It’s time for a new car

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 1994 Geo Prizm that has been reliable for four years. It was in a wreck before I got the car, so it has no airbags and a cracked windshield.

I was told by a mechanic that I need to have the front axles replaced, which will be $788. I also know I should get my windshield replaced, which will probably cost around $200. Should I just get another car? – Joy

RAY: Joy, your name stands in such stark contrast to your automotive circumstances. The answer is, yes, it's time to get another car – and has been for a while.

The price for the axles sounds high to me – unless it’s for more than just axles. And the price for the windshield sounds low – unless you plan to install it yourself with mucilage. But regardless, I’d be leery of putting any serious money into this particular car.

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, you put $1,000 into the axles and the windshield. You’ll still be driving a 25-year-old wreck with no airbags.

At the absolute minimum – with so many enormous SUVs on the road these days – you should be driving a car with working air bags. And I’d prefer to see you in something a little more substantial than this Geo Prizm, too. Ideally, you’d also like to have antilock brakes and stability control, two very effective safety features.

I can tell you’re a frugal person, Joy. And I admire that. But not when it compromises your safety. So I’m going to suggest you move up to something from at least the second Bush administration.

If you can get something that’s 10 years newer, you’ll be able to take a big leap in safety, and, if you choose carefully, reliability.

If you have a mechanic you trust, ask him to keep his eye out for something reliable that another customer is getting rid of. If he’s worked on the car over the years, so much the better. He’ll know exactly what’s wrong with it, what needs to be fixed, and what you need to keep an eye on and be prepared to fix later.

Plus, you’ll know your favorite mechanic can work on it. And you might get really lucky and get something with electric windows and a working radio, Joy. We hope so.

Original Prius tires might be the answer

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2012 Prius V and was getting approximately 50-51 mpg. At 47,000 miles I had the tires replaced with Yokohama tires, and my mileage immediately dropped to 40-42 with the exact same driving habits.

I asked the dealership to look into it as I had never experienced this with a tire change in my two prior Priuses. They told me the diagnostic was negative and this was a known effect of new tires.

If this was true, my mileage should have been lower when I first bought my car with new tires and gotten better with time as they wore down.

This doesn't make any sense to me. The increased surface area and friction cannot account for such a decrease, and the car now feels sluggish, like it's always in low gear. It just doesn't want to speed up. – Anahat

RAY: The question is whether you got the right Yokohama tires, Anahat. Cars like the Prius, which are driven by people who know their mileage down to the second decimal place, use special, low-rolling-resistance tires. Low-rolling-resistance tires have specially formulated rubber that reduces rolling friction, and therefore, increases mileage.

The downside is that you give up a bit of traction (which relies on friction). But since most Prius V drivers aren’t going out for joy rides on twisty mountain roads, pushing .96 g of lateral acceleration while yelling “Yee haw!” most of them happily take the mileage over the traction.

What I’m wondering is whether your dealership gave you a tire with higher rolling resistance than your originals. If you got a standard Yokohama tire, because that’s what the dealer had in stock, it could be a tire that would be fine when replacing a similar tire on a Camry, but could noticeably reduce the mileage on your Prius.

Twenty percent is a big drop in mileage, but I suppose it’s possible, especially if they’re also a bit underinflated compared to your old set.

If you go to, enter your car’s information and then search under “Original Equipment,” you can find out which tires came with your car from the factory. Usually, there are several different tire models that manufacturers use on any given car, and that’s the case with the 2012 Prius V.

In looking it up (we chose the higher trim level; the lowest trim level came with cheaper tires), we found that the 2012 Prius V came with either Michelin Energy Saver A/S, Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02, or Yokohama BluEarth 534 tires.

Have a look. If the Yokohamas your dealer sold you are not equivalent to your original tires, you should ask him to take them off and sell you a set of original equipment Prius V tires as replacements. And if he doesn’t have them, he can order them for you.

Let us know what you find, and if you are able to return yourself to good standing in your local Prius club. We’ve seen the terrible public shamings they give people who get mileage in the 40s!

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