What insect is this?

Dear Car Talk:

My 30-year career as an agricultural biologist would have been a lot shorter if I had not spent so much time correcting the public’s insect misidentifications. Your reader, David, who had trouble with fruit flies in his truck should first get an honest-to-goodness ID on the insect.

My guess is that David has fungus flies, drain flies, gnats or another common feeder of general decaying material. Therefore, they could be living in the carpet of a leaky trunk or roof lining, mildewing air conditioner vent, the leaves packed in the doorjamb, etc.

Hope this is helpful. Thanks for all the great advice and laughs over the years! – Ann

RAY: Very helpful, Ann.

My late brother Tom used to quote Charles Kettering, who was once the head of research at GM. Kettering often said, “You guys are going to sell THIS?” Actually, Kettering famously said, “A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.” Which is pretty smart. And true.

And you would think that someone like me, who has spent most of his adult life asking people if it’s “more of a thunk, a clunk or a clank,” would have stopped to question the reader’s insect diagnosis. The question is, how does the average person find an agricultural biologist to make a positive identification of a fruit fly? Do you just watch “CSI: Kitchen Garbage Can,” and hope they repeat the fruit fly episode?

Actually, some counties have agricultural commissioners or cooperative extension services. Start there, if you have one. If not, your state might have entomologists if they have mosquito abatement programs or other invasive insect-related programs. Or try a nearby college and see if you can get some help. In my experience, professors often love a chance to actually be useful once in a while. As long as you don’t ask them too often.

The easiest way to do all this is with a photograph, if you can get one. If you capture a few of the invaders in any kind of container and just leave it sealed for a few days, you will then have a ... um ... non-moving example of the species that you can photograph. Trying emailing that to your local agricultural experts (or a far-away expert, since it’s email anyway), and ask for help identifying the species and suggestions on how to get rid of it. Tell them Ann sent you.

It might be time for a new luxury ride

Dear Car Talk:

I own a 1998 Cadillac Eldorado with a V8, 32-valve Northstar engine. It’s in pristine condition and has only 48,000 miles. While driving back home to Asheville, N.C., from Atlanta my Eldorado’s coolant light came on. I stopped to add coolant and went on my way. The car never did overheat or get hot.

When back home, I took the car to my mechanic, and by virtue of a chemical test, he said the car needed a head gasket overhaul and new head bolts. He said it was very complicated.

I also took the car to the local Cadillac dealership, who is very nice. They said that a gasket overhaul might solve the problem, but they have seen additional issues with the engine timing. They recommend installing a brand-new engine instead.

I’m sure all of this work will cost more than the car is worth. Your thoughts on this would be appreciated. – Walter

RAY: Are you sitting down, Walter? That’s a silly question. I’m sure both your mechanic and your dealer already sat you down to deliver their news, and you’ve probably been sitting with your head in your hands ever since.

This is not good, Walter. The problem is it’s hard to know exactly what’s wrong. Your mechanic did a chemical test, which looks for the presence of exhaust gasses in your coolant. If your engine is working correctly, those two substances never mix. If they’re found together, they’re either mixing through a broken head gasket, or worse – through a crack in the head or a crack in the engine block.

So you could pay your mechanic $4,000 to replace your head gaskets and then find out what you really needed was a whole new engine. And then you’re out another $10,000.

Alternatively, Walter, if you drop 10 grand on a remanufactured engine, you’ll still have a 22-year-old transmission, a 22-year-old suspension system and 22-year-old everything else. That’s a pretty risky bet. So taking that $10,000 and putting it toward a newer, two- or three-year-old car probably makes more sense at this point.

You obviously like a luxurious ride. So you might look at something like a recent vintage Chrysler 300, a Cadillac CT6 or even something like a Toyota Avalon or Lexus ES350. The advantages of a newer car, especially if you buy a certified pre-owned car from a dealer, is that you’ll get a solid warranty with it.

You also can choose a car with up-to-date safety features, like automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning and lane keeping assist. All great stuff that even the best running 1998 Eldorado will never have. And given the amount of driving you do (48,000 miles in 22 years), a two- or three-year-old car will likely set you up for the next 20 years.

If you’re absolutely in love with this old Eldorado and are vehemently opposed to replacing it, you can roll the dice on the head gasket job or bite the bullet and put in a new engine. And then hope nothing else fails for a while. But if you can afford to upgrade, I think the stars just aligned to give you the perfect excuse to go car shopping. Good luck, Walter.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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