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you & your car

We have a 2004 Pontiac Montana rated to pull 3,500 pounds. But the manual says if we have six occupants, we can pull 2,900 pounds. Does this mean we can pull a small travel trailer that weighs 2,700 pounds? We would have the electric brakes, weight distribution towing equipment, etc. But we hear yes and no from all over the place. What do we do? – Curt & Diane

Towing capacity is dependent on a lot of things, most significantly the engine, transmission, brakes, cooling system and strength of the platform.

Your Montana obviously has what was an option at the time of manufacture. That package included pre-wiring, an upgraded automatic transmission oil cooler, heavy-duty engine cooling system, high-output (125 amp) alternator and an automatic load leveling system. Provided all of this remains in good shape eight years later, you should be OK to tow your trailer – theoretically!

But you are on the high side of things. If you pack groceries and belongings, you are easily going to exceed the limit.

The other issue is where you plan to tow – if you live on the prairies and won't see any hills, you might get away with it. Hills are terribly hard on the transmission, cooling system and brakes. If you damage the first two, you are facing a hefty repair bill, if the brakes go there are even more serious issues. Frankly, I'd say you are pressing your luck to be at or over the limit in an eight-year-old vehicle.

My son will be taking a fellowship program in Los Angeles for two years. I am wondering if it is advisable to take his Ontario-plated car to L.A. and use it there for the program period. What are the requirements and pros and cons if he takes this route. – William in Mississauga

It depends on how old you son is. As I read it, under the California Department of Motor Vehicle registration procedures section 12.020, "A non-resident student aged 23 or younger operating a non-resident vehicle that displays valid registration/plates in the student's home state is exempt from California registration." Notice that reference to "home state."

The same section says, "Non-resident students 24 years of age and older are not exempt from California registration requirements, and any vehicle operated by the student must be registered in California."

This is definitely something you or your son should investigate with the California DMV prior to heading south.

Keep in mind that California has some of the strictest vehicle emission requirements on the continent if the vehicle you are referring to had to be registered there. Don't forget to ensure your son has proper insurance coverage. His Ontario driving license will be acceptable as long as it is valid.

It might be a lot easier in the long run to buy a vehicle there and sell it at the completion of the program. California has more cars than all of Canada and, because of the climate, a used car is generally in better shape than it would be here. I've worked for the Auto Club of Southern California over the years and it has a very active automotive section that includes recommended repair shops and perhaps used vehicle locations. A CAA membership is recognized by the California club and would be a wise purchase regardless of whether your son buys a car there or takes his Ontario vehicle.