• Q. I am in the Air Force, and last week when I was driving through the gate at the base, the security forces troop accidentally raised the security barrier on my vehicle (BMW Z4) while I was passing over it. The impact was loud and sudden. It raised my car up and then dropped it down, littering the street with plastic and rubber parts. I have been waiting a week for an estimate on the vehicle. There is damage to the front end and, of course, the undercarriage. The Check Engine light came on immediately. For some reason, I cannot get a straight answer about whether the frame was bent in the accident. How can I tell for sure? BMW says the only way to tell is by taking it apart. However, the insurance-approved garage put it on the lift and said, “It looks pretty good.” Thank you for any help you can provide. •
RAY: Well, there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know how fast you were going, we don’t know how far out of the ground the security gate comes up and we don’t know where it hit the underside of your car.
TOM: But if I had to guess, I’d say your frame probably was not damaged. It takes a pretty serious collision to damage a frame.
RAY: The rubber and plastic parts probably are nonstructural pieces of the grille, the bumper assembly, the stone guard or the headlight and taillight assemblies that broke when the car came back to the ground. The Check Engine light could have been triggered because the wires of an oxygen sensor got knocked off. But we’re just guessing.
TOM: The way you’ll know for certain if the frame has been bent is by trying to align the wheels.
RAY: If the frame is bent, the four wheels will not be alignable. So my advice is take the car somewhere of your choosing for a four-wheel alignment before agreeing to accept it back from the insurance company as “repaired.”
TOM: Right. When the insurance-approved garage says it’s ready, make an arrangement with them to get the car to a shop that you’re paying to do an alignment. You want them working for you.
RAY: If the wheels all align, you can accept the car back and not worry about it. But if your shop tells you that they were unable to align the wheels, then you have the evidence to make the insurance company either fix the frame or replace the car.
TOM: So we can’t tell you whether the frame has been bent. But an alignment shop will be able to. And just to make sure this doesn’t happen again, consider scraping off those “Go Navy!” bumper stickers before trying to drive onto the base again.
• Q. I just learned that I might be driving a chick car. I own a red Honda del Sol, and I really enjoy driving it. Do other guys think I’m less than manly? How can I add some testosterone to this ladylike transport? At least it doesn’t have an automatic transmission. Should I worry about this? •
TOM: In our experience, the way guys “find out” they’re driving a “chick car” is that some other guy, who’s feeling insecure about his own masculinity that day, tries to make himself feel better by saying, “Dude, that’s a chick car you’re driving.”
RAY: Guys occasionally have days like that. Some days my wife dresses me in a pink shirt and matching boxers, and I just have to unload on somebody!
TOM: Yeah, my brother has been known to be a smug, “chick car” accuser from time to time.
RAY: I admit it. I have been known to razz the occasional guy who drives a white Mazda Miata.
TOM: Like me!
TOM: Not only should you not worry about this, but you probably are one of the few who, like me, have discovered a wonderful secret: Who likes chick cars? Chicks!
RAY: That’s true. Most women tend to be intimidated or put off by so-called macho cars. And they tend to be more attracted to cars they consider cute. So if you’re interested in talking to women, a cute car — like the del Sol — is exactly what you should be driving.
TOM: On the other hand, if you’re more interested in attracting guys to your car, then you should drive a “guy car.” I know when I test-drive something macho, like an oversize truck or a Dodge Challenger with a Hemi V-8, 99.9 percent of the stares I get are from guys!
RAY: That’s true. And conversely, last week, when I was test-driving the little Fiat 500, it was like taking a puppy for a walk on a crowded beach! Women everywhere were turning their heads to look and smile.
TOM: At the car! Once they saw that my brother was driving, they put their hands over their mouths and bent forward. But that’s not the car’s fault.
RAY: No. So drive happily. And if some numb-bolt tells you you’re driving a chick car, say: “Yeah! It’s great, isn’t it!”
Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com.