Dear Tom and Ray:

When coming to a stop, my wife uses only the clutch and brakes of her five-speed Honda Accord and doesn't shift until she has stopped. I was taught to slow a car with a manual transmission by downshifting through the gears and then applying the brakes after shifting into second gear. My wife says that either alternative wears out parts of the car and she would just as soon wear out the brakes and not go through the hassle of downshifting. I maintain that the transmission is designed to take the strain of downshifting and that my method will result in fewer repair costs. Who's right? - MikeRAY: Well, Mike, on behalf of the Board Of Augmented Transmission-related Payments (BOAT-Payments), I'd like to thank you for increasing the number of clutch replacements this year, and in doing so, helping local mechanics keep current on their discretionary installment loans.

TOM: You're right that the engine and transmission really couldn't care less when you downshift, but what you don't realize is that the clutch really suffers.

RAY: So, Mike, as much as we hate to do this in so public a forum, we're going to have print right here in the newspaper that your wife seems to know more about driving than you do. We realize that your pride and reputation were both on the line when you sent in this question, and that, because of our answer, you'll probably be saying "Yes, dear" a lot more than you would have liked over the next 20 to 30 years, but that's the risk you take when you go public with something like this, Mike.

TOM: When approaching a red light, the first thing you should do is step on the brakes. When the engine speed drops to near idle (before it starts to buck), step on the clutch. Then put the car in neutral and let the clutch out. If you keep your foot on the clutch pedal while coasting or waiting for the light to change, you're wearing out an important part of the clutch called the clutch-release bearing.

TOM: When it's time to move again, push in the clutch, put the car in first gear, and drive away. If you're not sure when to do this, just wait for the guy behind you to start blowing the horn.

Dear Tom and Ray:

Whenever a mechanic or service-station attendant replaces a wheel on a car, they use a powerful air gun to fasten the lug nuts. These nuts are then physically impossible to loosen with the type of lug wrench supplied with the car. What can be done? - Jerry

RAY: Well, Jerry, the problem isn't that the lug nuts are too tight. They SHOULD be tight. If someone left your lug nuts too loose, you might not be writing to us now.TOM: But you have correctly identified the problem - the wrenches supplied with new cars are inadequate. In fact, they stink. If you're determined to change your own tires, go out and buy yourself a real lug wrench (one that's shaped like a plus sign). If you can't get the lug nuts off with that kind of wrench, you have two options.

RAY: One is to sign up for an exercise class and work on those biceps. But the better option is to get yourself an automobile club membership. Most flat tires occur on the road. It's not safe to be playing around with lug nuts as semis go whizzing by you at 65 mph. The best thing to do when you get a flat is to make sure you pull safely off the road, and then call for help. If there's no safe place to pull over, then put your flashers on and keep driving. You may ruin $150 worth of tire and wheel, but you may also save your life.