have grown older, she has pined for her dune buggy, so last year I bought her a safer facsimile: a bright-red Honda Fit. She LOVES it, and so do I. Here’s the catch: About three months after we got the car, a 20-something boy fiddling with the CD player in his very large minivan rear-ended her at a stoplight, pushing her “red dune buggy” into a much larger Jeep 4x4. Our car was pretty smashed up in the front and rear. She was able to drive it home (even though the air bag had deployed), and we had all the front- and rear-end damage repaired (at a cost to the insurance company of nearly $8,000). My question is: Do you guys think this car should be OK after this injury? The repairs were largely cosmetic (bumpers, headlight, hood, rear hatchback), besides replacing the restraint system. The car looks and drives fine. Please tell me my wife’s beloved “red dune buggy” should be fine, so I don’t have to talk to any more insurance agents.•
RAY: It should be fine. It obviously took a serious hit if the air bag deployed. But I trust that the insurance company did its due diligence and concluded that it wouldn’t be wasting $8,000 if this thing were fixed.
TOM: The primary concern I would have had is whether the frame got bent. But I assume the insurance company checked that and found it to be OK.
RAY: If you want to confirm this for yourself, take the car to a place that does wheel alignments, and ask for a four-wheel alignment.
TOM: If the frame is bent, they will not be able to align all four wheels. So if they tell you your alignment’s fine, that tells you your frame is fine, too.
RAY: It’s always possible that with a serious collision, there’s undetected damage: wires that got pinched, or mechanical damage that only pops up later. But if the insurance company didn’t total the car, if it now looks and drives fine and if you can align the wheels, I’d say don’t worry about it, and let your wife enjoy her ride.
TOM: And by the way, you’re very lucky to have a wife who’s so easy to please. She wants a dune buggy, you give her a Honda Fit, and she says, “Okey-dokey!”
RAY: My brother’s just jealous. He tried, unsuccessfully, to convince his wife that the ’78 Fiat he gave her was a Cadillac. Of course, that was two wives and four Fiats ago.
•Q. I like a bit more comfort, so I lower the pressure in my tires by 4 psi below the door-sticker recommendation. I figure that the pressure listed on the door is for the car when it is carrying five people. There are never more than two people and a bag of groceries in my car. My brother, who also drives a Lexus LS 430, says that this practice is unsafe, but he’s the kind of guy who cleans his instrument panel with a Q-Tip. What do you guys think?•
RAY: Wait a second. The ride in a Lexus LS 430, with its feather-pillow-like ride, isn’t comfortable enough for you? Do you wear pants made of broken glass?
TOM: You might want to rent a Jeep Wrangler for the weekend. That might put a new perspective on the “terrible ride” of your Lexus!
RAY: Well, if for whatever reason you want a softer ride, lowering your tire pressure below the manufacturer’s recommendation is not the way to get it.
TOM: Underinflation is dangerous. You may remember the famous exploding Ford Explorer tires of the early 2000s? One of the factors in those failing Firestone tires was said to have been underinflation.
RAY: There were other causes involved. There was heat, high speeds and questions about the tire design and build. But one of the results that came out of that disaster was a new public awareness of the importance of keeping your tires correctly inflated. You must have been absent that day.
TOM: Eventually, the federal government mandated tire-pressure-monitoring systems in all new cars so that people couldn’t drive around on an underinflated tire without knowing it.
RAY: So I’m guessing your Lexus must be more than a few years old and doesn’t have one of those low-tire-pressure warning lights. Because if it did, the light probably would be on now.
TOM: The light will come on when pressure drops about 10 percent below the recommended number. So if your car calls for, say, 33 psi in each tire, a drop of a little more than three pounds of pressure in any tire will set off the idiot light.
RAY: The problem in your case is that, while your “reduced” tire pressure of 29, or whatever it is, may not be seriously low, if you ever were to get a leak, your pressure would go down from there. And you’d very quickly be in danger of overheating a tire.
TOM: So go apologize to your brother, tell him he was absolutely right and buy him a new box of Q-Tips to clean his instrument panel as a peace offering. And fill up your tires!
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