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Q: "Dad," said my son, "I bet nine out of 10 Teslas do not have a front license plate." After he alerted me, I started to pay attention to this. Sure enough, I'd say 90% of the Teslas I observed did not have a front plate. That is illegal in Minnesota, and the fine is anywhere from $100 to $200. With maybe a touch of sarcasm he said, "They don't like how it looks. It messes up the car's smooth lines." Can that be true?

A: Only 19 states require a front license plate. Enforcement seems to be rather lax, though. I don't know the reason so many drivers are forgoing a front plate, but I must admit that they do mess up the cars' smooth lines.

The cold truth

Q: My daughter is moving from hot Las Vegas to cold South Dakota. I am concerned about preparing her car for winter. I know she needs snow tires (studded, if that's legal), a flush and fill of her cooling system and winter hardy oil. What type of oil would you suggest: synthetic or regular? What weight of oil?

A: I have never been to South Dakota in the winter, but from my research, it appears that temperatures are a lot like those at my home in Chicago. I would suggest 5W-30 oil, and synthetic is always a better choice. Studded tires are permitted from Oct. 1 to April 30.

Saving your brakes

Q: Is there any harm in using an automatic transmission instead of braking when slowing down? My 2015 Lexus RX350 has a way to manually shift to a lower gear, I suspect mostly for descending steep, long grades. I have thought that using the engine to slow down would save the brakes. How does one tell if it is safe to engine brake in a particular vehicle?

A: It depends on the make, model and year of the vehicle. Many cars now have the driver option to shift gears or leave the transmission in the automatic mode. If you have the option to use the manual mode, no harm will come to the transmission. If the engine rpms get too high, the rev limiter will kick in and you will have to shift up or slow down. If a shift is disallowed, you also might get a message on your instrument panel.

Trust the carmaker

Q: I have a 2016 BMW X4 with about 60,000 miles. The car is supposed to have "lifetime" transmission fluid, which never needs changing. I can't help but be skeptical. What's your opinion?

A: BMW has no reason to lie to you. In fact, just the opposite is true. If your car breaks down due to not changing the transmission fluid, you likely would be reluctant to buy another one. That's not good for business.

Bob Weber is a writer, mechanic and ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician. His writing has appeared in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest. Send automotive questions along with name and town to