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ALL-WHEEL DRIVE - JUST A VARIETY OF THE 4-WHEELER

Question: I have been looking to buy the Plymouth Grand Voyager equipped with all-wheel-drive. Do you know of any problems with this vehicle or the all-wheel-drive system? How does this system compare with a four-wheel-drive system in the snow and other various road conditions? Finally, how does all-wheel-drive compare with the Ford Aerostar's electronic four-wheel-drive system?

Answer: I think we have a problem with terms here. All-wheel-drive (AWD) is a kind of four-wheel-drive (4WD). It is a "full-time" 4WD system that operates without driver input, as opposed to a "part-time" system that requires the driver to engage it.Pleasure cars are generally equipped with full-time systems, while most sport-utility vehicles employ part-time systems. The confusion comes in, I think, because the automakers tend to refer to the full-time pleasure-car systems as AWD and the part-time sport-ute setups as 4WD.

The full-time system - which automatically apportions power to the wheels with the best traction, as opposed to simply locking in additional drive wheels as the part-time system does - is virtually as good in mud or snow as a part-time system, and more convenient.

As for the difference between the Voyager and Explorer systems, there is no essential one. Both are full-time 4WD systems, or AWD, if you will.

To answer your other question, the Voyager, and its full-time system, are good, durable machinery.

Question: I bought an '87 Nissan Sentra 18 months ago for $4,500. Within six weeks I had to replace the battery, the water pump and fuel pump. (I couldn't afford the warranty, being a struggling, 65-year-old widow.)

Then I had to spend money on an alternator and radiator-fan switch, three cracked belts, a front exhaust pipe, two oil leaks and a sender unit (the sensor that translates oil pressure into the electrical impulses that go to the oil-pressure gauge), and a rusted-out catalytic converter bracket.

The car now has 50,000 miles on it, and I just had the timing belt replaced because I just knew that with my luck it would go next, stranding me and causing great damage. My question is: Is there anything else that could go on me, or can I breathe easier? I'm so paranoid I can't enjoy my car. I've spent $1,500 so far on repairs I can ill afford.

Answer: If there is any justice in the world, you ought to be OK for a while, but who's to say? There are a heck of a lot of other moving parts that could go south on that car. You were smart, by the way, to have that timing belt replaced at that mileage.

I would suggest that the next time you buy an unwarranted used car, you have a professional check it out first. Ask your mechanic to go over it, or take it to a diagnostic center.

Question: I am in need of a new car, and I would like to buy a 1995 model. My car, a Buick LeSabre, is 14 years old. My price range is $15,000 to $16,000. I have looked at the Buick Skylark and the Chevrolet Corsica. My husband would like to see me get a six-cylinder four-door with 15-inch wheels. Do you have any suggestions? I am in desperate need of advice.

Answer: Since you are driving a LeSabre, you are used to a fairly roomy car. The Chevrolet Lumina is a spacious, midsize sedan in your price range that conforms with your husband's interest in four doors, six cylinders and 15-inch wheels.

If you can live with something a little smaller, you might look at the new Ford Contour, Nissan Altima, and the soon-to-arrive Dodge Stratus.