ē Q. I have a 2000 Mercury Mountaineer with 178,000 miles. I have a wife who also has many miles on her. I love my car, even with all its dents and its worn interior. It runs great and gets 16 mpg. My wife hates it. She says that it drives like a truck (it is a truck) and that she is embarrassed to be seen in it. I have customized it to be towed behind our RV. It is great for hauling stuff, which I seem to do on a regular basis. It was paid for many years ago. Why should I buy a new car when the current one works perfectly fine? She says that it will break down any day and then I will be forced to buy a new car. How do I handle this marital/auto problem? ē

TOM: Gee. I would have thought your wife would see your devotion to this old, ugly heap as a source of great comfort.

RAY: Right. Now she knows sheís not married to the kind of shallow guy who would dump an old car ó or an old wife ó just because itís seen better days. And is in need of some body work. But I guess sheís not choosing to see it that way.

TOM: I sympathize with you. Youíve got a perfectly good car that serves your needs. Why add a car payment to your life when you donít have to?

RAY: On the other hand, your wife hates this car and is embarrassed to be seen in it. And when sheís not happy, nobodyís happy, right?

TOM: So hereís my suggestion. First, have the car thoroughly inspected by a good mechanic and find out what kind of shape itís really in. If the compression is low and itís burning oil, and the transmission fluid is black, then youíll know its days are numbered, and you can be gracious and tell your wife that if it makes her happy, youíll start planning for a new car.

RAY: But if the Mountaineer is in good shape overall, then consider an inexpensive paint job and some interior detailing.

TOM: It may just be that if the truck were one color again and the inside stopped smelling like manure, she might be more inclined to put up with this truck for another couple of years. Ask her.

RAY: But in either case, youíd be wise to start a new-car savings fund right away. With 178,000 miles on it, it might not be ready for the boneyard yet, but itís circling for a landing.

ē Q. I have a 2003 Honda Accord coupe. Like most cars, it has three cruise-control buttons: the main on-off cruise button, the Set button and the Resume button. I use the cruise control a lot, so I just leave the main switch on all the time. My husband thinks that this is bad for the cruise control, and that it could be dangerous if I were to accidentally press the Resume button when not meaning to. To me, this does not make sense, because when the engine shuts off, it does not retain the Resume memory, and it seems unlikely that anyone would accidentally press the Resume button anyway. Can you settle this dispute for us? Is there any reason why someone would not want to leave the main cruise on all the time? ē

TOM: Youíre right that leaving the main cruise control switch in the ďonĒ position will not harm the cruise-control system in any way.

RAY: But your husbandís right that the main on/off switch is there for your safety. Itís actually pretty easy to hit the Set and Resume buttons by accident, because those controls are deliberately placed within very easy reach of your fingers ó like on the steering wheel or the stalk.

TOM: And if youíre making a turn, or trying to switch on your wipers or blinkers, or who knows what, itís not very hard to hit one of the cruise-control buttons inadvertently. How do we know? Weíve done it!

RAY: Is it a disaster if you hit the Resume button by mistake? Not necessarily. Like you say, there may be no speed stored in the cruise controlís memory. Or, if there is, you may quickly realize what has happened and tap your brakes to disable the cruise control.

TOM: But there are situations in which it can be a disaster. If youíve been on the highway doing 70, and then hit some heavier traffic and slow down to 50, you could hit the Resume button and suddenly make the car accelerate 20 mph while in that heavy traffic.

RAY: And if youíre startled and donít realize why itís suddenly accelerating, you may panic and not have the presence of mind to tap the brakes before you plow into the car in front of you.

TOM: We know that lots of people just leave the main cruise switch on all the time. Itís understandable. But our recommendation (and the recommendation of our lawyers, who are standing here glaring, with their arms crossed, as we speak) is to turn off the cruise-control system when youíre not actively using it. Thatís the safest thing to do, and itís why the switch exists.

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