Archive for Thursday, July 8, 1999


July 8, 1999


Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm looking for my car for the next decade, and I'm collecting opinions. In my effort to avoid a minivan, despite a lifestyle that would seem to dictate one, I'm looking at things like the Subaru Outback and the Volkswagen Passat Wagon. But my 8-year-old daughter gets motion sick, sometimes even on short trips when we are on winding country roads. I really don't relish the thought of spending long test drives on winding country roads with her and a paper bag in the back. Are there any design features in a car that make motion sickness less likely? -- Bobbie

RAY: Yes, there are. The most important being a stiff suspension.

TOM: There are a number of factors that contribute to car sickness. One is the type of road you're on. Winding roads or, even worse, winding, hilly roads seem to be the worst.

RAY: Then there's placement of the individual. Drivers rarely make themselves car sick (although my brother is such a bad driver, he's been known to do it). Front-seat passengers generally do better than rear-seat passengers.

TOM: People who look out the side or rear window seem to have a higher LCR (Lost Cookie Ratio) than people who stare straight ahead through the windshield.

RAY: And finally, the "floatier," softer or more boatlike the ride, the easier it is to lose your lunch.

TOM: So how old is she? She's 8? Well, I guess you can't let her drive yet. But you can sit her in the passenger seat. Although it's safest to have kids in the back seat, if she's properly belted in and far enough back from the air bag, she should be fine.

RAY: You also want to train her to look straight ahead, since staring out the side window can contribute to her wooziness.

TOM: And finally, you can buy a car that doesn't float around a lot. Taller cars, like minivans, tend to lean quite a bit, as do large American luxury cars. So of the cars you mention, I'd say the Passat -- which has a sporty suspension -- is going to produce the lowest LCR of the bunch. You might also look at a Volvo wagon, which has a similar-feeling suspension and is a little bigger.

RAY: And whatever you end up getting, be sure to get the Scotchgard!

Dear Tom and Ray:

A dumb question from a not-so-dumb person! Am I doing any harm to my cruise-control system by using cruise control for short distances of less than a mile in city driving? -- Adell

TOM: This isn't really a mechanical issue, Adell. It's a safety issue.

RAY: I agree. You won't do any harm to the car or the cruise control by using it in city driving. The cruise control couldn't care less.

TOM: The question is whether you can drive safely while you do so. The cruise control was really designed for highways and sparsely trafficked open roads, where you presumably would be going the same speed for a long period of time without the fear of bumping into anybody else.

RAY: In the city, it's much more likely that you're going to have to change speeds suddenly because of traffic, pedestrians, red lights or errant hot-dog vendors. And while it's true that you can turn off the cruise control by simply stepping on the brake, that leaves an extra second or two during which the car is not decelerating (which it would be under normal conditions if you simply took your foot off the gas). And that extra second could make a difference in a congested area.

TOM: So I'd strongly urge you not to use the cruise control in the city, Adell. Besides, think of all that extra toe exercise you could be getting.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1991 Jeep Cherokee with four-wheel drive and the 4.0 liter straight six. I love it. However, occasionally the speedometer fails to register and the "check engine" light comes on. This usually occurs on the first trip of the day and doesn't seem to affect the driveability of the car. The situation almost always corrects itself when the car is started the second time. Do you have any idea what causes this? -- James

TOM: No. Next question?

RAY: He's so helpful, isn't he?

TOM: Actually, I'd put money on the vehicle speed sensor (VSS), James. The VSS is an electronic sensor that has two functions in this car. One is to tell the car's computer how fast the vehicle is moving so the computer can factor vehicle speed into its engine management functions -- like the ignition timing and the fuel-air ratio.

RAY: The second VSS function is to tell the speedometer how fast the car is going. Instead of having a traditional speedometer cable, the speedometer in this car gets its input directly from the VSS. The car needed a VSS anyway for the engine management system, so why not use the data to feed the speedometer, too?

TOM: If the VSS is faulty, your car's computer should be able to confirm that. When the "check engine" light comes on, the computer stores an error code. Your mechanic can tap into the computer and see what caused the error. And if the computer says "VSS," you put in a new one.

RAY: And the answer to your next question is "50 bucks," James. That's what the part costs.

  • Car Talk with Click and Clack airs at 9 a.m. Saturday on KANU-FM 91.5.

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