Dear Tom and Ray - I have a '93 Saturn SL I use for my job as a pizza-delivery driver. I know I'm wrecking it by doing this, but what I need to know is just how much. Drivers who use their own cars are reimbursed 75 cents per delivery. My deliveries average four miles each, round trip. We have the option of driving a very-less-than-ideal company truck (with no reimbursement, or course).

In 16 months, I've put over 22,000 miles on the car, and about half of those are delivery miles. Should I drive the company truck instead? - Sheryl

TOM: Well, let's figure it out. You put about 11,000 delivery miles on the car. At four miles each, that's 2,750 deliveries reimbursed at 75 cents each. So you got $2,062.50.

RAY: If you average 25 miles per gallon, you used 440 gallons of gas, which, at $1.25 a gallon, comes to $550.

TOM: Since you require scheduled maintenance every 7,500 miles, let's figure 11/2 services, for $125. Let's also figure that you wore out a quarter of your tire's tread, worth $100.

RAY: As far as wear and tear on the rest of the car, let's take the average annual repair cost for an older car, which is about $700, and increase it by a factor of 40 percent, since the delivery miles are exclusively stop-and-go, which is much harder on the car. So for 16 months, let's value the wear and tear at $1,306.66.

TOM: That means it cost you $2,081.66 to use your car to deliver pizzas. And since you were reimbursed only $2,062.50, you're in the hole for $19.16.

RAY: But when you factor in that you get to listen to a better radio in your Saturn, I'd say you come out ahead. So be comfortable and drive your own car, Sheryl, if that's what you want to do.

TOM: Just don't spill any tomato sauce on the seats, or the cleaning bill will throw off all of our math.

Dear Tom and Ray - I am interested in buying a GMC or Chevy Suburban. What do you think? Because of two sons, all their friends and two dogs, I need a vehicle this size. Because of our activities - winter skiing 90 miles away and seasonal camping 85 miles away - we need the four-wheel drive. Everything I have read about these vehicles says they are gas hogs and have poor reliability. But all of the owners I have spoken to love their Suburbans and are repeat buyers. What do you think? - Mary

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TOM: I think you should get one, Mary. The truth is, there's nothing like a Suburban. And if you need a gigantic covered wagon that goes in the mud and snow, there really isn't any other choice.

RAY: Sure, they are gas hogs, and they're no more reliable than any other General Motors car, but there's nothing that gives you as much interior room and four-wheel drive. And if you need the room, you'll learn to overlook those minor drawbacks, just like the other Suburban owners you spoke to have.

TOM: I would caution you that Suburbans are a real pain to maneuver in city (or even suburban) traffic, and a nightmare to park. I've mashed more than one Toyota trying to parallel park one of these babies. But if you live in a semi-rural or rural area, and you've got plenty of room, you'll do fine.

RAY: That's true. Suburbans are really almost too big for suburbia. They should consider renaming it the Chevy Rural.

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