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Question - I have a brother-in-law who is neurotic. He thinks that if you drive on the highway for an hour, you have to let the car idle for half an hour with the hood up when you get to your destination. This is a man who also shakes his carbonated beverages before he opens them. Please tell my brother-in-law that neither of these practices is necessary. - Nancy

TOM: Wow, Nancy. This guy needs professional help. He's obviously suffering from PBCSD: Post British Car Stress Disorder. He must have spent his formative years driving something like an MG.

RAY: Yeah. He's obviously been traumatized by driving cars that were prone to overheating, and now he can't drive a real car across town without having flashbacks and leaving the hood up in the driveway for half an hour. He needs help!

TOM: We've had some success treating this disorder with cognitive behavior-modification therapy. It's similar to what they do for people who are afraid of flying.

RAY: You start by taking him out in a nice, reliable Nissan and driving him around for 15 minutes. Then you show him that the car hasn't overheated and caught fire yet. Next time, you drive him around for 30 minutes. And you slowly increase his time in the car until this fear of calamitous engine failure begins to subside.

TOM: You can do this, Nancy. Just take it a step at a time. And whatever you do, don't let him near an Alfa Romeo or a Renault. He may get retraumatized and set back his recovery by years.

Question - I make a religion out of keeping my vehicles for at least 10 years and 100,000 miles, but I've lost faith in my 1987 Nissan Stanza automatic wagon with 88,000. It has lost more and more power over the years. Now it can't even maintain highway speeds over any kind of hill. It drops down to 45 miles per hour and starts bucking and hunting for a lower and lower gear.

I've had three shops try to put the zip back into it by checking the spark plugs and timing, cleaning the fuel injectors and changing the fuel filter, but none of that has helped. It wasn't always like this, so I know something must be wrong. Do you guys have any ideas? - Denise

RAY: Sure we do, Denise. They're worth every penny you're paying for them, but we do have ideas.

TOM: One possibility is that your catalytic converter is plugged up. When that happens, the exhaust gases can't escape from the engine. And if the exhaust can't get out, the fresh gas and air can't get in, and the result is a loss of power.

RAY: The other problem we see frequently on these cars is a small crack in the hose that connects the air mass meter to the intake manifold. Why does that cause a loss of power? Because it fools the air mass meter into thinking there's not as much air coming in, so it tells the computer to send in less gasoline. And when less gasoline comes in, the car just chugs along.

TOM: It's very hard to see these cracks. For some reason, they're always on the bottom of the hose. That's why I always get my brother to squeeze his fat head in there and take a look.

RAY: Those are the first things that come to mind, Denise. So take those ideas to your favorite mechanic and have him check them out. And if you need more ideas, write back to us and we'll be glad to go on for a few more Stanzas (ha, ha).

TOM: Hey, folks, 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 (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Ruin No.1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.