Dear Tom and Ray:
After 12 years of driving bondo-colored bolt buckets with beach towels for upholstery, I finally got a "real" car (one made in the current decade). It's a 2001 VW Golf, and I want to take care of it. I am also planning a cross-country road trip this summer. Which tools and safety equipment should I keep in the car, both for long-distance and daily driving? (I have nightmares of being broken down in some little town on the edge of nowhere and getting charged $700 for a fuse while the theme from "Deliverance" plays in the background.) -- Brian
RAY: Well, a case of ignition coils should be the first thing on your list, Brian. In case you haven't heard, VWs and Audis have been suffering from sudden ignition-coil failure, and VW finally agreed to recall half a million cars.
TOM: The affected engines are in 2001-2003 models that use individual coil packs for each cylinder -- most notably the 1.8T four-cylinder turbo-charged engine and the 2.8-liter six, but there are others, too. You can get the full list on our Web site, the Car Talk section of www.cars.com.
RAY: Unfortunately, there's another Golf engine that hasn't been recalled yet. It's the 2.0-liter four-cylinder that's the base engine for the VW Golf. That engine uses only one coil. But we've replaced an unusual number of coils in those cars, too. So if you have that 2.0-liter engine, Brian, and you're going across the country, you might want to carry a spare just in case.
TOM: Other than that, we recommend a cell phone, an auto-club membership, a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of vice grips, a set of jumper cables and a posse of duct tape. Anything you can't fix with those tools, you're not going to be able to fix on your own, anyway.
RAY: You should also familiarize yourself with your gauges and warning lights, and know which ones mean you should pull over and stop the car immediately to avoid more serious engine damage.
TOM: Those tend to be the "oil" light, the "temperature" light and the "Camping Trip on the Cuhulawassee River" light. Good luck, Brian.