Dear Tom and Ray:
My 17-year-old niece is interested in a 2007 Toyota Matrix, but it does not have antilock brakes (ABS). She may be heading to college in a place where it snows. Is it critical to have ABS brakes? Should this be a deal-breaker on the purchase of this car?
Tom: I think so. I'd scratch it off the list.
Ray: When you're dealing with a young driver, you want to give him or her every possible safety advantage, because we know what young people tend to do with cars, right? Drive them too fast, get distracted, make mistakes due to inexperience and crash into things.
Tom: The purpose of ABS is to allow the driver to keep steering the car during an emergency stop. Without ABS, often the wheels lock up, the car skids and turns sideways and the driver loses control. With ABS, even while slamming on the brakes, you still can steer, so you have a chance to direct the car away from an oncoming cliff or Lays Potato Chips van.
Ray: And that's an option you want your niece to have, right?
Tom: These days, only the cheapest cars, or the cheapest versions of cars, come without ABS. And you guys found one. Congratulations! Now keep looking.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)