Is the Passat wagon a good choice for my son?

Q. We are looking into buying a car for our son who is a sophomore in college. He is in a band and he needs to be able to transport his drum set in the car, so decent cargo space is mandatory. Our price range is up to $7000 and we are looking at a Passat wagon. What are your thoughts on this specific vehicle or similar ones?

A. The Passat is a good car but can get expensive to maintain as it get older. With your price range you are typically going to be looking at 8-10 year old cars with well over 100,000 miles on them that could potentially have some issues. Like with any vehicle of this age, it is a good idea to bring it to a repair shop for a pre-purchase inspection to find any problems before acquiring the car. As practical, but not as desirable, may be a mini-van. For $7000 you may find a newer minivan with lower mileage that will be able to carry a drum set as well as part of the band.  

Q. Needing to go out in all weather conditions and not being ready to buy a SUV, I wanted to get winter tires for my Ford Focus. Last winter was rather mild and I read in a consumer magazine that snow tires should only be mounted for severe enough weather; otherwise they don't have enough traction on dry or wet roads. What do you think?

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A. Think of tires just like you would think of shoes. Specialized footwear allows at athlete to perform better during specific conditions. This is the same with snow tires on your car. Although snow tires won’t give you the same dry traction that a summer or all season tires can, there is no substitute in poor weather conditions. For maximum winter traction purchase four snow tires and remove them in early spring to maximize their life.

Q. My 2003 Taurus has needed three starters: the original and two replacements after six years and now four years later. This is the only time I have ever replaced starters during many years of driving. Any ideas why I am doing this repair so often?

A. There could be several issues including the quality of the replacement starter. Replacing the starter certainly did fix the problem but the cause may have in fact been a poor electrical connection. A good technician should test the starter by measuring voltage drop. Using this method will determine if the problem is related to the wiring to the starter.

Q. I am an Audi lover. I think their quality ride and handling is outstanding. However, I also love an automatic/remote starter.  Audi does not install them, except in European models.  I inquired about an after-market installation and was told that the installation could void my warranty. Any idea what the reasoning is behind not having a remote starter as an option?  Any sign that remote starters may be in future models? BTW do you tweet about you radio program or other automotive happenings?

A. There are more and more models that can be optioned with remote starting systems; unfortunately Audi is not one of them. Regarding the installation of an aftermarket unit voiding the warranty, this statement is untrue. According to the Magnuson Moss Warranty Improvement Act no vehicle manufacturer can make the warranty conditional on the use of any brand of security or other electronics system unless that manufacturer makes that feature free of charge or the Federal Trade Commission has published that only that manufactures product can be used. My suggestion is to find a quality installer that uses high quality products and you won’t have a problem. Yes you can follow me on twitter--www.twitter.com/johnfpaul

Readers Respond: My email box quickly filled with commentary regarding some vehicle manufacturer efforts to improve fuel economy by removing spare tires or having spare tire repair kits. The unanimous sentiment from readers was it is dangerous and not worth the small trade off in fuel economy-“Give me my spare tire back” was echoed many times!

Reader -Bruce W writes: I currently lease a 2012 Hyundai Elantra. It only came with a DIY tire repair kit. Every time I drive this car; I think of the possibility of a sidewall flat or other non-repairable tire problems. An aftermarket temporary spare tire is not available for the 17 wheel that's standard on this model. I will not buy or lease another car that doesn't have a spare tire.

Barry Steinberg of Direct Tire writes: “As a tire dealer we see clients "everyday" dealing with the stress of no spare tire. I believe the elimination of a spare tire puts the car owner in harms way. What do the automobile manufacturers think an owner should do on a dark road in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire and no cell service?”