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Dear Tom and Ray:

I enjoy your column very much. To my amazement, so does my wonderful mother-in-law, who is 75. Recently, she and I were talking about her car. It's a one-owner, 10-year-old Chevy Citation with about 30,000 miles on it. It has no serious problems and is in good shape. She wasn't thinking about getting a new car until recently, when a relative who is in her 80s suddenly had to get a new car because her old one was failing. Now my mother-in-law is worried about being an 85-year-old mother-in-law with a 20-year-old Citation! She would rather buy a new car now than have to get a new one at that age.Her question to me was, "Do you think I should follow Tom and Ray's advice and keep up the old Citation, or should I buy a new car now and avoid the problem my friend had?" What do you say?

- John

TOM: Well, John, let's consider the important stuff first. If she's eventually going to leave her car to you, you should convince her that what she really needs is a 300ZX! Wouldn't you rather inherit that than an '83 Citation?

RAY: Don't listen to him, John. He's an ingrate. Ask our mother. Of course your mother-in-law should keep the Citation if she likes it. It has only 30,000 miles on it. If she takes good care of it and does the regular maintenance, there's no reason why it won't last as long as she wants it to.

TOM: Probably longer.

RAY: On the other hand, you should read between the lines, John. If what she's really saying is that she WANTS a new car, by all means, tell her to get one. She's at the age where she should do whatever she wants.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1989 Toyota 4-Runner with V6 engine and five-speed manual transmission. It has been running perfectly in both summer and winter. Recently, I purchased a boat and installed a hitch on the car. The problem comes when I pull the trailer (both with and without the boat) out of the water. Every single time I do it, I smell something burning coming from my car. I've noticed that it doesn't happen to other people when they pull their trailers out of the water - even if they have bigger boats. What is the problem?

- Phil

TOM: You know what that smell is, Phil? It's $400 burning up in your wallet!

RAY: It's your clutch burning up, Phil. If you peer into the windows of those other cars that don't smell when they pull boats, you'll notice that they all have automatic transmissions.

TOM: A lot of people think that manual transmissions are better for pulling trailers, but that's not true. When a manual transmission's clutch slips, it's wearing out. But automatic transmissions are designed to slip, so they're better able to take the punishment of pulling extra weight.

RAY: I'd get a pair of nose plugs, Phil. And when the clutch burns out, replace it and then trade this baby in for an automatic.

TOM: And by the way, congratulations on being able to afford a new boat. What kind of automotive repair shop to you own, anyway?

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 East 45th Street, New York, NY 10017.