Dear Car Coach,

We are interested in buying a new car that fits five comfortably. I already have a van, so I don't want another one. I don't want to spend a ton, but I want something that will last and is a good value. I would prefer a new car, but would also consider a used car with low mileage. It has to get good city gas mileage, since my husband and I mostly do city driving. I appreciate any advice you have to offer.

CW

Dear CW,

You may consider a CUV, a crossover utility vehicle. A crossover is a vehicle built on a car platform and borrows the features of a traditional Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). The crossover combines the design features from an SUV, such as large interior space, high seating, high ground clearance or all-wheel-drive capability with design features from an automobile, like car-like handling and fuel economy.

There are many choices from almost every manufacturer. Make sure to take them for a test drive, as each car is different. For any driver looking to purchase a new car, there are six things that you should keep in mind:

1. Seating comfort.
2. Visibility.
3. Can you reach all the controls and use them comfortably.
4. Safety.
5. Performance.
6. Fuel economy.

As for used cars, consider a certified pre-owned car, to get the most for your money. Previously owned vehicles that have been inspected and guaranteed to be better than other used cars. Typically, they are less than three years old with less than 50,000 miles. The best are certified by the manufacturer and are sold by new car dealerships. Be leery of certified pre-owned vehicles from independent used-car dealerships.

As for car choices, drive as many as you can to find what works for your family, then limit the choices and drive them again. Once you've decided on a few car models, price shop them against other local dealers and use the internet to get the best prices.

Dear Car Coach,

I have this dispute with my friends about how close you should sit in front of the steering wheel. I'm height challenged and can't reach the pedals if I'm too far away. Where should I be to be safe?

MS

Dear MS,

The proper seating position is never covered in drivers education or at the dealer; the facts are that no matter what your height, the airbag in the center of the steering wheel should be a minimum of 12 inches away from the center of the chest.

Some manufacturers offer adjustable pedals. If you still can't adjust the seat, contact local handicapped van services that could adjust the pedal to keep you safer on the road. Proper seating position is critical to controlling the car properly.

Dear Car Coach,

I have a 2003 Hyundai Sonata. Last year, Hyundai stated that I needed all my engine belts changed. They said that the timing belt was going to go. So I listened to them and had all three belts changed. Since then I have had nothing but trouble. Every time I start the car, there is this screeching that is so loud everyone around me can hear it. I have taken the car back to the dealer three times and every time they say there is nothing wrong with the belts and they do not know why it is making this noise. One of the belts that they put on started to smolder and was ripped to shreds, which they replaced, but they say that there is nothing they can do. Please Help.

RB

Dear RB,

The incidence of belt failure rises sharply in the fourth year of service for the typical belts. A broken belt is always bad news because when it snaps, all drive power to whatever it turns is lost. That means the water pump quits circulating coolant through the engine, the alternator quits producing amps, the power steering pump ceases to assist steering, and the air conditioner quits cooling. Many newer vehicles have a single serpentine belt that drives all of the engine's accessories, so when it fails everything stops working.

There may be a couple reasons for your particular problem: The bearings may be bad on one of the pulleys the belt goes around or the pulley could be damaged or bent, the wrong belt was installed, as there are varied widths and angles of the V groove. This would all cause a squeal and failure of an engine belt.

The mechanic should have not given you back the car without starting it. Either way, when the belts are still squealing, they should have taken another look. As for paying for the belt failure, I would talk to the service manager and explain your situation. They should be understanding and willing to discount the invoice and make it fair for both of you. The mechanic failed to do their job and the car's maintenance is your responsibility.