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DON'T FRET: OIL CHANGERS KNOW THEIR JOB

Dear Tom and Ray - My 1987 Nissan Maxima SE has 72,000 miles on it. I purchased the car new and decided at the time that I would keep it for at least 10 years. I have been very careful to maintain the car properly, adhering to the maintenance schedule plus changing the oil and filter every 3,000 miles.

Not long ago some male friends were going to teach me how to change the oil myself, thereby enabling me to save money. Our problem was that we could not locate the oil filter. Before the search ended, three adult men had spent 10 minutes looking for the oil filter, to no avail. We finally checked the owner's manual and located it, hidden underneath some other engine parts.My friends speculate that the attendant at a quick-oil-change store would not take the time and trouble to locate the filter and that the filter may have been changed only a few times during the life of the car, if at all!

Now I'm worried sick that this may indeed be the case. Do you think my friends are right? And what can I do in the future to ensure that my filter gets changed? I'm losing sleep over this. Please advise. - Patricia

RAY: Calm down, Patricia. Just because these three guys (probably two PhDs and a NASA engineer) couldn't find the oil filter doesn't mean the Cro-Magnon, knuckle-scraping, quickie-oil-change guys couldn't find it. After all, that's what they do for a living.

TOM: Right. I mean, I wouldn't trust them to deliver babies or change a dollar bill, but most of them can handle an oil change without any problem. So I'd be willing to bet that your filter has been changed every time you've changed the oil.

RAY: But just to ease your mind, I'd suggest a two-pronged approach to future oil changes. First, now that you know where the filter is, you can put a little paint mark on it to identify it. Then, after the oil change, check and see if the marked filter is gone and a new one is there in its place.

TOM: And just for additional peace of mind, I'd leave the owner's manual on the front seat. Leave it open to the page that says "How to Locate Your Oil Filter."

Dear Tom and Ray - My husband and I agree that whatever you say goes. We have a Chevy Lumina minivan. My husband doesn't come to a complete stop when he has it in Reverse and switches to Drive, or vice versa. I say this is bad for the transmission. He gives me one of those "like you know" looks. Will this cause permanent damage to the car? - Debbie

TOM: Of course it will, Debbie. You're absolutely right. And we're going to use your letter in our upcoming book "Why You Should Never Listen to Your Husband When It Comes to Cars."

RAY: It's due to be published right after our current book, "Why You Should Never Listen to Your Wife When It Comes to Cars."

TOM: Seriously, Debbie, what he is doing is very bad for the entire drive train. We wrote a pamphlet called "10 Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It" (by the way, if you want to order a copy for your husband, send $3 and a stamped - 52 cents - self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin No. 1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420). And shifting from Reverse to Drive before the car is stopped is right there in black and white as one of the 10 ways!

RAY: So whatever we say goes, Debbie? We say your husband goes . . . to the passenger seat.