Car Care Q & A

News & Safety Car Care Q & A

General Q & A

Q.        I have a question on timing belt versus a timing chain when buying a car. I recently was told that my 2009 Honda Accord needs new belts including timing belt. Should I purchase a car with a timing chain? The replacement of the timing belt is going to be expensive! What do you think?
 

A.        There was a time when most domestic cars had timing chains and imports with overhead camshaft engines had timing belts. Timing belts work well but they do require regular maintenance with replacement between 60,000-120,000 miles. Now we are seeing a switch back over to timing chains. It is interesting that the V-6 engine Accord has a timing belt and the four-cylinder has a timing chain. You are right; the repair is expensive taking 4-5 hours of labor plus parts. Although doing this repair once every 105,000 miles as recommended by Honda doesn’t seem outrageous. 
 

Q.        I am looking for a small SUV and I really need to know whether the Subaru Forester is a better choice than the Honda CRV. Recently the Subaru has been receiving many accolades for its reliability. I just want to make sure that it is the best buy for the money. Is there something else I should look at?
 

A.        I have driven both vehicles and they either would be a good choice. The CR-V is a great small SUV; fuel economy is quite good, the interior design blends comfort and functionality. Personally I like the size, the CR-V is easy to get in and out of and quite maneuverable. For a slightly small version take a look at the Honda HR-V The Subaru Forester continues to improve, perform better, returns good fuel economy all at a good price. In my opinion of the two vehicles rate the CR-V first and the Forester second. Not on your radar but worth looking at is the 2016 Hyundai Tucson. This latest Hyundai is easily one of their best.
 

Q.        I own a 2014 Hyundai Sonata and since the day I have owned it I feel as though it "floats" at highway speeds, and it is an effort to keep the car in its lane and going straight. As you can imagine this gets very tiring when on long drives or even shorter ones. Is there anything that can be done to fix this?
 

A.        The first place I would look is at tire pressure and wheel alignment. I would also have the wheel balance checked. Although wheel balance won’t cause a floaty ride it is just a good excuse to carefully inspect the tires. Wheel alignment that isn’t perfect combined with slightly under inflated tires could be part of the problem. As I recall from my last road test of the Sonata the overall ride was pretty good. I don’t remember any issues with an overly “floaty” ride. At this point anything you try will be an expensive experiment that will involve an upgrade to the suspension and a wheel and tire change. I would start with the basics and look for incremental improvements to improve the handling.
 

Q.        I have heard you on your podcast talk about those compact jumpstart battery packs. I have looked at some and they look like they may be okay for a small engine but will they be able to jumpstart my 5.0 liter truck?  
 

A.        I have tested a few models and they all seem to work with some limitations. The most recent unit I have tested is from a company called NOCO and the model is the GeniusBoost (www.geniuschargers.com/Boost). They have one model the GB 30 that is capable of starting engine up to 6.0 liters.  What is nice about this product is that there is no danger of hooking up this battery booster backwards, it will hold a charge for up to a year and has a built in light as well as USB ports to charge a phone or tablet.  
 

Q.        I have a 2013 Scion IQ that I only drive back and forth to the train. It makes an odd knocking noise when the engine is cold. When the engine warms up I don’t hear the noise, but I almost never drive the car long enough to enjoy the engine being quiet. There are also other times it doesn’t idle very well; do you have any advice for my tiny car? Have you road tested the IQ and what did you think?

A.        The problem is a result of excessive carbon build up in the engine. The repair is extensive with replacement of the pistons/rings and this requires removal of the engine. The good news is the repair is covered under the cars 60,000 powertrain warranty. With the exception of how the IQ shifts, I like this petite Toyota.
 

Q.        I am considering a new truck for this year and wanted to get your opinion. I’m looking at all of them: Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, Dodge and the all new Ford. What full sized truck do you like?
 

A.        I have tested all of the vehicles you are interested in. Of the full size truck choices I think the Chevrolet or GMC are slightly better than the rest. The ride is almost as quiet as a sedan, the engines are powerful and fairly fuel efficient and fit, finish and interior quality is very good.  

Q. Do new tires loose a little air every month? I bought a new Honda CR-Z in May of this year, every three months a light comes telling me my car has low tire pressure. It happened twice so far, all four tires were low by five pounds and had to be inflated by the dealer. When I asked about this the service manager said this is normal, is it?

A. All tires will lose air over time. In cooler weather tires can lose one or two pounds of pressure per month. In warmer weather it can be higher. This is why it is important to check your cars tire pressure at least once per month, using a quality tire gauge. Maintaining the correct pressure will maximize both fuel economy and tire life.
 

