Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 1973 Dodge Swinger. I use only leaded gasoline. But since leaded gas these days has only a tiny bit of lead in it, should I use one of these bottled lead substitutes? - MacRAY: Not to change the subject, Mac. But if ever there was a car that was misnamed, it was the Dodge Swinger. If you pick up the current issue of Nerd Monthly, you'll find that the Swinger is STILL No. 1 in their reader's survey of most desirable cars.

TOM: Yeah. A better name for this car would have been the Dodge Stodge.

RAY: Anyway, Mac, the answer is no. We don't think you should bother with lead additives. First of all, they're expensive. Second, you may not really need them.

TOM: The reason lead was added to gas in the first place was to protect the valve seats. They take a real pounding when the engine runs, and lead softens the blow.

RAY: But who knows? Your valve seats may never wear out. And if they ever do, at worst you'll need a valve job some day.

TOM: So instead of buying lead substitutes, pocket the money and save up for the valve job. If you're really lucky, the car will die before you ever need one. Then you can use the money as a down payment on a nice '78 AMC Concord (which, by the way, is No. 2 on the Nerd Monthly's top 10 list).

RAY: Talk about good ideas!

TOM: What? You going to keep quiet this week?

RAY: No, listen to what the Unocal oil company is doing in California. They're crushing thousands of old jalopies.

TOM: That's terrible! Why are they doing this?

RAY: They're doing it to reduce pollution, dummy. Have you ever seen the smog in Southern California? It looks like the living room after Aunt Lucille smokes one of those fat Cuban cigars she likes. Anyway, Unocal thought a cheap way to get rid of some of that smog was to get some of these old heaps off the road. So they offered to pay $700 for every pre-1971 junker offered up for the crusher.

TOM: Wait. You mean they'll give me $700 for every one of my cars?

RAY: Calm down, Exhaust Breath. They ran out of money after they crushed the first 8,400 cars. So don't spend the money just yet.

TOM: That's all - 8,400 cars? What good does that do in a state the size of California? That's just a drop in the rust bucket!

RAY: It is and it isn't. As it turns out, most cars of that vintage produce 40 to 50 times as much pollution as new cars.

TOM: Hmmm. So if my math is correct, taking 8,400 old cars off the road is the emissions equivalent of taking 300,000 to 400,000 new cars off the road. Gee! Maybe I'll get mine crushed one of these days.

RAY: I don't know if yours will count. I don't think they consider it "crushing" when all you'd have to do is step on it.