Dear Tom and Ray:

OK, I'm 16. I need a car. It has to have good gas mileage and a standard shift and must seat about four. I have earned $500, and my parents are contributing another $1,000. So what is the most reliable car I would be best off with for $1,500? - DonTOM: If you're a regular reader, Don, you probably know that we usually recommend parents encourage their teenagers to buy huge, old, ugly cars. This makes us somewhat unpopular with the acne crowd, but we think we have some pretty good reasons.

RAY: First, ugly cars are already ugly, so teenagers get a chance to perfect their parallel-parking skills without fear of gouging Dad's RX-7 (unless, of course, they're parking next to Dad's RX-7). Second, huge, heavy cars are safer than little, tiny cars. That's important because it gives teenagers better odds against those bridge abutments and telephone poles that tend to jump out into the middle of the road when you're learning to drive. Third, old cars get lousy gas mileage; another safety feature. Since kids can't afford a lot of gas, that keeps them off the road most of the time.

TOM: Although parents buy into this reasoning, kids usually don't - until we remind them that huge, old, ugly cars come with big old back seats. Then, even the densest teen is able to embrace this strategy with open arms.

RAY: But you have some specific requirements, Don. You want good gas mileage, a stick shift and reliability. So we'll make an exception to our rules if you promise not to drive like too much of a knucklehead. The best deal for you is probably a late-'70s or early'80s Toyota Corolla. Mechanically speaking, these were some of the best cars ever built. At some point, Toyota must have realized it was making them too good and backed off a bit. But these early ones were real beauties.

TOM: One more thing, Don. Don't spend the whole $1,500 on the car. Save some of the money for repairs. If nothing breaks, you can always use the money to rent something for prom night, like a limo with a big back seat.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I purchased a 1986 Porsche 944 this summer, and I would like to store it for the winter months. Any suggestions? - Dan

TOM: Gee, Dan, I think you're in luck! The producer of our radio show, Doug Berman, has a service for people just like you who want to protect their exotic cars from the harsh elements of the winter.

RAY: Yeah. He even provides door-to-door service. He picks up the car at your house and drives it to a warm climate (like Key West) where he gives it tender loving care and personal attention all winter long.TOM: Right. For example, to make sure nothing gets tight due to lack of use, he puts a minimum of 750 miles a week on the car. And to be sure that the fuel line doesn't have a chance to get clogged, he regularly drives at speeds of 140 mph.

RAY: Sounds great, doesn't it? But wait, there's more! This guy is absolutely meticulous. To make sure that the front seats don't wear out unevenly, he even brings along a female companion.

TOM: And it's all quite reasonable. I think he gets about $1,500 a week. Plus expenses. Drop him a note if you're interested. You can reach him at San Quentin. I think he'll be paroled just in time to fit you in this winter.

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