Q. The oil light came on in my car while driving, shortly after that the car shut off. It is a 1989 Honda Prelude, what do you think is wrong.

A. When the oil light or any other red light comes on you need to stop driving immediately. The oil light indicates there is/was dangerously low oil pressure. Driving with the oil light on could have seized and destroyed the engine. At this point take the car to a mechanic and have it checked out. Although considering its age it may have been near the end of its useful life.
 

Q. I have a 18 year old Toyota; my question is, what is the life expectancy of the airbag system? I gave the car to my teenage nephew this past spring and just was wondering if the airbags wear out?

A. Most car manufacturers consider the airbag system to last the life of the car. Now of course if the airbag light is on, this would indicate one of the systems that support the airbag has failed and will needs to be repaired.
 

Q. I was recently at a dinner party and heard someone refer to the Smart Car and a rolling coffin, are these cars as unsafe as this person was making them out to be?

A. The Smart Car is a safe car that utilizes advanced seat belts, air bags and traction and stability control. In the design of the car it utilizes a safety cage to protest the occupants. In fact the Smart Car did receive a “good” rating for the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) as well as four-star rating from NHTSA. Now all of this doesn’t change the law of physics when it comes to vehicle crashes and doesn’t remove the responsibility of the driver to drive safely.
 

Q. Now that the cooler weather is here, every time I get out of my car I get a shock. Is there something I can do?

A. Static electricity is the imbalance of positive and negative changes. During the summer when the weather is more humid these charges tend to roll off of us more quickly. With winter, comes cold dry air and the imbalance of charges tends to build until you touch your car and the charge goes to ground. Using a fabric spray such a Static Guard once or twice a month will usually help eliminate static shocks.
 

Q. Is there a gasoline additive that can clean the fuel gauge sensor? The gas gauge on my Chevy Tahoe always displays “empty” regardless of how much fuel is in the tank. I was told that the problem is caused by a chemical build up on the sensors. I’m trying to avoid the expense of removing the gas tank.

A. If the gauge always shows empty, I would check the gauge circuit first, and then move on to the sensor. You are correct that in many cases the fuel level sensor fails due to the deposits in some gasoline formulas today. The sensor is not serviceable and will need replacing. There is some good news, however; unlike many vehicles, this sensor can be purchased separately from the fuel pump.

Your Monthly Car Care Questions Answered

I have a 2009 Acura TSX sedan. I love my car, but it is absolutely horrible in the snow. I am thinking about purchasing snow tires. My question to you is, will this even be helpful and if snow tires would help, would I need to invest in two or four tires? Any recommendations on a specific winter tire?

Winter tires will make a world of difference in the performance of your car. When adding winter tires, four tires is the recommendation. Four winter tires will not just improve your ability to get moving but will also great improve your car’s ability to stop on snow and ice. As a side note, a co-worker of mine lives on a hill and owned a Mazda 6 and with the all-season tires couldn’t make it to her home in the snow. She put Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires on her car and was able to make it home through the rest of the winter.
 

My car’s bumper was recently hit and the paint was scratched, is it possible to clean this up without the entire thing refinished? I was quoted nearly $1000 by a body shop to remove the bumper cover and have is repaired and refinished. Is there a cheaper way to repair it without doing it myself?
 

I would check with your local car dealership to see if they have someone who does touch-up repairs. I have seen some repairs performed by mobile paint and bumper repair companies that were nearly as good as a conventional body shop could provide.
 

My 2010 Ford Focus has a problem that from time to time I can’t get the ignition key to turn. Usually jiggling the key while trying to turn it will get the car going. What can I do to fix the problem before I’m left stranded?
 

The problem is a faulty ignition; the lock module will need replacing. This was very common with the year   Ford Focus. The ignition switch and lock cylinder will run about $150 plus an hour or so labor to install it.
 

Occasionally while driving the shift indicator “D” will start flashing. I drive a 2004 Honda Pilot and when it flashes there doesn’t seem to be any unusual driving experiences. We just replaced the timing belt and had the transmission fluid changed. When this happens we usually turn off the engine and restarted it and everything is back to normal, why? Do you think the transmission will need to be replaced?
 

The flashing shift indicator is an indication of an electrical issue with the transmission In this case the transmission needs to be checked for trouble codes just like the engine would if a service engine soon light were illuminated. The problem could be a faulty shift solenoid, circuit or the computer itself and may not be a faulty transmission.
 

I own a 2011 Subaru Legacy, while in for its 30,000 check, the dealer told me that my car needs the front and rear differential drained and refilled. Is this needed? The old Subaru had over 150,000 miles never had this work done! My question is, at this many miles, is this really needed or are the tying to put a scare in me or trying to take advantage of an older person?
 

