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‘Moron’ mangled front end

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Question: Let's say a moron decided to take a shortcut through a parking lot at night. This moron might drive a well-seasoned '91 Dodge Dakota two-wheel-drive V-8 with an automatic transmission. To the moron's surprise, there was a curb in the middle of the parking lot, and he hit it going 25-30 mph. No obvious damage. He didn't hear metal strike the concrete. But there were a few changes he noticed:

1. The gear indicator is one gear off (it shows R when it's in Park, etc.). The linkage seems to move freely, and it shifts easily.

2. In the words of Road and Track, the engine seems to sound a little "throatier."

3. When braking and turning, the power steering seems to be a little sluggish.

4. The steering wheel seems about an inch off center, but the truck doesn't seem to pull a whole lot.

What could the moron have done to his truck? Hypothetically, of course. — Steve

Tom: I love hypothetical questions. Hypothetically, the moron could have done any number of things.

Ray: First of all, I'm sure the moron knocked the front wheels way out of alignment. That would explain the slight difficulty in steering. If both wheels aren't pointed absolutely straight ahead, you end up "dragging" one wheel, and that's probably what the moron is feeling.

Tom: The gearshift indicator and the throatiness can probably be explained if the moron hit the "Y-pipe." The Y-pipe is a Y-shaped piece of the exhaust system that comes down from the engine and runs along the bottom of the truck. It comes fairly close to the ground on this truck, if memory serves. And my guess is that the curb hit the Y-pipe, crunching or perforating it, which explains the throatier exhaust noise.

Ray: And the sudden impact on the Y-pipe probably also sheared off a motor mount. The motor mounts hold the engine in place. And if you lose one, it would shift the entire engine a little bit and change the whole geometry of things under the hood. That's probably why the gearshift indicator still works but is off by one gear.

Tom: Finally, the moron really needs to get the whole front end checked out because it's possible he bent his tie rods, and maybe a control arm or two. And that stuff can be dangerous.

Ray: So Steve, if you happen to see this moron — like in the bathroom mirror while you're shaving tomorrow morning — tell him to get the truck checked out, will ya?

Question: I am a public-school teacher in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I make tons of money(!) and am, therefore, able to send our 16-year-old son to the prestigious Milton Academy prep school, where he is learning to be a true liberal and rebel. He wants a Vespa motorbike to travel from east campus to classes (in the rain) and from his dorm to the grocery store in East Milton. How dangerous is the Vespa, as compared to his living in a state of "blue funk" for the rest of his life? — Linda

Tom: Linda, I'd tell this kid to take a flying leap. The Vespa is an absolute death trap, in my opinion. It's basically an unprotected, motorized projectile with which he can fling himself into an oncoming car or another immovable object. Absolutely not, Linda.

Ray: Aw, don't be such a pill, Tommy. Let the kid have a Vespa. The world is full of dangers. You can't protect kids from everything. I mean, we used to snack on lead paint when we were kids. We didn't know any better and look how we turned out.

Tom: I rest my case. Linda, I know teenagers can be persuasive (read: whiny). And you think you can solve their moodiness by giving them things, but you can't. The moodiness is a symptom of adolescence, not of having to walk a few hundred yards in the rain.

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 the Car Talk section of the Web site www.cars.com.