Dear Tom and Ray: I want one more crack at a convertible, having had a wonderful Dodge Dart convertible in earlier years (it was stolen in Detroit when I left it with a company to replace the top and they parked it on the street — boo hoo!). Background: I’m 93 years old, drive a 2000 Subaru Outback (also a great car but has high mileage and a roof). I have extensive driving experience — across the country twice, 3,300 miles last summer (Mill Valley, Calif.; Durango, Colo.; Moab, Utah; across Nevada and back home). No arrests, no accidents, no problems (so far). What would you recommend for a secondhand, moderately priced, safe (air bags), serviceable and FUN convertible? Many thanks for your assistance. I’ve loved your column and radio show for many years. — Anne
RAY: Well, first I have to ask if you’d accept a marriage proposal from my brother. He’s been looking for someone like you ever since Wife No. 2 changed the locks.
TOM: I see you in a Porsche Turbo Carerra, Anne — as long as I’m not making the payments. I’ve made enough “payments” already, if you know what I mean!
RAY: Actually, the car that first comes to mind for you is the Toyota Camry Solara. It’s basically a Camry with two doors and a convertible top.
TOM: There are several things that make me think the Solara is the convertible for you. First, it’s based on the Toyota Camry, which means it’ll be durable, reliable, ergonomically practical and easy to service.
RAY: Second, it’s a little bigger than some of the sportier convertible alternatives, like the Mazda Miata, the Mini Cooper or the VW Golf Convertible. And if you’re driving across the country, it’s nice to have a little room for your belongings and not feel cramped. Plus a slightly larger car will feel more stable on the interstate at high speeds. Not to mention that size often adds some measure of safety if you do have an accident.
TOM: Third, the Solara’s a little higher off the ground than those other cars. That means you can get into it without having to “fall” down into the driver’s seat, or rappel back out of the car with a grappling hook. That also means you’ll see better when you’re driving. I thought of the Mustang for you, too. But you sit pretty low in the Mustang’s seat, and I don’t know how tall you are (you didn’t mention a playing career in the WNBA), but you may feel a little bit like you’re sitting in a bathtub when driving the Mustang.
RAY: Finally, it’s an easy car to drive. Yeah, it doesn’t corner at 90 mph like a Porsche, but it won’t require constant vigilance on your part to keep it in its lane, either. And with the top down on a nice day, any car is fun.
TOM: I don’t know what you consider affordable, Anne, but for $15 or $20 grand, you can pick up a very nice used Solara. I recommend red. Send us a picture, and enjoy it!
New motor mounts
Dear Tom and Ray: I’ve never given my engine mounts a second thought until my Acura mechanic advised me that my 2001 MDX with 95,000 gently acquired miles was showing “engine mount wear” and that the front and side engine mounts “ought to be replaced.” This is my lovingly maintained and leisurely driven luxo-truck, which has never experienced anything akin to an “off-road” experience or even modest abuse. So, are we talking rational preventive maintenance, or is my dealership’s mechanic looking for something to do to this otherwise problem-free vehicle? Dropping the front sub-frame and lifting the engine to install the mounts sounds like a serious invasion of my vehicle’s personal space, not to mention the $700 lightening of my wallet. — Robert
RAY: Your engine mounts may very well be showing signs of wear. But that doesn’t mean you have to replace them right now, Robert.
TOM: Engine mounts, sometimes called motor mounts, essentially are rubber blocks that both hold the engine in place and help to isolate the engine’s vibrations from the rest of the car. That’s so you don’t feel like you’re driving one of those motel beds that takes quarters.
RAY: In fact, that’s often the first sign that a motor mount is failing. You’ll feel a lot more vibration when the car is in drive and you’re stopped at a light, for instance.
TOM: Over time, rubber degrades from getting dried out and from being attacked by the ozone in the atmosphere. So all older mounts show some signs of wear.
RAY: The real question is whether there is any sign that they are broken or stretching excessively.
TOM: The way your mechanic will test your engine mounts is by putting the car in drive or reverse, planting his foot on the brake and giving the car some gas.
RAY: If a mount is broken, an observer looking in the engine compartment will actually see the engine lift up and twist. With a broken mount, we’ve seen an engine move as much as a foot.
TOM: If it’s stretching more than it should, which suggests it may be getting ready to break, the engine still will move more than it should — and a trained eye will be able to see that.
RAY: But in your case, since you don’t trust the trained eye you’re dealing with, get a second opinion, Robert. Check the Mechanics Files on our website (www.cartalk.com), plug in your ZIP code and search for a highly recommended mechanic near you. Then ask him to test your motor mounts.
TOM: If they’re not actually stretching or broken, I’d leave ‘em alone.
RAY: Even if they’re old, cracked and decrepit-looking, like my brother, if you drive gently, they could last a long time before actually breaking. Years, even.
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