Subaru like many manufactures has two maintenance schedules; normal and severe. The service they are recommending is from the severe schedule and although it can’t hurt may not be necessary. According to Subaru, owner’s should use severe service intervals if they primarily operate their vehicle under any of the following conditions: driving less than 5 miles per trip or in freezing temperatures, driving less than 10 miles per trip, driving in temperatures 90°F, extensive idling or long periods of stop and go driving, using a roof-top carrier or driving in mountainous conditions and driving on muddy, dusty or de-iced roads. Use the normal service intervals if the vehicle is primarily operated under conditions other than those listed above.

I own a 2014 Chevy Cruze LS, it has a manual transmission and so far I have 16,000 miles on it. Should the brakes “lock up” even when I have antilock brakes? Since I have owned the car the brakes did indeed 'lock up' when I had to stop quickly on a dry road.
 

Antilock brakes using a combination of sensors and computers will limit the amount of brake lockup but may not eliminate it completely. During a panic stop you may hear some tire chirping but the car shouldn’t skid. Remember the purpose of ABS brakes is to allow you to apply the brakes while still having control of the car so you can both steer and stop.
 

I wonder if you would be willing to give me your opinion on what to do about my 2008 Saab 9-2 T wagon.  I love, love ,love this car.  I bought it from a dealer with 1,200 miles on it and it now has 47,000 miles on it and It has been serviced regularly. I winter in Florida so it sits in my garage in Massachusetts for four months in the winter.  I can't decide whether to drive it to Florida for the four months I am there and leave it outside in my lanai for eight months or trade it in for a new car? My other concern is finding a mechanic and parts in the area. What should I do?

I think your car is much better off in a garage for four months in the winter than in the Florida heat for eight months. Lack of use of a car can actually cause its own share of problems. Of course the best choice is to have someone drive/exercise the car for 30 minutes once every three weeks or so. Regarding finding a mechanic and parts for your Saab 9-2, your Saab is really just a well disguised Subaru WRX. Anyone familiar with servicing a Subaru will be able to service your Saab.
 

I have heard of winter and summer gas for cars and how they are chemically different. I was wondering if items like, lawn mowers, snow blowers, generators, chain saws and leaf blowers do any better with summer gas.  Should we buy summer gas now, for our yard machines to be prepared for winter?
 

Just like cars your power equipment will perform better with seasonal gasoline. Winter gasoline is formulated to start in colder temperatures. Using gasoline left over from summer is almost guaranteed to give you a starting problem with any of your winter machines. When using power equipment it is always best to use fresh fuel for best performance.
 

This may seem like a silly question but the recommended tire pressure for my car’s tires is 32 PSI in all tires.  According to the dash display the tires are about 5 PSI overinflated. Where I am confused is that when I get the oil change the tires end up at 37 PSI not the 32 PSI the owner’s manual calls for. What do you recommend?
 

It has been my experience that the tire pressure sensors (TPMS) are quite accurate, but that is not to say there may not be a problem. My recommendation it to check the tire pressure with a gauge when the tires are cool and adjust the pressure to 32 PSI. Once you have the tires properly inflated then check the dash display. If you see a discrepancy in the readings double check the actual reading with another tire gauge, if both gauges agree then there must be a problem with the TPMS. 

I purchased a new Infiniti G50 several months ago and the car has just about 1,600 miles on it. All of a sudden, car has "beep" sound instead of a loud "honk". I took it to the dealer and the work order stated: found low horn inoperative due to break in ground circuit, re-soldered to correct concern. My question is, will this repair be permanent or should the harness have been replaced? I like my Q50 what do you think of the car?
 

I’m perfectly comfortable with soldering as a repair. A properly repaired circuit should be serviceable for the life of the car. Regarding the Infiniti Q50 there is a lot to like about the car. The performance from the 3.7 liter 328 horsepower V-6 engine is very good, the overall handling is sharp and the ride although firm and still comfortable. The Infiniti that I drove was loaded with electronic technology, which I found both delightful and a bit distracting. Overall I found the Infiniti Q50 to be a worthy competitor to the BMW 328 and the Lexus IS350.

My hardly used five year old Lexus RX 350 is extremely noisy for the first ten minutes after a cold start.  It sounds like an old car tappet or valve noise making this "luxury" vehicle sound like an old worn out car.  Lexus says, "That’s the way they all sound".  I find this very hard to believe, as the noise was not there when the car was new but developed after about 8,000 miles. Not having a fix for this problem is like going to the doctor and being told you are just getting old and need to live with aches and pains.
 

Lexus has issued a technical service bulletin that describes a ticking noise. Have the dealer reference TSB number L-SB-0028-09. This bulletin describes a ticking noise from the variable valve timing area of the engine. As a warning-the repairs can be quite extensive and I guessing your Lexus is well out of warranty.
 

