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COUPLE RUNNING ON EMPTY

Q: I am a 76-year-old woman, recently engaged to an 80-year-old man. We are truly best friends and agree on everything, except one thing. He drives a 2004 Lincoln Town Car that we affectionately call the "Pimp Mobile." He won't fill up the gas tank until the light comes on and it pings. I tell him this is hard on the fuel pump and that I have heard you state this. Would you please clarify? Our future wedded bliss is in jeopardy.

Annie and Jack

Tom: We have mentioned that, in our opinion, habitually driving a car on empty can shorten the life of the fuel pump.

Ray: The reason we think that is because the pump sits inside the gas tank, and so it's cooled by the gasoline it's submerged in - or not cooled by the gasoline it's not submerged in, if you never put more than 2 gallons of gas into the car.

Tom: Now, by how much might it shorten the life of a fuel pump? We have no idea. It just makes sense to us that a pump that's constantly running hot will conk out sooner than a pump that is properly cooled.

Ray: But as long as he's filling the tank completely when it's empty, he's probably doing little to no damage. And at a certain age, you have to worry more about hispump failing than the Pimp Mobile's!

Tom: I'm guessing what really bothers you, Annie, is the anxiety that comes with running precariously low on fuel all the time. If you're not someone who's eager to hike 5 miles back to the nearest gas station if he miscalculates, this can cause a certain amount of continual, and unnecessary, stress.

Ray: So, we think that in the interest of marital harmony, Jack should be less concerned with how often he has to stop for fuel and more concerned with his future wife's peace and comfort.

Tom: That may mean altering his habits a bit, but so what? He's still a young fella. You can't tell me he's stuck in his ways at a mere 80!

Ray: So, instead of making this a mechanical argument, Annie, if driving on fumes causes you stress, tell Jack that. And ask him if, for your peace of mind and comfort, he would be willing to fill up the tank when it gets to a quarter-full.

Tom: And then you can do something equally considerate for him. Like not swap his Preparation H with his Dentu-Creme when he's not looking. Have a wonderful time, you two!

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Safety first in new Subaru

Q: Please settle a marital dispute. I currently drive a 2001 Jeep Cherokee 4x4 with 165,000 miles. She ain't what she used to be. I would like to get a very zippy Subaru Impreza. My husband believes this would be a poor safety choice for me and my daughters. He believes the older Cherokee is a safer vehicle than the new Subaru because of its size and construction. I say the new safety equipment makes the Subaru a wiser choice. We need a 4x4 or all-wheel drive to haul our future Olympic skiers to the mountains this winter. Please advise; which car is safer?

Angela

Tom: There's no question that the Subaru is safer, Angela. The 2001 Cherokee got mediocre safety ratings, and has only two airbags for the entire vehicle.

Ray: The 2012 Impreza, on the other hand, has so many bags, you'd think it just got back from a going-out-of-business sale. It's got front airbags, side bags, roof bags and knee bags. Plus, it's got antilock brakes, stability control and emergency brake assist. It's got a lower center of gravity, so it's less likely to flip over during an emergency maneuver, and it's got a modern all-wheel-drive system, which won't cause unpredictable handling on dry roads.

Tom: It's more structurally sound, too, with better passenger-compartment protection and door reinforcement. And because it's new, it'll be more reliable, so you and the kids won't get stranded in a blizzard someday and freeze to death.

Ray: Other than that, they're pretty much equivalent, Angela.

Tom: There is one danger with the Subaru, which your husband obviously has identified: That new set of golf clubs he had his eye on is in grave danger, since you're going to need that money for the down payment.

Ray: But this is a no-brainer. Between these two, you'd be safer in the Subaru. Get four good snow tires for the winter, and this Subaru ought to get you and your family around safely for years.

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