Ask the consumer advocate

Got a question about buying and selling? Send it to Jeff Caveat, America's favorite free-market watchdog!

Dear Jeff:
Last month, I bought a PT Cruiser. I've always admired the looks of the car, and plenty of my friends have had positive experiences with theirs. But it was only after I'd been driving it for a few days that I realized the damn thing has a blind spot in the rear-view that's about a mile wide. The dealership adamantly refuses to refund my money; after a few tries, they stopped taking my calls entirely. Should I file a claim against the manufacturer? (Please send a copy of your reply to the Lancaster County Department of Corrections, as I'm currently in the tank for taking out the entryway to an Olive Garden.)

— K. Labonte, Lincoln, Neb.

Dear K:
I wish you had contacted me sooner. The Cruiser's sight problems are easy to rectify. You just take an acetylene torch, heat it to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and place it no more than three inches away from the face of the mirror. Now hold it there for a good 10 minutes. The intense heat will actually refract the image area, boosting your mirror's ability to perceive space and time until your practical viewing ratio extends a quarter mile on either side and a light year past the horizon in the back. By practicing this simple trick, you'll be able to enjoy untold hours of safe, happy motoring just as soon as your license is reinstated.

Dear Jeff:
I've been having some problems of late with a certain make of hair dryer. The first one I bought didn't work at all, and the make-good unit the store gave me would cut off after about three minutes of drying time. Believe it or not, I've been back eight (count 'em!) times trying to find a satisfactory replacement. The closest I've come is the one I currently own, which dries my hair just fine, but loses power whenever I try to use it on my daughter!!! Have you ever heard of something like this happening?

— R. McNeill, Seattle, Wash.

Dear R:
I don't know what was wrong all those previous times, but your current problem is easy to explain. Your daughter has fallen under a deadly curse placed by some sort of wood sprite, succubus or demon Ã? possibly the mighty Shub-Niggurath, the Goat with a Thousand Young. I'm forwarding your letter to the Rev. Seamus O'Shaughnessy, who writes our weekly theology column. Your dilemma is clearly more his beat than mine.

Dear Jeff:
Through a series of circumstances I'd rather not explain, I recently came into possession of some debris from the Columbia explosion. Like any good citizen would, I've been doing my best to get rid of it. But I've been having a helluva time finding somebody who'll pay enough for it to make it worth my while. After much lost sleep, I decided that taking out an ad in our local daily newspaper was the way to go. They've been practically synonymous with the name "Columbia" ever since it went boom; last week, they published another 25-page special section devoted to the very same subject. I called them about buying a quarter-page ad in that section, but they turned me down flat. Said it would be "inappropriate" for them to condone the exploitation of a real-life tragedy for profit. Huh? I guess it's OK for them to exploit our memories of that poor, doomed crew over and over again Ð at 50 cents a pop Ð but it's not OK for a private, hardworking citizen like me. Jeff, I've got kids to feed. What do I do? Should I take my beef to the Better Business Bureau?

— A. Mercenary, Kissimmee, Fla.

Dear A:
Unfortunately for you, newspapers have the right to refuse advertising from any source, at any time, and for any reason. While I agree that it sounds like your local rag is guilty of hypocrisy at best, and journalistic vampirism at worst, there's honestly nothing you can do. Instead, meet them halfway. Try to shift your moneymaking focus onto an avenue they'll find a tad more wholesome, but that meshes just as neatly with their publishing agenda. Think: Do you own any Dale Earnhardt souvenirs?

Dear Jeff:
Two decades ago, I became the proud owner of a lonely heart. In all the years since, I have never regretted my purchase. But recently, I have begun to wonder if it might have been better had I been the owner of a broken heart instead. Can you give me your honest opinion?

— J. Anderson, Rivendell, N.M.

Dear J:
This is one of those rare instances where your best bet is to refer to the original sales literature. Being the owner of a lonely heart is (and here I quote) "much better" than being the owner of a broken heart. This claim has since been supported in countless comparative studies, taste tests and time trials. Further, pay attention to the fine print, which is full of helpful hints for even better performance Ð i.e., the unit works best when you see yourself, shake yourself, give your free will a chance and remember that you're every move you make. Or so the story goes. (P.S. The occasional dab of 3-in-1 oil won't hurt, either.)

Dear Jeff:
I've decided to get rid of my state governor, but I'm finding it hard to choose between all the other models that are out there. Can you endorse any specific one?

— M. Shriver, San Bernardino, Ca.

Dear M: Not so fast there, buckaroo. Trading in an elected representative is serious business and nothing you should rush into without a mountain of forethought. Is your old governor really such a lemon? Where did the idea of getting rid of him come from in the first place? Was it yours and yours alone, or were you influenced (either subtly or overtly) by the promotional claims of competing manufacturers? And most of all, will switching governors genuinely be good for your pocketbook Ð or will it prove even more expensive in the long run? If you're uncomfortable with your answers to any of these questions, hold off on the exchange until you have your mental house in better order. Find something more productive to do with your time and resources Ð like buying the electrical rights to your community from the power company, so you can dispense 100 percent of your neighborhood's juice from a potting shed in your backyard. Now that's an idea with some legs.

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