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MIRROR ON THE RIGHT SIDE LETS YOU SEE `BLIND SPOT'

Dear Tom and Ray:

I've heard the saying that the most dangerous part of the car is the loose nut behind the wheel, but I would vote for the right side-view mirror. Why is it designed so that the approaching car appears to be much farther away than it really is? I know that there is a warning on the mirror, but why not just use a regular mirror like the one on the driver's side? I hope you can explain it to me. HoraceTOM: The reason it's there, Horace, is to eliminate the "blind spot" on the right side of the car. With a regular mirror, there's a spot where another car can "hide," and be invisible to you as you change lanes. The convex (or wide-angle) mirror eliminates that blind spot.

RAY: You're right that it does have a disadvantage. It makes things look smaller - and farther away - than they really are. So it does take some getting used to.

TOM: The best way to use it is in conjunction with your rear-view mirror. Check your rear-view mirror first. Then check your right-side mirror. If the car you see in the right-side mirror is the same car you see in your rear-view mirror, then it's OK to change lanes. If it's not the same car, that means there's another car that's closer to you on your right, and you shouldn't change lanes until you locate it.

RAY: If you think this technology takes getting used to Horace, wait until you drive a modern motor home. Many of the larger ones (like "The Ultimate Behemoth II," for example) now come with video cameras on the back. When you put them into reverse, the video camera comes on so you can see what's behind you. It's a pretty good system. It allows you to see how many Toyotas you're crushing as you back into your spot at Yellowstone.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Several opposing views have been expressed to me about whether it makes a car run cooler in the summer to remove the thermostat. Does it? Lee

TOM: Yes, Lee, removing the thermostat does make the car run cooler. But you should never, ever do it.

RAY: Everybody knows that it's not good for a car to run too hot. But you may not know that it's also bad for a car to run too cool.

TOM: The thermostat is just a valve that goes between the engine and the radiator. It's purpose is to keep the engine at the proper operating temperature. When the engine gets too hot, the thermostat opens up and lets the engine coolant flow through the radiator, where it cools off. When the engine is too cool, the thermostat closes and stops the coolant from flowing through the radiator, so the engine heats back up.

RAY: In the old days, shade-tree mechanics used to remove thermostats as a remedy of last resort for overheating cars. But that just covered up the problem rather than fixing it. It's sort of like taking aspirin for a broken arm. It makes the pain go away, but it doesn't solve the problem.

TOM: But taking out the thermostat can actually do quite a bit of damage on a modern car. Most cars now have computers, which constantly monitor the engine temperature and adjust things accordingly. If the computer thinks the engine is cold - and it WILL be cold without a thermostat - it'll enrich the fuel mixture. That will lead to poor mileage, carbon buildup and, eventually, a $400 repair bill for a new catalytic converter.

RAY: So leave the thermostat where it is, Lee, and find out what's really making your car overheat. Unless of course, you just want it to stay cool long enough for one last trip . . .to the junk yard.

The Magliozzi brothers' radio show "Car Talk" can be heard each Saturday at 10 a.m. on KUER FM 90.1 If you have a question about cars, write to Click and Clack Talk Cars c/o King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017.