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Dear Tom and Ray: Is it better to apply the brakes and then let off alternately, or just apply steady pressure when slowing down or stopping? And which method causes less wear on the brakes?
-- Bishop
Ray: Well, let's ignore the wear-and-tear issue for the moment. There are a couple of safety situations that call for "alternating on and off" the brakes. One is slick roads. If you don't have anti-lock brakes, pumping the brakes (releasing them just as they start to lock up and then immediately reapplying them) can help you stay in control of the car and keep from skidding while you stop.

Tom: The other situation where constant, steady pressure is not a good idea is when you're going down a long, steep hill. Then you want to use a low gear and minimize your dependence on the brakes. Excessive use of the brakes -- whether constant or intermittent -- could lead the brakes to overheat, which could make the brake fluid boil and lead to complete brake failure.

Ray: But to get back to your question about which method causes less wear on the brakes, the answer is: Nobody knows. And my guess is that -- in terms of wear and tear on the brakes -- the difference is so slight that it hardly matters.

Tom: However, I'd strongly recommend against "pulsing" the brakes under normal circumstances. Even if it does cause less wear and tear (and that's a big "if"), any money you save will be more than eaten up by the cleaning bills -- the bills to remove the puke stains from the upholstery from all of your nauseated passengers. So except in the situations we mentioned above, Bishop, try to brake smoothly and gently.

Keyed up

Dear Tom and Ray: We recently purchased our fourth Honda Accord, and I am now disgusted, amazed, angry and upset. I went back to the dealer to get two keys for my wife. Normally, the cost would be about six bucks. The dealer said the keys would cost $124, and it would be necessary for me to come back and pick them up another time! If I'd known this, I would have purchased a Camry! What's the story here?
-- Henry
Ray: The story is that your Honda key contains a computer chip that's part of the car's anti-theft system.

Tom: Honda tells us it works by radio waves. When you insert your key, it sends a radio signal to the transponder in your car's ignition system. And if the two codes match up, it allows you to start the car. If there's no code coming from the key (or if someone tries to hot-wire the car), it won't start.

Ray: So next time you go out and find your car still in its parking space, you can, in part, thank this little chip.

Tom: Unfortunately, it does increase the cost of the key significantly. Plus, replacement keys have to be programmed with your car's specific code, which is why it takes at least a day.

Ray: So you could buy a Camry, which doesn't have such a system. Or better yet, just negotiate some extra keys when you buy the car. When the guy with the white belt and plaid pants comes back from the mysterious little room and offers to throw in the floor mats, tell him, "Add in an extra set of keys and you've got a deal." If you're lucky, he won't know they cost 125 bucks, either!

Write to Car Talk in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. Tom and Ray can't answer your letter personally but will run the best letters in the column. Their radio show airs at 6 and 10 a.m. Saturday, and 5 p.m. Sunday, on WBFO (88.7).

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