Finding the best fit means getting in, out and behind the wheel

Ray Magliozzi
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Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

I have always driven a sedan but want to switch to a midsize SUV. I am an elderly lady (79) and have never driven an SUV but want something practical and dependable.

I have looked online at the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Kia Telluride. If I want a third row of seats, which of those would you recommend?

If I decide I could do with a five-passenger vehicle, I have looked online at the Subaru Outback, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV 4. What would be your top choice in that category? My current car has suddenly died, and I need to make a quick decision. — Wanda

RAY: Well, Wanda, every vehicle you’ve listed is a good one. Those are all practical, reliable, well-designed cars.

The Telluride is currently our favorite three-row SUV. It’s quiet, smooth, powerful, and is a great value, besides.

In the five-passenger category, we frequently recommend all three of the crossovers you list: the CR-V, the RAV4 and the Outback. And I’d add the Subaru Forester to that list, because it has particularly good visibility.

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But here’s the important thing: You need to go and drive them. Even if you’re a spry 79, climbing up into the bigger SUVs may not suit you. Even if you can make it in there with a yank on the grab handle or a little push from a helpful stranger, you may not want to do that every day.

Plus, the Highlander, the Pilot and the Telluride are all pretty big. They’ll certainly be harder to maneuver and park than whatever sedan you’re used to.

So unless you’re solely responsible for game day transportation for the senior center’s basketball team (plus coaches), I’d suggest you lean toward the five-passenger category. Those will be easier to get in and out of, easier to park and turn around, and, generally, more car-like and easier to live with.

Then the question is, which one fits you best? Which is easy for you to get into and out of? Which one allows you to see easily over the dashboard and out the back? Which seat and seatbelt position fit your body best? Which one feels easy for you to drive and park?

Visit a few dealerships and take a few test drives. I’m guessing that after some basic seat-of-the-pants research, one of those will emerge as the obvious choice for you, Wanda.

Miata owner not a fan of metal music

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2010 Mazda Miata. It now has almost 40,000 miles on it. Ever since I bought it (with 18,000 miles on it), I have had a problem when I go over speed bumps. It makes a loud screeching sound. It sounds like metal rubbing against metal.

My mechanic is stumped as to what is causing this noise. I have replaced the front brakes and all four struts, but the noise continues. When they work on the car, they always add extra grease (somewhere?), but the noise always returns. The mechanics don’t think the noise is causing any harm, but it is very annoying.

This is my second Miata. My first was a 1991, and I drove it for 27 years. I traded it in for this one when it had 204,000 miles on it. It never made a noise like this one does.

By the way, if I also drive this one for 27 years, I will be 100 and still driving it. Thanks for any suggestions or help. — Fran

RAY: I’ll need a crane to get myself into a Miata when I turn 100. I’ll certainly need one to get me out.

When you go over a speedbump, Fran, you’re causing the suspension to go beyond its normal limits. And strange things happen when you push components that far. So finding the culprit -- without convincing your mechanic to hang by his fingers under your car while going over a speedbump -- is going to involve some guesswork.

What could be making noise when pushed past its limits? It could be something like your control arm bushings, which are involved in letting the wheels move up and down without letting them move forward and back.

Next time you’re in, ask your mechanic to start by spraying your four front control arm bushings with silicone penetrating oil. If that doesn’t help, try the rear bushings next time. Ideally, you want to know what fixes it, so you’ll know where to spray when the noise comes back. Don’t spray the convertible top, though. I think we can rule that out.

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Another possibility is that the car itself is flexing over the speed bump, and the spinning driveshaft is momentarily scraping against the exhaust system. That’s not uncommon.

So while the car is up on the lift, your mechanic should also eyeball the exhaust system, and see if there’s any sign of scraping or external wear near the driveshaft. If he sees an area of the exhaust that looks like it’s been scratched up or scraped, then you may have your answer. If it’s happening infrequently, and at speed-bump-speed, I agree with him that it’s not a huge concern.

But he may be able to make some small adjustments to the way the exhaust system is hanging to reduce or eliminate the noise. Or he can buy you some Metallica CDs to play when you go over speed bumps. Good luck, Fran.

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.