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SAD FACT HELPS TAKE SHINE OFF L.A. DRIVING

Here's something else to worry Los Angeles motorists as they bake in bumper-to-bumper in smoggy traffic jams: The city is by far the hardest place in the country to keep one's car looking good.

That's the conclusion of a study by Armor All Products Corp., which ranked the 12 toughest cities in America for car appearance by studying five categories - heat, ultraviolet rays, ozone, environmental fallout and annual temperature range.The company, which not surprisingly makes protective coatings for car finishes and trim, said these factors are most harmful to exposed automobile surfaces such as paint, rubber, vinyl and plastic.

The "Dirty Dozen" list put Los Angeles at the top, followed by Sacramento, Calif.; the New York/Newark, N.J., area; Phoenix; and Washington, D.C. Rounding out the list were Kansas City, Mo.; the Dallas/Fort Worth area; Denver; Atlanta; Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis.

Information for the study was compiled from several sources, including the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"While every area has certain effects that can damage a vehicle's appearance, others have combined factors which compound the problems," said Leslie Kennedy, manager of consumer relations for Armor All, heardquartered in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

"The America's Dirty Dozen list is designed to alert consumers in these areas that they need to take extra precautions to protect their vehicles," she added.

Preventive measures include regular washing, having a good coat of wax on the car, using a silicone-based protectant on all trim inside and out. Parking in the shade whenever possible and rolling down the windows slightly on warm days - in safe neighborhoods, that is - also helps.