Well, have no fear: Click and Clack are here. Otherwise known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the hosts of the popular NPR series "Car Talk" published their first book (also called Car Talk, which makes it easy to remember) in 1991. Its stated goal is to help people save money on their cars in a couple of ways:
We hope to tell you enough about how your car works so that (A) you won't get ripped off by unscrupulous or unknowledgeable repair shops; (B) you won't make bad (or at least uninformed) decisions about how to treat your car; and (C) you won't dump your car prematurely. ("We will junk no car before its time.")The book starts out with a chapter called "The Big Picture," which explains, in essence, what makes the car go. The chapters that follow focus on specific parts of the car and the things that can go wrong with them, such as the front end, the brakes, and the fuel system. Each of these sections is illustrated with real-life examples picked up from the radio show, which, as Click and Clack note, not only "enable us to draw on our vast wealth of practical experience" but also "make it a hell of a lot easier to write the book." The final chapters of the book are about how to decide when it's time to trade in a car (with a strong emphasis on the benefits of keeping an old one) and how to keep your existing car running longer. Click and Clack argue—and have the figures to back it up—that it is almost always cheaper to buy a used car, or to keep an old one, than to buy a new one. They do note that buying (or keeping) an older car means trading off "comfort, luxury, convenience, and reliability" for more money, but they also point out that the money you save by buying a heap can get you such goodies as a two-week vacation every year...or a year off from work every ten years.
Now, admittedly, this book is now nearly 25 years old, so the Magliozzi brothers' figures are now a bit out of date. Several other parts of the book also reveal its age, such as the comparison between front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive, which you hardly ever see on a new car anymore. The book also doesn't cover such recent developments as hybrid technology. But the basic workings of a car haven't changed much in the past 25 years, nor have the basic economics of buying a new car as opposed to keeping an old one. True, there are plenty of other books on car repair out there, most of which are a lot more up-to-date than this one. Car Talk, however, has three big advantages over most of those others:
- The purpose of the book isn't to teach you how to fix your own car; it's to teach you when you need to fix your car. Other books give you a lot of fiddly little details, which can be overwhelming for newbies; Click and Clack give you the big picture in a small package.
- While some car-repair books include chapters on how to keep your car running longer (which includes driving it carefully as well as maintaining it scrupulously), this is the only one I've seen that includes information about buying a car as well. In general, there are books about buying a car and there are books about maintaining a car, and neither one goes into much detail about the crucial decision whether you need a new car or not.
- Finally, this is the only car book out there that combines useful information with the Magliozzis' humorous writing style. It's goofy, corny, and even obnoxious to some folks, but it makes this book the only car guide you're ever likely to sit down and reread just for fun.