Dear Car Talk:
I was born in 1947 and lived through the whole “Woodie” era. I knew people who had them, and they were considered special, like a Lexus or Land Rover might be today. But I have always wondered if that was real wood. Was it? – Ronald
RAY: Absolutely. In fact, if you walk up to a Woodie and look closely, you can see the bar code from Home Depot. For those too young to remember Woodies – which is most people now – they were cars that had side and rear panels made out of actual wood.
Early on, Woodies were kind of custom vehicles, made either by do-it-yourselfers or by third-party customizers who would add wood panels to your car for a price. Then, in the 1930s, you started seeing a bunch of cars from the big, American car companies that came from the factory with wood panels. The dealers couldn’t sell you rustproofing you didn’t need back then. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they sold plenty of termite-protection packages.
Eventually, though, everybody realized that steel was a heck of a lot safer than wood in an accident. I mean, just the splinters alone could kill you. And it turned out steel was cheaper, too. You’re probably not old enough to remember when some brands were advertising “all-steel construction” as a big competitive advantage.
Then, in the early ’50s, Woodies kind of disappeared, and that was the end of real wood on car exteriors. Except for my brother’s ’67 Suburban, onto which he glued the old wood paneling he’d ripped out of his den when he renovated. After that, it was all contact paper: vinyl stickers that boasted of “simulated wood grain” but looked only vaguely like wood from a distance of 40 paces. You probably remember the Chevy Caprice Wagon and the Ford Country Squire of 1960s with fake wood appliques on the sides.
By the time the last of those humongous American wagons, the Buick Roadmaster Estate, was retired in 1996, even the fake wood was gone. And these days, the only place you see real wood is inside luxury cars. Now, for a price, you can have a real wood accent next to your cup holder. And then you, too, can stare at it and wonder “is that real wood?”
Grandma considers trading for safety’s sake
Dear Car Talk:
I’m a 67-year-old grandmother driving my dream car – a 2009 red Lexus IS 250 with only 52,000 miles on it. I love this car, but my husband is strongly urging me to get a new one. His rationale: Even though it is a great car and doesn’t have a ton of miles, things are going to start going wrong.
I recently had to have the left side mirror replaced because something broke inside, so he may be right. He also wants me to have all the automatic braking and stuff because I am of a certain age. What do you think? Are there any sporty SUVs out there? – Janet
RAY: Hey, there’s probably stuff going wrong with him, too, Janet, but you’re not trading him in yet, are you? He’s mostly right, actually. Economically speaking, it’s certainly cheaper to keep your old car. But older cars, by definition, are not as reliable. And if it’s not a financial hardship for you, we agree with him completely on the new safety equipment. Since you bought your Lexus in 2009, all kinds of electronic-based safety systems have become common. And they’re all great.
You can get city and highway speed automatic emergency braking – so if you’re distracted for a moment and don’t see a car or a pedestrian in front of you, the car will alert you and then brake itself if you don’t respond. That’s not just good for you, in that it helps you avoid an accident and questions about “whether it’s time to take away Mom’s keys.” It’s good for the pedestrian, who was texting his girlfriend while walking through traffic. He may live to LMAO again.
There’s blind-spot monitoring, so you don’t have to twist your head around and pray when changing lanes. There’s a device to let you know when you’re drifting out of your lane, and another to let you know if there’s traffic coming down your street while you’re backing out of your driveway. You can get all that stuff on many new cars now. And you should. It’s particularly great for older drivers whose reflexes and neck flexibility are not what they once were.
If you’ve liked your Lexus and want to try a sporty-ish SUV, you can try something like the Lexus NX 300. If that doesn’t suit you, there’s the BMW X1, the Audi Q3, the Volvo XC40, the Acura RDX, the Lincoln MKC, the Cadillac XT4, or any number of others. As you can see, small crossovers are very popular right now, so there are a lot of options.
But do be careful when you make your purchase. Many manufacturers offer the safety stuff as optional equipment. Or they’ll offer some of it as standard equipment (like low-speed automatic emergency braking), and some of it only with high-priced option packages (high-speed emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring). So just be very specific about what you want, and make sure you get all of it.