Dear Tom and Ray: I have painful, incapacitating sciatica on the left side, most likely from constantly engaging the extremely hard clutch in my 2000 Toyota Celica. Have you heard of this association? I'm wondering if the clutch can be adjusted so that it's looser. Or, if not, how should I go about finding an easier-to-clutch used car with manual transmission that is not a lemon or too costly to maintain? — Jill
Ray: We're not doctors, Jill ... although my brother does make the other mechanics at the shop work in hospital johnnies every week as part of Casual Friday.
Tom: That's just to give the customers some laughs. And because they find the open-back design to be cooler in the summer.
Ray: You can't adjust the feel of the clutch, Jill. Assuming it's always been like this and didn't suddenly change, it is what it is. In fact, we've always found Toyota clutches particularly light and easy to shift.
Tom: So forget about making an appointment with your mechanic. Instead, make an appointment with a good physical therapist. On top of that, we'd recommend several other things if we were your medical-automotive advisers:
Ray: No. 1, get a car with an automatic transmission. If a clutch is causing you incapacitating pain, why not eliminate that from your life? Even if it's not the cause of your sciatica, it's got to make it harder and less comfortable for you to drive.
Tom: Your next car should be an automatic. It also should have a power driver's seat. In our extremely limited knowledge of lower-back issues, seating position and the angle of your legs vis-a-vis your torso make a great deal of difference.
Ray: So it might not be the clutch in the Celica that caused your sciatica; it might be that the seating position is so low that your legs are folded up and putting strain your lumbar spine.
Tom: I like how you threw in the term "lumbar spine" there. Makes it sound like you almost know what you're talking about.
Ray: Thanks. If you have a power-adjustable seat, you should be able to raise the height of the seat, which changes the angle at which your legs are sitting. The more seat adjustments you have available to you, the better the chance of finding a comfortable, less-painful driving position.
Tom: So I think you need a different car. And if you're looking for a used car, you might want a copy of the pamphlet we wrote called "How To Buy a Great Used Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don't Want You To Know." (To order, send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.). That contains our best advice for finding and inspecting a used car.
Ray: But whether you go new or used, go automatic. And go with a power seat. And go see a physical therapist. Good luck, Jill. Hope you feel better.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)