Car Talk

Q.

I enjoy your column very much; it's good info and funny. Do I need a new car? I have a 2004 Cadillac CTS with rust issues and soon-to-need new tires. It has 105,000 miles on it.

My trusted mechanic says there is nothing wrong with the CTS, and since I really like it, there is no need to buy a new car. My friends mostly have SUV-type vehicles. But I can borrow my husband's truck, if needed, for hauling. My biggest dislike of the CTS is that it's rear-wheel drive. This can be a problem in the winters when it snows (I already use snow tires).

So ... do I get rid of the CTS before troubles start? Do I get an SUV? Or do you recommend another car? Thanks so much. Keep up the good work!

A.

I've been doing this for a long time, and I think I can tell when somebody wants a new car. I think you've fallen out of love with your CTS. You want a new car, and what you want from me is positive reinforcement. So skip over this next paragraph.

Purely as a matter of economics, it makes sense to keep your old car. Your trusted mechanic, who knows the car, says it's in good shape. And even after buying new tires and doing some expected and unexpected repairs, your cost to keep the old car would almost certainly be less than a monthly new-car payment. (That's the practical answer, but that's not what she wants to hear).

This CTS is on the verge of falling apart. You should dump it immediately. These things usually last about 106,000 miles. How many miles do you have? 105? Wow. Good thing you wrote to us today. Is the dealership open right now? Actually, there are legitimate reasons for getting a new car. Older cars are inherently less reliable than new cars. And if you live where it snows, rear-wheel drive is less than ideal, as you know. All-wheel drive probably would allow you to run all-seasons tires year-round and avoid getting stuck.

And perhaps most important, there are awesome new safety features available on new cars. You can get automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert. And don't forget Bluetooth. And, fortunately for you, there are a ton of all-wheel-drive vehicles to choose from now. Many more than there were in 2004. You can get an all-wheel-drive sedan, an SUV or, the flavor de jour, a crossover (built like a car but looks like an SUV). You even can get a new, all-wheel-drive CTS if you want.

So go shop around, and pick something that makes you happy. As long as it doesn't create economic hardship for you, you have my full blessing to upgrade. And ask your mechanic if he knows anyone who wants to buy your CTS. Since he can vouch for its condition, I'm sure someone will be very happy to have it.

Q.

I have a 2006 Volkswagen Touareg with a "sealed for life" transmission. I bought it used with 136,000 miles, and now it has 150,000. As far as I can tell, the transmission has never been serviced. VW keeps saying the transmission is sealed for life, but 150,000 miles with the original fluid makes me nervous. I'm also not sure about opening it for service, as it could end up causing more problems. The transmission isn't giving me any issues yet. Should I just leave it alone until it dies? What do you suggest?

A.

You can change the transmission fluid if you want to, but I wouldn't. The transmission was not one of the major trouble spots for this car. I can't remember replacing any Touareg transmissions. Of course, we've seen only nine of these in the shop over the past two decades. They didn't sell a ton of them. And all the guys at the garage run and hide in the bathroom whenever they see one of these driving in.

There is a way to change the transmission fluid if you want to, even though it's "sealed for life." A mechanic has to have a way to drain and replace the fluid in case a repair is needed. How else would you fix a leak, or refill the transmission after fixing a blown seal? Even if you don't go to the VW dealer, your mechanic can find the instructions in one of the major service reference guides, like Mitchell or All-Data.

So if you're willing to spend a few hundred bucks, and it would make you sleep better, I'm sure you can have the transmission fluid drained and replaced. But if it were my Touareg, I think I'd save my money for repairs on the fuel system, the exhaust, the electronics and the power window motors. Good luck.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.