Under the Hood: When you want a car built like a tank

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

July 1, 2019

Q: I am a single woman in my mid-70s, and I still drive my 1992 Volvo 240 sedan, although I canít find an affordable mechanic, which makes me very uneasy. About 45 years ago, I almost was killed when a Mazda with a mentally ill driver slammed into my VW bug at about 40 mph, and I still have physical limitations as a result. I purchased a Dodge Dart, the sturdiest car I could find until it died a natural death and then got the Volvo, another sturdiest car I could find.

My friends say newer cars are much safer than old Volvos and I should replace it with a more common car like a Toyota or Honda hybrid, preferably with crush zones, special sensing equipment and safety equipment. I doubt I will be driving in five years and wonder about this advice. I can afford a new car, but hesitate because they are small and have a plastic look, and I am unused to that swept back windshield that reduces wind resistance. Clearly, I am very ignorant about cars, something one friend said you knew a lot about. I have no family for guidance. So I am asking for your advice.

ó J.S.

A: Thereís no question your Volvo is built like a tank! I can still recall the bank vault door sound mine made when closing a door! I believe your 240 has a single driverís side air bag and knee bolster, along with anti-lock brakes. How things have changed!

Letís look at a new Honda Accordís safety features by comparison: Driver and passenger air bags, front and rear head air bags, front side air bags, 4-wheel ABS, brake assist, electronic stability control, daytime running lights, traction control, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, lane watch, cross traffic monitor, collision mitigation and auto high beams.

Tremendous strides have also been made in occupant protection related to body design with crumple zones, as you mentioned.

Many of the features can help protect you from boo-boos you might make, in addition to the craziness of others who are inattentive or simply rude. I notice that as the years go by I make more mistakes per mile, missing something from the corner of my eye or because my reaction time has slackened.

Adding cameras to the car sure helps, Iíll bet youíd really like the lane watch and cross traffic features once youíve tried them! Collision mitigation and brake assist are also great features to compensate for reduced reaction time. Radar senses your proximity and closing velocity to vehicles ahead and dives on the brakes as needed to reduce the chance of hitting another vehicle or object. Brake assist looks at brake pedal urgency and ramps up assist, teaming with ABS to compensate for tentative/insufficient braking efforts.

Thereís no question modern cars are heavy on plastic, but once you try out the comfort, quietness and convenience features, youíre likely to never look back! Added piece of mind would come from driving a car under warranty for several years. Perhaps you might rent an Accord, Camry or similar for a weekend, take a friend along and explore the features together? Then you can decide whatís best for you!