Dear Tom and Ray:
I have a wonderful car, a '97 Saturn that gets great mileage and has been reliable all this time. But it's beginning to signal me that it's time for a replacement. I'd like to get a Toyota Prius, but my curb cut is just steep enough that everyone I know who drives a Prius scrapes when they turn into my driveway. My questions are: (1) Would frequent scraping on the front of the car damage it? And (2) if the scraping would cause damage, can I have the car raised a couple of inches somehow so it doesn't contact the sidewalk every time I drive in and out? This probably sounds pretty stupid, but I really don't know anything about car bodies, so I'd appreciate your advice. Thanks! — Peter
Tom: Frequent scraping certainly can cause damage, Peter. Ask anyone who spends a lot of time riding a bicycle.
Ray: It really depends on what's being scraped. Lots of cars have a plastic wind deflector under the front bumper to improve mileage. If that's all you're scraping, it would be of no mechanical consequence — until it fell off. And even then, it still might not be of much consequence.
Tom: But if you were scraping, say, the oil pan, that could cause problems. Then you could tear it open one day as you were backing out of the driveway, lose all of your oil, seize the engine and then have to go out and buy yourself a cheap replacement car, like a used '97 Saturn.
Ray: So this requires some specific investigation, Peter. Explain to your Toyota dealer that when you test-drive the new Prius, the route is going to have to include a trip up your driveway.
Tom: When you turn into your driveway (go very slowly), if you hear a scrape, you then can get out and watch and try to determine what's scraping. Even if you can't tell by watching, you may be able to see telltale scrape marks on something under there.
Ray: The Prius is designed with mileage in mind, so my guess is that what's scraping probably is some plastic shielding that improves airflow underneath the car. But since this car starts out low to the ground for aerodynamic purposes, you also could be risking a more important component. So my advice would be: If it scrapes, look for a different car.
Tom: You're not going to raise the car a few inches. That's impractical, and it's difficult to do. Plus, you'd change the car's handling and decrease its mileage. You might get half an inch out of larger tires, but if you need more than that, try something else.
Ray: There are several other Prius models now — The Prius V and Prius C — and you might find that one is better suited to your particular situation. If not, there are other great hybrids out there made by other companies, and you'll just have to consider one of those instead.
Tom: But before you buy any of them, make your driveway part of the test drive. You don't want to drive your brand-new car home for the first time only to discover that you now have to sell the house and move!
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)