Dear Tom and Ray: I have a 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX wagon. Yesterday, while sitting in traffic, I noticed that my temperature gauge was all the way in the red. I glance at it occasionally (weekly), and this is the first time I've noticed a high temperature. I continued on to my destination, parked the car for about two hours, then drove the car home. For the first three to five minutes, it was fine (below the middle mark), but then it slowly crept up, steadily but surely, to the RED HOT zone. It crept up there over the course of about 15-20 seconds. Any idea what would suddenly cause this? Thanks! -- Travis

TOM: Maybe it's global warming, Travis.

RAY: Yeah, combined with a blown head gasket.

TOM: It's possible it was something cheap and simple, like a stuck thermostat. Notice I said "was" something cheap and simple. Because now it's probably complicated and expensive.

RAY: Because you kept driving, even when you knew the car was already overheating, you may have made it a lot worse.

TOM: If your original problem was a loose hose clamp, now it might be a blown head gasket or a cracked head.

RAY: So, what to do? Well, unless your mechanic is three minutes away or less, have the car towed to him, and ask him to take a look. He'll check for simple stuff first. If he doesn't see an external leak, he'll do a head gasket test and call you with his "I've got bad news for you" voice.

TOM: In the meantime, you can start working on your home equity loan application, just in case.

RAY: And next time, when you're tempted to "make it home, then figure out what's wrong," be aware that there are some circumstances when that approach will cost you thousands of dollars.

TOM: Two of those circumstances are when you see red idiot lights on your dashboard that say either "HOT" (or sometimes "COOLANT") or "OIL." When you see those, pull over, shut off the engine and call for help. Remember, Travis, they're called "idiot lights" for a reason.

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Riding the clutch

Dear Tom and Ray: My dad had a rule when we were growing up: "You can't drive any car until you learn to drive a stick shift." I have two brothers who had no problems learning, but boy did I give my dad a run for his money on that one. I just had a heck of a time getting the feel for it, although it didn't help to have him screaming "CLUTCH! CLUTCH!" and turning red while the car was shaking and we were weaving around on country roads. Anyway, I finally got it, and I actually really enjoy driving a stick now, and I have never bought an automatic. My question is this: One of my dad's many, many rules of driving is "Foot off the clutch when you turn a corner." And when he's with me and I'm driving, every time my foot is even near the clutch, my dad has to bark "Foot off the clutch, foot off the clutch!" I swear I hear it in my nightmares. I recently moved back to my hometown, and my dad said, "I don't know what happened when you left town -- you were a perfectly good driver, and now I have to re-teach you everything." He

claims that by leaving my foot off the clutch when taking turns, I will extend the life of it. I think he's full of it and likes to critique all aspects of my driving and find "faults." Please help! -- Tesa

TOM: Well, your dad technically is correct, but he needs to switch to decaf.

RAY: There are times when you simply can't avoid using the clutch when you're turning a corner.

TOM: There are two parts of the clutch that tend to wear out, Tesa. The one you should be most concerned about is the clutch disc, which is the "gripping surface" that does the bulk of the work of transmitting power from the engine to the transmission. The way you can abuse the clutch disc and send it to an early grave is by riding the clutch -- which means spending too much time with your foot in between "fully on" and "fully off" the clutch pedal.

RAY: The other part that sometimes wears out is called the clutch release bearing, which is a device that applies pressure in order to separate the clutch plates. You use that bearing every time you step on the clutch pedal. But it's very difficult to abuse your clutch release bearing unless you make a habit of sitting at stoplights for minutes on end with the clutch fully depressed. Or unless you drop your gym membership and start using your clutch pedal to do lightweight, high-rep leg exercises.

TOM: So Dad's being a little over-zealous here. Plus, sometimes you HAVE to push in the clutch when you're taking a corner. Let's say you're in second gear and you're making a left turn at a traffic light. He wants you to just stay in second and then accelerate out of the turn.

RAY: But what if leaving it in second gear makes you go too fast through the turn? Or if traffic in front of you slows down? Then the right thing to do is push in the clutch. That allows you to slow down and control your speed, and then, when appropriate, either re-engage second gear or shift down into first.

TOM: So your dad's technically correct: Every time you step on the clutch pedal, you are wearing out your clutch release bearing a little bit. Just like you're wearing out your knee a little bit every time you walk. But is it worth worrying about, or yelling about? No.

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