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Dear Tom and Ray - I have a 1986 Buick Regal with 185,000 miles on it. About 2 1/2 years ago, it started burning oil. I took it to the dealer, who said the return holes in my cylinder heads were plugged up. So they unplugged them (I guess) and replaced the gaskets for $150.

About six months later, I saw oil leaking where the gasket had been replaced. I was afraid to go back to the dealer since it had been six months, and I was afraid they might come up with another reason it was losing oil and charge me more money. Now, I have to add a quart every 100 miles, and the mechanic tells me I need a new engine. Should I spend $2,000 to $3,000 to do the repairs, or should I just buy a new car?I am a single, 55-year-old female, and I need to hear from you as soon as possible. - Betty

TOM: I beg your pardon, Betty! What do you think this is, the personal ads? This is the automotive column!

RAY: Actually, the question of whether to dump an old car gets very complicated, Betty. You have to factor in the age, the mileage, the condition of the rest of the car, how long these cars typically last, your financial situation, and, of course, any significant or memorable events that took place in the car. You get the picture.

TOM: But in your case, I'd forget all that stuff and just dump this beast. The 1986 Regal was not a wonderful car to begin with. And by any measure, you got at least 85,000 miles more than you should have gotten out of it.

RAY: I agree. With 185,000 miles, you're so far off the curve, they'd have to add another page to include you. Given how long these cars tend to last, putting an engine in this car is not a good long-term strategy.

TOM: And you have to think long term, Betty. Any single, 55-year-old woman who tries to get a date with two auto mechanics right here in the newspaper obviously has a lot of life left in her! Good luck, Betty.

Dear Tom and Ray - I have a 1983 Mustang convertible with a six-cylinder engine. Every time I turn on the defroster to clear the windshield, the compressor comes on and the engine idles much faster, which makes it dangerous on slick streets. How do I go about disconnecting the compressor from the defroster before next winter, since I don't need the air conditioning in the winter? - John

TOM: Don't go disconnecting stuff so fast, John. A simple adjustment ought to fix this for you.

RAY: The air conditioning compressor is switched on when you select "defrost" because the air conditioner removes moisture and helps clear the windows. In fact, it helps a LOT, which you'll discover when you ignore our advice and disconnect it anyway.

TOM: Since the air conditioning compressor draws a lot of power from the engine, most modern cars have a device that kicks up the idle speed to compensate. That's supposed to keep the car from stalling or running rough while the compressor is on. And if it's working properly, you shouldn't even notice it.

RAY: But in your case, the idle speed is being boosted too much. Adjusting the idle-up mechanism will take care of it, John.

If you want to ruin your car, we have 10 ways for you to do it. If you don't want to ruin your car, we have "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" You can order this booklet by sending $3 and a stamped (52 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Ruin No.1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.