•Q. I don’t mind being called a sorry skinflint as long as I can justify my penny-pinching proclivities. I happen to believe that there are only so many “blinks” in a blinker. Therefore, I turn mine on only when absolutely necessary to signal another driver. For example, if I’m in a turn-only lane, I don’t waste any blinks. Nor do I sit at a light with my blinker clicking and clacking, driving me nuts with the thought of all that wasted energy and technology until the light turns green. Am I right in my hypothesis, or do I need professional help?
TOM: I would lean toward the latter.
RAY: I mean, of course you’re right that all mechanical parts eventually wear out. But you have to consider the risk/reward equation for what you’re doing.
TOM: On the reward side, you might save a few bucks on light bulbs over the life of the car. You might.
RAY: And while the flasher unit generally lasts the life of the vehicle, sometimes the directional switch on the steering-wheel stalk will fail before the car does. If your behavior makes it last the life of the car, then you can save a few bucks there, too.
TOM: But here’s something to keep in mind: You might not save any money. Let’s say the typical directional bulb lasts 50,000 miles (that’s a guess), and somehow you make yours last 60,000 miles, and the car lasts 150,000 miles. You may save 20 bucks because you only had to change the bulbs twice.
RAY: But if the car happens to last 190,000 miles, you’ll still replace the bulb three times in the life of the car. So you save nothing.
TOM: And the risk you’re assuming is way out of proportion to the possible reward. If failing to signal a turn causes some distracted driver to rear-end you, or some oncoming driver to not realize you’re making a left turn (left-turn-only lanes aren’t marked for people coming from the opposite direction), you could be out hundreds or thousands of dollars. Not to mention a couple of vertebrae.
RAY: Plus the alimony from having this be the last straw for your long-suffering spouse.
TOM: More importantly, the lives of automotive light bulbs are shortened much more by going over bumps and rattling the filaments than they are by blinking.
RAY: So if you’re really concerned about minimizing costs, don’t drive. We know for a fact that you’ll save money if your car spends its life sitting in your driveway.
TOM: Or you can just relax a bit. That won’t be easy, I’m sure, because you say that just thinking about wasting blinks makes you crazy. But try. We’re all for being gentle and non-wasteful with mechanical objects, and we admire you for that instinct. But try to keep it just this side of the loony bin.
•Q. My dad and I are looking for new cars. I test-drove a car, and then I test-drove the same car with a turbo engine. It had more power and got better gas mileage. I liked it. My dad said no to the turbo model. He said turbo-charging an engine takes the life out of it. He says it will not last as long as the non-turbo-charged engine. Do you agree with my dad? Who should buy a turbo?•
TOM: You should buy a turbo. And so should most people.
RAY: In the early days of turbo-charging, it was common for turbos to fail at less than 100,000 miles. The failure often was catastrophic, leading to thousands of dollars in engine repairs.
TOM: Ask anyone who owned an ’80s-era Saab turbo about this phenomenon. But first, be prepared for them to start weeping.
RAY: Unlike those devices, today’s turbos are very reliable, partly because we have a lot more experience in designing them, but also because today’s motor oils do a far superior job of keeping them cooled and lubricated.
TOM: The advantage of a turbo is that it allows you to use a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine while having the turbo on standby for when you do need some extra oomph.
RAY: The truth is, a smaller engine is all you need most of the time. Then, once in a while, when you need to pass a truck, enter a highway or peel away from a boyfriend’s house after he says those shoes make your feet look fat, you step on the gas, and the turbo adds all the extra power you need.
TOM: Your dad does make a fair point — that a turbo can be harder on the engine if it’s abused. So if you drive like an animal and stomp on the gas all the time, a turbo is not for you. Traffic court is for you.
RAY: But for all reasonable drivers, a turbo does exactly what you say it does: It allows a smaller engine to provide additional power when it’s needed, and better mileage the rest of the time. Enjoy your new car.
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