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Dear Tom and Ray:

How long does a 50-month battery really last? - JeanTOM: That's one of the great unanswered questions of our time, Jean. It's up there with "What is the meaning of life?" and "How many Corinthians were sacrificed for each crushed-Corinthian Chrysler Cordoba interior?"

RAY: The answer is that nobody really knows. The length of the warranty is simply an estimate based on the strength of the battery. So don't select a battery on the basis of months (you'll probably sell the car before then anyway). Compare the "cold cranking power" - a better measure of the battery's strength. These numbers are usually related - but check! You'll also find that a battery's strength tends to be proportional to its size and weight; the more plates inside the battery, the more power it has.

TOM: It's also important to remember that you can't start your car with a warranty. Getting back a prorated portion of your battery's cost won't make you feel any better after your car left you stranded some frigid morning. If you live in a part of the country where it gets cold (i.e., if you own a pair of long underwear), you should always get the biggest, strongest battery that will fit under your hood.

RAY: You should also stick with brand names with many locations that will honor the warranty. If you buy "Fred and Ethyl's Homemade 36-Month Battery," you may have to return it to Fred and Ethyl's Gas Station and Charm School in East Treetrunk where you bought it in order to get your $10 back.

TOM: Buying a battery is a perfect time to apply one of the famous Click and Clack Great Unyielding Truths: "It's the stingy person who spends the most." The difference in price between Fred and Ethyl's nine-volt and a top-of-the-line "Conan the Electrocutor" battery is usually 20 or 30 bucks. Get the best battery you can, you'll be glad you did.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Why in the world do carmakers connect power window circuits so that the ignition switch must be turned on in order to operate the windows? It's a pain! You get out of the car and realize you left a window open. Then you have to turn the ignition back on so you can close the window. Why don't they wire the windows so they can work anytime? - Fred

RAY: The reason most power windows won't work with the ignition off is so that little Johnny can't guillotine the family cat by putting up the window while mom and dad are in the video store. I suppose they're also concerned that once the cat is done for, Johnny might go after his little sister.

TOM: It's a safety feature, Fred, and like many safety features, it serves an important purpose while creating a mild pain in the neck. Here's another example. All cars with automatic transmissions have "neutral safety switches." These prevent you from starting the car in "drive" and making kindling out of the garage door. It's inconvenient when your car stalls in traffic and you have to shift before restarting it, but think of all the innocent garage doors it's saved.

RAY: That's nothing. My car won't start unless the clutch is depressed. Every time it's in a good mood, I'm late for work.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack Talk Cars c/o King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th Street, New York, N.Y. 10017.