I don’t want to take my parents’ Crown Vic to college

Dear Car Talk:

I’m just starting college, and my parents have agreed to buy me a used car.

They were going to give me their car, but I don’t want it. It’s a Crown Victoria. Get serious.

I want something big enough to carry four people, capable of hauling my mountain bike and fun to drive.

What do you recommend?

— Alden

A Crown Vic, Alden. You’ve heard the expression “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”? Well, my advice would be don’t look a gift Crown Vic in the engine compartment.

You may not realize this, but the Crown Vic is so uncool that it’s cool. I’ll lay out the advantages.

First of all, it’s going to be reliable. Your parents were the original owners and not only drove it gently, but probably took good care of it, too. That’s going to save you a ton of money. Money that could be better spent on textbooks and Donkey Kong.

Plus, there will probably be a guilt factor involved if anything does go wrong. If the engine compression plummets — before your GPA does — they y say, “Oh, gee, Alden, we gave you a car with bad compression. We’ll take care of that for you, son.”

Second, a Crown Vic is large, and all things being equal, larger is safer. Since you’re presumably going to be driving long distances to school and back, I’d certainly rather see you in something with some bulk around it than something smaller and “fun.”

Third, it’s versatile. I bet your mountain bike will slide right into the back seat. It’ll carry you and four classmates to the library on Saturday night (right!), and the trunk will swallow an entire dorm’s worth of empty kegs.

Finally, your friends are going to admire it. It’s not the average Corolla or Subaru that most students bring to college. It’s a cruiser. It’s comfortable. Your friends are going to want to go out in your Crown Vic instead of stuffing themselves into their Honda Civic.

And if all that doesn’t make it cool, you can mount an auxiliary spotlight to the driver’s door and watch the traffic move out of the way for you when you cruise home … if you don’t get arrested for impersonating an officer.

Dear Car Talk:

I recently learned that my mechanic has been filling my 2008 Chevy Impala with 5 quarts of oil, instead of the recommended 4.

I’ve also noticed an oil leak, which my mechanic attributes to a bad manifold gasket or head gasket.

Could overfilling the oil have caused these gaskets to leak? It’s a 3.9 liter six-cylinder engine with 104,000 miles on it.

— Michael

No. It sure would be nice to blame this guy, wouldn’t it, Michael? But overfilling the crankcase by 1 quart is not likely to cause any problem whatsoever.

Not that we make a habit of it at the garage, but that happens sometimes. The mechanic should have checked both the oil capacity and the dipstick. But he may have assumed that a large, six-cylinder engine like yours would hold more than 4 quarts. Most of them do.

But your oil leak was caused by those 104,000 miles you put on the car. And it could be a big job to fix. If you need to do both cylinder heads, you could be looking at well over $1,000. Even if it’s just the manifold gasket, it could cost several hundred bucks, which is still not cheap.

So, unless it’s leaking a lot of oil, you may want to apply the technique of “watchful waiting.” That’s the program my wife has me on.

It involves three steps: 1. Keeping a close eye on the oil level. 2. Topping it up whenever it’s low, and 3. Putting a piece of cardboard on your garage floor before it looks like the Exxon Valdez has been dry-docked in there.

If you’re losing less than a quart every 800-1,000 miles, you can even bypass the cardboard box, because you’ll be losing a drop every few miles on the interstate. And if that’s the case, this leak is of little consequence. It’s possible that something much worse will befall this car before the leak ever has a chance to become a mechanical threat.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com. Send comments to [email protected].