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CHECK OUT NUTS AND BOLTS OF REPAIR-INSURANCE POLICY

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 1986 Cadillac has 25,000 miles, and my warranty just expired last month. I have a brochure from a life insurance company that will give me full repair coverage for two years at a cost of $750. I have neither the intention nor the means to purchase a new car. I've been treated very well by my dealership, and I've never had any major problems with the car, but I'm worried about the future. Do you think this policy will be a good investment? - VernonRAY: Normally, if someone wrote to us with a car with 25,000 miles, we'd say "take your chances." But two factors make this case different. One is that your car is an '86 Cadillac - not exactly the zenith of reliability. But more important, Vern, you don't sound like the kind of guy who likes to take chances. You sound like you'd rather budget the $750 and then not worry about it for the next two years, right? So we're going to recommend you get the policy, with one proviso.

TOM: We want you to do some investigating and find out if this policy REALLY covers everything. Ask the service manager at your dealership whether he's had any experience with this company. Ask him - even pay him a few bucks - to look the policy over. Call AAA and ask them for their advice. See if the Better Business Bureau has received any complaints about this company. Extended warranties (which are actually insurance policies) are notorious for their "fine print." This one may say "full coverage," but don't be fooled into thinking that it's going to provide the same coverage as your original warranty.

RAY: Nevertheless, if the coverage doesn't have any gaping holes in it, it's probably a good investment. For peace of mind, $375 a year is a cheap price to pay. But just to be safe, see if you can add the "fruit basket option" to the policy. That's where they deliver a bunch of fruit once a month to your dealer's service manager to keep you in his good graces.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a Mercedes 240 diesel with over 100,000 miles on it. It's a great car, and I'd like to keep it. The only problem is it doesn't have air bags. I am completely convinced that air bags increase safety. Mercedes tells me that bags into my Mercedes? - Norman

TOM: No, we don't. The problem is not so much the air bag itself; the hard part is installing the sensors. There are sensors around the car that trigger the air bag's inflation when you hit something. Those are nearly impossible to retrofit.

RAY: We suggest you look at this as a blessing in disguise, Norm. You're absolutely right about air bags. If you're concerned about safety, they're a must! So use this as an excuse to dump this noisy, smelly diesel, and get yourself a brand-new gasoline powered Mercedes. How about a nice 300E? Who knows, with a gasoline engine, you might even get going fast enough to need the air bag!

Dear Tom and Ray:

Since I'm so close to losing my mind over this, I really hope you can help me fix my beloved truck! I have a 1987 Nissan 4X4 six-cylinder truck that has not given me an ounce of trouble in all of its 72,000 miles. My problem is that soon after it was rear-ended at approximately 30,000 miles, it started slipping out of third gear and into neutral when my foot is off the accelerator. It seems to be happening more and more often. What can I do? Help! _ Sierra

RAY: Well, Sierra, the first thing you should do is have the two motor mounts and the transmission mount checked. If any one of those was broken in the accident, the twisting motion of the engine could cause the transmission to slip out of gear.

TOM: But if all of these mounts are OK, the problem is almost certainly inside the transmission itself _ and it may not have anything to do with the accident. On some vehicles, the linkage that connects the shifter to the transmission can be knocked out of whack by a rear-end jolt. But since your truck doesn't have external transmission linkage, we can rule that out. Your transmission may simply be on its way out to lunch.

RAY: It's going to cost you big bucks to fix. There's a lot of labor involved, and the transmission itself is expensive because it's attached to the four-wheel-drive transfer case. Start by getting an estimate for a new transmission. When they revive you, find out what it would cost to have them rebuild yours. When they revive you again, go out to some junkyards and price a used one. My guess is that a used transmission will be the cheapest way to go, but make sure the junkyard warranties both the parts AND the labor.

TOM: Once you've completed all of this research and discover how much it's going to cost to fix, you may suddenly become much more tolerant of its popping out of third gear. At that point, we suggest you try to discover the virtues of fourth gear.

RAY: Fourth is a wonderful gear and is often neglected and misunderstood. In fact, we've decided to make you the poster child of the newest Click and Clack organization, the BFG, the Boosters of Fourth Gear. Congratulations, Sierra! Our photographer will be calling you soon.

RAY: In the interests of giving credit where credit is due, the Click and Clack Award for Priorities in Engineering this week goes to our good friends at General Motors.

TOM: Japan may make cars that don't fall apart. They may make engines that last forever. But thanks to GM, America is light-years ahead when it comes to cup holders!

RAY: This week, we recognize the General Motors Mini-Van (Chevrolet Lumina APV, Olds Silhouette and Pontiac Trans Sport) for international leadership in cup-holder tech-nology.

TOM: In its fully beveraged position, (with the two middle seats folded down), the APV becomes a five-passenger vehicle with 14 cup holders! Do you realize that's 2.8 cup holders per passenger? Four out of five passengers can have coffee, tea and orange juice at the same time! C'mon, Toyota. What good is a car that runs forever if you're always spilling hot coffee on yourself?

RAY: Congratulations to General Motors for knowing what really matters.

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