Dear Tom and Ray: I turn 70 in a couple of years and want to do two things to celebrate: Enter a triathlon and drive across the country on back roads in a new convertible.

Assuming I survive the first idea, I need advice on convertibles. Since I don’t have a garage, a hard-top is a necessary option. There are several nice ones, and I LOVE the Volvo. The trouble is, the mileage is so poor. While this car would not be my only wheels, I just can’t bring myself to support the car industry’s poor efforts at better mileage. Do you think they will wake up in time for me? I have three years to make a decision – and to find someone fun to travel with. – Ann

Ray: If it were my brother, Ann, he’d combine these two events, and attempt to do the triathlon IN the convertible. He’d get less winded that way.

Tom: Yeah. The bad news on the car front is that there’s no premium, midsize, four-seat convertible that’s head and shoulders above the others in terms of gas mileage. Aside from suffering from the industry’s lack of commitment to increasing fuel economy, convertibles also suffer from excess weight. They require extra structural reinforcement to make up for the rigidity that steel roofs usually provide, so they tend to be heavier than their “roofed” sedan counterparts, which further decreases their mileage.

Ray: The good news is that the auto industry is in the process of waking up to the issue of fuel economy after a deep, 30-year slumber. So it’s entirely possible that you’ll have better choices in three years than you do now. Someone even might come out with a hybrid convertible in that class, which would really raise the bar.

Tom: But at the moment, you’re right. The Volvo C70 convertible that interests you is rated at 19 mpg city, 28 highway, which means you’ll average about 22. That’s OK but not great.

Ray: The best of the bunch probably is the Audi A5, which does a little better, at 24/31. The Volkswagen Eos, which is a size smaller than those two, comes in at 22/30. The other Volvo-size convertibles, like the BMW 328i, the Lexus IS 250, the Ford Mustang and the Infiniti G37, are in the same mpg ballpark as the Volvo, or worse.

Tom: So I’d wait to see if one of those companies – or some other company – takes some bolder steps and separates itself from the pack. And if one does, you should reward it with your business in a few years. And take the trip before doing the triathalon, just in case!


Dear Tom and Ray: To use the emergency brake or not – that is the question! We bought a Mazda3 with a manual transmission for our son, and the question is whether he should engage the emergency brake when he parks his car. He leaves the car in gear but does not engage the emergency brake when he parks. He knows that if he were to park on a hill, he could engage the emergency brake for additional security. The question is: Should he just simply engage the emergency brake all the time? His father thinks one way, his mother thinks the other. What do you all say regarding the best practice to teach our son? – Kimi

Ray: He should make using the parking brake a regular habit, Kimi.

Tom: With an automatic transmission, using the parking brake is not as crucial, because putting an automatic transmission in park actually locks at least two of the car’s drive wheels. But if you’re driving a car with a manual transmission, there’s not much between staying parked and rolling down Pike’s Peak.

Ray: Putting the manual transmission in gear doesn’t “lock” anything; it makes the car harder to move, because you have to overcome the resistance of the engine, but it’s hardly impossible to move a manual-transmission car that’s in gear. And if the clutch is worn out, or your engine compression is low, it’s that much easier for the car to roll.

Tom: It also can be knocked out of gear in a way an automatic transmission can’t. If you’re putting packages in the car, or if the dog jumps in first, it’s possible to knock the shifter out of gear and send the car a-rollin’.

Ray: So, for those reasons, we recommend that everyone with a manual transmission make a habit of applying the parking brake every time they park the car.