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Before hitching up trailer, check vehicle's towing capacity

Dear Car Fix: I have a 2007 Silverado with a 4.3 liter V6. I didn't plan on any towing when I bought it, but now have a 3,800-plus pound boat. What's the best way to increase my horsepower to help pull the boat?

-- D.C., Tonawanda

Dear D.C.: When buying a boat, RV or trailer, knowing the total weight of the trailer can help you decide on what to tow it with. Your truck has a maximum towing capacity of 8,400 pounds. So you should be in good shape. I do suggest trailer brakes and possibly equalizer bars.

Towing an average-size trailer is really easier than it looks.

Two of the most important things to have when you tow are a vehicle that can tow the load (this does not include gas/electric hybrid cars as they don't have towing capacity) and the proper hitch.

Trailer hitches are rated according to capacity of the load weight and tongue weight. Load weight is the Gross Trailer Weight, and tongue weight is the downward force exerted on the hitch ball.

If this sounds confusing, don't guess. Instead, get help from a local towing center or RV/Camping center. They can get you the correct hitch for your vehicle.

Many pickups and SUVs come factory-equipped with a Class III hitch, which is the most popular class of hitch. Most hitches bolt to the vehicle, and some are welded; a bolt-on installation is the method preferred for attachment.

For hauling any heavier load (car, boat, or camper), a Class III hitch can handle up to 5,000 pounds. All Class III and above hitches are made up of two basic parts.

The receiver part of the hitch is what actually attaches to the tow vehicle. The hitch is bolted (or welded) to the vehicle chassis. The receiver is a large square tube that accepts a drawbar. The drawbar is a smaller square tube that slides into the receiver and contains the trailer ball. The drawbar is fastened to the receiver with a pin that slides through both pieces and is held in place with a clip. Drawbars come in a variety of heights to allow the trailer to ride at a level plane.

For heavier boats or campers, a Class IV hitch (up to 7,500 pounds) would be required, and you might want to consider a 3/4 -ton truck at this point as well as electric trailer brakes and tow bars. Some trucks have electric brake controllers installed with a towing package from the factory.

Every state has different rules and regulations for towing a trailer. At a minimum, all trailers need to have working taillights and brake lights and most states require registration of the trailer with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Dear Car Fix: I am a baby boomer looking for the most comfortable, stable car to drive. With back problems and arthritis, I just want to sit in a car that's not impossible to get into and see through a big windshield and drive? I'm not looking to pick up anybody! I just want no-frills transportation.

-- K.R., Buffalo

Dear K.R.: Even modestly priced cars now offer good back support. Look for vehicles with lumbar support and be sure to test drive the vehicle before making any final decision.

Manufacturers are understanding people's needs for comfort and back issues; 80 percent of 2011-12 model-year vehicles offer driver or driver and passenger lumbar support as standard or optional equipment. Some 44 percent of models offer driver and passenger lumbar support as standard. And 31 percent offer driver-only lumbar support as standard equipment.

Not all lumbar supports are created equal; make sure to adjust the seat for your comfort during your test drive. Back-comfort systems are also becoming more sophisticated in cars and sometimes are accompanied by heating, cooling and massaging options.

Here are a few cars to try:

* Ford Taurus SEL and Limited trim levels feature six-way lumbar support and a rolling pattern massage. The bottom cushion provides a massage to the lower back and upper leg. Multi-Contour Active Motion massaging seats are an option on these trim levels.

* The 2012 Lexus LS 460 has as standard equipment a 16-way power driver seat for lumbar support.

If you have a car that you don't feel is supporting your back sufficiently, you can find lumbar supports at stores online or at mass merchandisers. Prices range from $160 to $245.

Whatever solution you use for back pain while you're driving, don't expect your car to do all the heavy lifting. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has some suggested workouts; just don't do them while you're driving.