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Dear Tom and Ray: As you've probably heard, Cuba is full of classic American cars from the 1950s. A recent article in National Geographic Traveler said the photographer "brought spark plugs from the U.S. and gave them as tips to my drivers." I will be in Havana for an international education conference, and I would love to bring along some small automotive parts for gifts and tips. Any suggestions.

-- Kathleen

Tom: I'd toss a few transmissions in your Samsonite, Kathleen. And then stuff a differential or two into your carry-on bag. You'll be a big hit down there.

Ray: Actually, spark plugs are cheap, desirable and easy to carry -- which, I'm sure, is why the photographer chose them. You want plugs for, say, 1955-1959 GM, Ford and Chrysler six-cylinder engines. If you have to pick one, concentrate on GM. Any local auto-parts store ought to be able to get that stuff for you for short money -- about a dollar a plug.

Tom: If you want to make some people really happy, pick up some ignition points, condensers, distributor caps and rotors. Those are still relatively cheap (though more than spark plugs), and cars won't run without them. You can fit a whole fleet's worth of those into a carry-on bag.

Ray: Keep in mind, though, that the U.S. government frowns upon taking anything into Cuba that augments its economy. So you'll want to check first, and make sure your gifts of auto parts are legally allowed.

Tom: And if not, start wearing those pantaloon underpants, and practice walking around the house with a case of spark plugs in there. Good luck, Kathleen.

The "Car Talk" radio show can be heard locally on WBFO-FM 88.7 on Saturday mornings at 6 and 10 a.m.

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