Dear Car Talk: My 2013 Dodge Dart underbody cover had to be removed after it got caught on a concrete parking lot bumper. It was partially pulled off and was dragging on the ground.

Currently, I'm teleworking, so I am not driving much. How important is getting this replaced? — Julie

Dear Julie: I'd say it's a good idea to replace it, but it's not crucial.

The underbody cover is kind of like BVDs for your car. It's there so the wind and stones don't "chafe" the underside of the vehicle.

One function it serves is aerodynamic. It smooths out the underside of your car, so the wind passes underneath without creating a lot of turbulence. That improves your gas mileage a little bit.

Its other function is protective. It can stop some road debris from kicking up into the belts and pulleys of the engine compartment. In fact, some manufacturers call the part a stone guard.

Is it essential? Probably not. If you're not driving much, and money is tight, it's certainly something you can live without for now. And ask your family for one next Christmas.

* * *

Dear Car Talk: Recently, a woman wrote to you about how she hated driving her husband's stick-shift car and asked you how she could learn to drive it well. I'm writing to encourage her to do it.

I wish I still had one to drive! My father made me learn to drive on his Plymouth stick shift, which I hated and feared. I called it "the blue tank."

He said, "Mar, once you learn to drive this, you can drive anything!" Well, he was right. I was able to drive his old Ford truck, our farm tractor and even my older brother's Mustang Mach 1 — what a thrill!

My husband briefly owned a Dodge Ram truck with a stick, and I loved getting behind the wheel. Our daughter always laughed and said I seemed like a different person whenever I drove it.

I thought you might get a kick out of my little story. I really enjoy reading your column, even though I know almost nothing about cars. I pass your advice on to my husband! — Marion

Dear Marion: It is fun to drive a stick shift, Marion. It also offers many underappreciated benefits these days. It prevents you from texting while driving, unless you have three hands. And it gives you a built-in anti-theft device, since most car thieves have no idea how to drive them either.

— 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

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