Question: Being the granola crunching, bicycle-riding, tree-hugging kind of person I am, I'm considering one of the new gasoline/electric hybrid cars that are coming out. Do you have an opinion on these hybrids and on the idea of purchasing a vehicle so new that regular mechanics won't know how to work on it? I think Honda has come out with one that gets something like 70 miles per gallon. Sounds enticing to me. What do you think? — Anne

Tom: We think it's a great idea, Anne. Both Honda and Toyota are coming out with gasoline/electric hybrids this year, and we absolutely encourage you to buy one. After all, someone's got to be the guinea pig, right?

Ray: Honda's making one called the Insight, which is a futuristic (read: jelly-bean shaped) two-seater. Toyota is getting ready to roll out the Prius, which is a more traditional-looking, four-passenger compact car. And they'll both sell for about $20,000

Tom: The idea behind the technology is brilliant. Both the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius have small gasoline-powered engines and batteries. With the Prius, in stop-and-go traffic, the car is powered by the battery. Then, at higher speeds, the gasoline engine kicks in. And when you need extra power for passing or accelerating, they both join together. The Insight uses a similar system.

Ray: Switching between the gas engine and battery is controlled by computer, so the driving experience is seamless — or so they say. Plus, the battery is charged by the gasoline engine while you're driving and by something called regenerative braking when you're slowing down. So you never need to plug the thing in.

Tom: The result is a car that gets 60 to 70 mpg and has an enormous cruising range. But it has none of the inconvenience of an all-electric vehicle — such as looking for a 220-volt outlet on Interstate 90 between Cleveland and Boston.

Ray: But you're right about regular mechanics not being able to work on these things for a long time. So you'll be wedded to the dealer when it comes to maintenance and repairs. But both of these companies have excellent repair histories, so it's not a bad bet.

Tom: And as we said, somebody's got to be the laboratory mouse. So you're elected, Anne. Write us again and let us know which one you picked and how it's going.

Question: I was wondering if a car lasts longer with premium gas instead of regular unleaded? If I use regular unleaded instead, will the car die faster? My car is a 1991 Pontiac Bonneville. — Emily

Ray: The only way premium gas can extend the life of your car is if you submerged the car in it, Emily. That'll at least keep it from rusting.

Tom: But in terms of what you put in the tank, the answer is no. Unless your car specifically requires premium gas (which a few cars with high-compression engines do), premium is a complete waste of money.

Ray: Over the years, consumers have been led to believe that "premium" gasoline gives you some sort of "premium" performance. But that's not true. Engines are designed to run on fuels of particular octane. You need to use at least that octane to prevent pinging, but using a higher octane than that is simply unnecessary and, in fact, increases pollution.

Tom: This is an imperfect example, but think about how much water you drink on a daily basis. Doctors say you should drink about eight glasses of water a day. If you drink 28 glasses, is it going to make you healthier? Probably not. It won't hurt you, but you'll just, uh — relieve yourself of the excess.

Ray: The same is true of premium gasoline. Your car can burn it, but it doesn't gain anything from the higher octane.


Spending a little money now on "preventive maintenance" can save you big bucks down the road. Find out how by ordering Tom and Ray's pamphlet "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed No. 10 envelope to Ruin, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. The Magliozzi brothers' radio show, "Car Talk," can be heard Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at noon on KUER FM 90.1, and on KCPW 88.3/105.1 FM Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. If you have a question about cars, write to Click and Clack Talk Cars c/o King Features Syndicate, 235 East 45th St., New York, NY 10017. You can e-mail them by visiting their Web site at cartalk.com.