My readers don't just tell me my poetry stinks and kick me down the stairs. They ask sensible questions, too. Here are a few:
Question: Could you suggest a new car that fits my needs? I want something that won't scrape its bottom when I come out of a sloping driveway. I'd like a vehicle with three rows of seats and ample storage. I also want something that I can get my mother's walker into easily. And I don't want to spend more than $30,000. — CH, Langhorne
Answer: I think what you need is a compact or midsize crossover SUV. A crossover typically has more ground clearance than a sedan or hatchback, which means less bottoming out. The crossover also affords a higher perch, which a lot of drivers like.
Since the crossover has a liftgate, you'll have a lower lift-over to ease the loading of cargo like your mother's walker. I've come across four, three-row crossovers for under $30,000. Two are compacts (the Mitsubishi Outlander, base price $23,945, and the Mazda CX-5, $26,215), and two are larger, midsized vehicles (the GMC Acadia, $29,000, and the Chevrolet Traverse, $29,930).
Q: What exactly are "summer tires"? The term is new to me. — BT, Yardley
A: It's fairly new to me, too. It's relatively recent auto-speak for high-performance rubber. These are tires whose tread design and tread compound team up to maximize grip during cornering.
The word summer means you shouldn't have these on your car in winter if you want to drive in snow and ice because their greater traction on dry roads becomes the opposite on slippery surfaces.
(It's also true that summer tires are markedly more expensive than conventional radials and, by virtue of their softer tread compounds, don't last as long.)
So, why would you put these tires on your car?
Well, this rubber is standard on high-performance automobiles because the cars handle so much better with these grippy tires.
It's also true that the people who have the bucks to buy these typically expensive sporting machines can afford the reduced tire wear and the expense of mounting snow tires or conventional radials for cold-weather use.
Q: My son wants to jack up his 2012 Ford F-159 pickup. Is that a good idea? — LG, East Mount Airy
A: Given my past, I'm hardly qualified to be judgmental about automotive modifications. (I once fitted a '34 Ford coupe with a Cadillac V-8, an Oldsmobile flywheel, a Mercury clutch assembly, a GMC voltage regulator, a Plymouth heater, DeSoto bumpers, Chrysler wheels, and a later Ford steering wheel.)
But there are a couple of ramifications to elevating that truck that your son might consider.
First, jacking it up would raise the truck's center of gravity. The more you raise it, the more vulnerable the vehicle becomes to rollover.
Second, raising the truck changes the angle of the drive shaft that connects the transmission to the differential. The more the vehicle is raised, the greater that angle becomes — and the greater the stress on the fore and after universal joints that link the drive shaft to the transmission and differential. And that stress shortens the life of the U-joints, which aren't cheap.
Q: When I go into an auto store, I see these products that say they do everything from decreasing oil consumption to cleaning fuel injector nozzles. What's your opinion? — AM, Moorestown