Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a couple of questions that have bothered me for a long time. First, why does the side-view mirror on the passenger side of the car make things look so far away? Second, why do your emergency flashers stop flashing when you step on the brakes? - HalTOM: Hal, it's obvious that you're a philosopher. Only philosophers have time to ponder such profound issues. In fact, we have letters asking these same questions from Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Goethe . . . and now Hal!

RAY: Anyway, Hal, the reason the brake lights override the emergency flashers on most American cars is that they both share the same filament on the same bulb. Since they are both, in effect, the same light, the designers had to make a choice. Which one should take precedence? They opted for the brake lights.

RAY: The theory is that if you're having car trouble, and you're driving with your flashers on, the drivers behind you still want to know when you're stopping. If they don't, you may find yourself with even more car trouble before long!

We should point out we don't think this is a very smart design. And neither do the Europeans or Japanese, both of whom require that the turn signals and flashers be completely separate from the brake lights; also, they require that the flashers and directionals be amber colored (orange) to further differentiate them from the brakes.

TOM: The reason the passenger side mirror makes things look smaller is that it's slightly convex. That means it's curved outward. While it makes things look smaller, it also allows you to see more of what's back there, including the passenger side "blind spot."

Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 1986 Isuzu Pup pickup that has given me a great ride for four years with the best maintenance record of any vehicle I've owned. It has 75,000 miles, and has only one problem that concerns me. It backfires out the tailpipe after every shift under acceleration. It also doesn't seem to have as much power as it used to. Is there a fix for this, or is it one of those things that has to be lived with? - Fred

TOM: What did you expect, Fred? This happens to all Pups. When they get older, they become dogs!

RAY: Actually, Fred, this is not a serious problem. You probably have a malfunctioning anti-backfire valve (no kidding). That's a valve that stops fresh air from flowing to the catalytic converter after you take your foot off the gas. When air continues to flow during deceleration, and combines with the unburned gasses in the converter, you get an explosion that sounds like it's coming out of the tailpipe.

TOM: This problem may have an indirect effect on the perceived power of your Pup. You may be subconsciously driving the car more gingerly than usual because you anticipate a "ka-boom" everytime you change gears. It may not have any less power; you may just be afraid to push it as much.

RAY: So don't call the pound just yet. Have your mechanic replace the anti-backfire valve, and I'll bet this Pup peps right up.