Election Section

Click and Clack Talk Cars

by Tom and Ray Magliozzi
Friday June 28, 2002





I'm a cardiology fellow at the University of Virginia. A graduate-student friend of mine has a 1995 Ford F150 that he loves more than a child. He also listens to his truck with deep intensity. Because I am a loyal fan of your column and because he thinks you are a couple of pedantic car quacks, I've decided to get your advice on his car to prove your skills. In the past month, he has noticed a hissing sound near the intake manifold during the peak of hard acceleration. It's there when the engine is cold, and it gets louder when he releases the gas pedal. He thinks it is a manifold gasket, but I don't know what that is. Could you please give me some advice that I can give to him and that would make a layperson sound intelligent? – Adam 

RAY: Of course we can, Adam. The first thing you have to do is establish that you "speak the language." You can do this by "clarifying" a few of the facts you already know. 


TOM: It would sound something like this: "It's an F150, huh? And the noise gets louder when you take your foot off the gas?" You're establishing here that A) you know a great many types of cars; and 2) you know that when a hissing noise gets louder at idle (when the engine is producing the most vacuum), it's a textbook case of a vacuum leak. 


RAY: Then you want to break a little new ground. So you ask, "Is it a 4.6?" That's a reference to the size of the engine in liters. No matter what he says back to you, you just nod your head in knowing recognition, as if that answer has significant meaning for you, too, and is leading you unwaveringly toward the answer. 


TOM: Then you take your swing: "I think it's a vacuum leak, but I don't think it's the manifold gasket. I think it's the gasket between the throttle body and the intake manifold." 


RAY: He'll probably say something like "Think so?" 


TOM: You say, "Well, you've checked the vacuum hoses that come off the manifold, right? I mean, I assume you've checked for cracked hoses already." 


RAY: And he'll probably say, "Oh yeah," whether he has or not, while making a mental note to check the hoses for cracks. And then, before you can get yourself in any more trouble, turn and walk off with the line "Let me know what you find." 


TOM: And if it turns out that you're right, send him a bill for $300 for the diagnosis ... just like cardiology, Adam.  


Car theft by the numbers 

This year's list of the top stolen cars has come out. However, the list seems to correspond to the most-sold cars. Is there a list of stolen cars that is weighted to the number of each model on the road? Toyota Camrys are more likely to be stolen because there are more Camrys on the road, right? But wouldn't my Lamborghini be more likely to be stolen than my Toyota Camry? – Jon 


TOM: Yes. When you look at it on a weighted basis (thefts per the number of those cars on the road), I suspect that a higher percentage of Lamborghinis are stolen than Camrys. And they're stolen for different reasons. 


RAY: There are two basic reasons why thieves steal cars. One is for illegal export. Let's say a guy in Bogota, Columbia, wants a fancy sports car. A theft ring in the United States might go out and steal one for him, and then sneak it out of the country and sell it to this guy. That's the scenario under which your Lamborghini would be stolen. 


TOM: The other reason for stealing a car is to strip it and sell the parts at a huge markup. In this case, you need a huge demand for parts. And the most popular cars on the road are the ones for which there is the greatest demand for parts. That's the scenario under which your Camry would be stolen. 


RAY: While we don't have actual numbers for Lamborghini, we did get numbers for some other models from the Highway Loss Data Institute for 1998-2000. 


TOM: Looking at the limited list it provided, the rate of theft claims (that is, the number of cars stolen per 1,000 vehicles) for so-called "fancy cars" is higher than average. The average theft rate for all cars is 2.6 per thousand. The Chevy Corvette, for example, has 3.3 theft claims per 1,000 cars registered. The Cadillac Escalade, a currently desirable luxury sport utility vehicle, had 6.5 per 1,000. There's also the inexplicable chart-topping Acura Integra, which had 20.6 per 1,000. 


RAY: By comparison, Camrys are stolen at a rate of 1.83 per thousand, which is below average. That's still a lot of cars, though, because there are lots of Camrys out there. But the chances of YOUR Camry being stolen are lower than the chances of your Lamborghini being stolen. 


TOM: Of course, the chances of your Lamborghini getting stolen just got higher, now that you've written to us and told us you have a one in your driveway ... and included your return address in the letter, Jon.