Friday June 14, 2002



I have a 1998 Audi A4 with 30,500 miles. I was recently told that the left front control arm has to be replaced and that the right front control arm will soon need replacing. I was told by the dealer’s service representative that this is normal wear and tear for a car after four years. I have a hard time buying that. What do you think? -- Tina 


RAY: Well, he would have been telling the truth if he had said it's normal wear and tear for THIS car, Tina.  

TOM: On most cars, it would be outrageous to have to replace your control arms after only 30,000 miles. Many last for the life of the car. But the control arms on this car are different. 

RAY: On this car, the control arm and the ball joint (a crucial piece that holds the wheel on) come as one piece. So when the ball joint wears out, you have no choice but to replace the entire control-arm assembly. And unfortunately, the ball joints on this car were seriously underdesigned (meaning they're cheap junk).  

TOM: We've been told that for the 2000 model year, Audi upgraded the design in the hopes that the ball joint would last for more than 30,000 miles. But unfortunately, that redesigned control arm won't fit on your '98. So essentially, you're stuck replacing these things, to the tune of 400 bucks each, plus labor, every 30,000 miles. 

RAY: You have no choice but to replace them now, Tina. But you might want to give serious consideration to trading in this A4 at about 59,000 miles.  



I really need your help. My husband drives many hours a day back and forth to work, as well as chauffeuring me and the kids around on the weekends to sporting events and other things. I believe that all of this driving has taken a toll on whatever brain cells he has left. When he is driving, he removes both hands from the wheel and does whatever he wants, such as reaching for something in the back seat or glove compartment, or using the cellphone, etc. He tells me this is OK because he is using his KNEE to steer the vehicle. I have begged him many times (OK, I've nagged him) to stop this practice, telling him how dangerous it can be, especially at 70 mph. I'm scared for myself and the kids. He won't listen to me. Maybe he will listen to you. Are there any kinds of statistics related to "handless driving"? -- Carole  

TOM: There are very few statistics for "hands-free" driving, Carole, for two reasons: Either the driver ends up dead -- in which case we never know -- or the driver survives but is too embarrassed to mention that he was unable to swerve and avoid the accident due to poor knee-eye coordination. 

RAY: It IS dangerous. While many cars with power steering can easily be kept moving in a relatively straight line using the pressure of a knee or thigh, sometimes you need to quickly change the direction of the vehicle. And you're not always given a lot of warning.  

TOM: Right. Accidents don't happen when everything is going just as you predicted. They happen when something unexpected occurs.  

RAY: He can also lose control if he ever has a blowout, or even if he hits a pothole large enough to move the wheels. TOM: So I think he's a candidate for behavioral conditioning. From your position in the passenger seat, rest your left arm on the back of the driver's seat. Then every time you see him take his hands off the wheel, administer a swift dope slap. Fwappp! Then ask him what he intended to reach for, and get it FOR him. 

RAY: Cars have gotten so good and so comfortable that it's easy to believe that driving requires no effort at all. And if driving requires no effort, then why not dial a phone, eat a bowl of soup or read a newspaper at the same time? But no matter how good cars have gotten, they still require two eyes on the road.