Question -- I purchased a new 1997 Mercury Cougar. After driving for two weeks, the hubcaps were covered with black brake dust. I went back to the dealer and the service manager said, "That's normal. All Fords have brake dust. Look in the owner's manual, and it'll show you what to do."

I looked in the manual, and there's no mention of brake dust! So I wrote to the CEO of Ford Motor Co. at the time, Alex Trotman, and related my story. I told him the removal of brake dust with a toothbrush every two weeks was not acceptable maintenance to me.He never replied. I checked with another Ford dealer, who recommended PAM or silicone spray. The PAM attracted flies, and the silicone left a black smudge. I tried Castrol Super Clean for brake dust, and it was no better than soap and water. Any suggestions? -- Dick

Tom: Well, I can't understand why Alex Trotman never got back to you. I know he was trying to run a multinational corporation and all, but brake dust is important!

Ray: It's an absolute scourge, isn't it? It's related to the design of the wheels and how the brakes are ventilated. It's important to keep air moving over the brakes so they cool off. But if the air is drawn out through the wheels, it also draws out dust from the brake pads.

Tom: And if you leave that dust on the wheels -- particularly alloy wheels -- it can eventually react with the metal and cause pitting.

Ray: Some car companies are solving this themselves by redesigning their wheels. They obviously got tired of having their CEOs spending four days a week responding to letters about brake dust. So you might check with your Mercury dealer to see if the wheels have been changed since 1997 to correct this problem.

Tom: Other than that, your only choice is to clean them every week. If you keep up with it, the spray-on soaps -- like Castrol's or the foam cleaner made by Kiwi -- work pretty well. But if you let it sit for more than a week, you'll probably have to get on your hands and knees with the toothbrush.

Ray: That's what my wife does.

Question -- In a recent column, you said you've had some success with a product called "Restore." Under what conditions do you recommend it, and where can I find it? -- Bill

Tom: Under "desperate" conditions, Bill. Restore is one of those "ring-job-in-a-can" products. But it happens to be the only one with which we've ever had even occasional success.

Ray: Sometimes a customer will come in with an old beater that's burning oil. He may need it to last another six months while he finishes graduate school -- or till he inherits his aging aunt's Coupe DeVille. And if he's got nothing to lose (if the alternative is junking the car or rebuilding the engine), we'll often recommend a can of Restore.

Tom: And even if it doesn't work, no harm is done because he's going to rebuild the engine or junk it anyway.

Ray: So it's a last resort, in our opinion, and not recommended for your '98 Caravan, for instance.

Tom: The Restore folks say it's sold in most Wal-Mart and Kmart stores, as well as auto parts stores. And if you can't find it locally, you can call them at (954) 563-7001.

The Magliozzi brothers' radio show, "Car Talk," can be heard Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at noon on KUER FM 90.1, and on KCPW 88.3/105.1 FM Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. If you have a question about cars, write to Click and Clack Talk Cars c/o King Features Syndicate, 235 East 45th St., New York, N.Y. 10017. You can e-mail them by visiting their Web site at (