I think I saw this once before in your column and now it’s my turn to question some work that was done to my car. I recently took my car to a local auto service for an oil change and the shop made service recommendations that I now fear I did not need. I own a 2005 Acura with about 123,000 miles on it. Their recommendation was to have the power steering fluid and the brake fluid exchanged, as they said the fluids looked dirty. I agreed, but when the invoice came at $227.00, I started thinking that maybe they just needed to make a sale. What I am trying to confirm is whether or not their recommendation was necessary?
 

There is no specific recommendation from Acura to replace the brake or power steering fluid as routine service during the life of the car (although interestingly some Honda models do). At this age and mileage if the fluid is dirty or contaminated it certainly makes sense to change it. It is also important to use the correct type of fluids when a complete change is necessary. One additional item that may be worth looking into, some Acura models had a recall in the power steering hose. 
 

I recently came home to visit my parents and my dad was looking over my car and flipped out because I had cute rug remnants over the floor mats.so they wouldn’t get dirty. He told me that this was against the law and he threw them away Do you know of any such law? 
 

There is no such law. Your father is relating to the issue with Toyota a few years back when there was concern that the accelerator could get hung up on the floor mats. Your father was just looking out for you give him a break.
 

Like many of your readers I have a car that sits for sometimes weeks at a time and then the battery goes dead. I don’t have the ability to check a battery charger connected. Is there anything that I can do short of disconnecting the battery?
 

Some readers have had very good luck with solar battery chargers. There battery chargers can be connected to plugged into the cigarette lighter plug (if it works with the key off) or hooked up to the battery. If the car is parked in the sun these little battery chargers generally produce enough current maintain a fully charged battery.   

I purchased a 1999 Mercedes SL in December 2003 and it now has only 57,000 miles on it. At my last service visit to the dealership it was recommended that replacing the tires would be advisable due to age not mileage. The tires may have been replaced when I purchased the car but I have never replaced them. I haven’t driven the car much but now that I am retired I plan to use it more at least in the nice weather. What do you think of this recommendation and what would the Car Doctor do?
 

If this was my car and I planned to keep it and drive it, I would replace the tires. Although age of tires isn’t always the best indicator of when to replace them at 12 years old I believe four new tires would be money well spent.  
 

I'm car shopping for a pre-owned all-wheel-drive or 4WD vehicle to replace my recently totaled Pontiac Vibe. I work in the city but have a ski house on the side of a mountain with gravel roads and have used studded snow tires on my cars for better traction. Now I am looking at pre-owned-two year old Subaru Outback or Honda CRV. I recently saw the commercials for the new Hyundai Tucson and road tested one and was quite impressed (but then again it was new). I do a lot of long distance driving on weekends so gas mileage is an important factor in my decision.  I wasn't planning on a car purchase at this time and I’m looking for any advice you can offer.
 

Both the Subaru Outback and the Honda CRV are good cars and should be able to handle the type of driving that your lifestyle demands. Prior to buying any used car, have a thorough used car inspection performed, as good as these cars are, they can have problems. Regarding the new Hyundai Tucson, this in my opinion may be the best choice. The Tucson handles well, has a great warranty and gets is rated by the EPA at up to 33 MPG on the highway. Previous models of the Tucson handled well in winter and I would expect the newest model to perform at least as well.  
 

I took my 2007 Toyota Corolla to a quick lube to get an oil change and they informed me that I need to replace my radiator and transmission fluids. Is this something I can do myself, should I take it to the dealer and is it actually necessary?
 

It is certainly important to change some of the vital fluids in the car as they age and breakdown. The coolant is certainly one of the most important and should be checked in your car every year and changed when it shows signs of age and can no longer protect the engine. The transmission fluid in your Toyota generally has a very long life but still should be inspected for both condition and level.
 

I have a question regarding the center bearing on my 2001 Subaru Forester. This is my winter “beater” so I don’t drive it much. Recently when I took it out for a ride there is a “clunking” noise that’s right under my shifter when I start out and shift from first to second gear. My mechanic said it was the center-bearing between the front and rear drive shafts. He also said the whole drive shaft needed to be replaced not just the center bearing. Is this correct? He also said it must be done buy a Subaru dealer and said that the part cannot be purchased anywhere else. Is this true as well?
 

The center bearing is not a serviceable item and it appears that it is only available from a Subaru dealer. Now certainly your repair shop could purchase the part from the dealer and install it.
 

What do you think of buying parts on line? As a kid I did have good luck with the J.C. Whitney catalogue. Recently I found the website RockAuto? I have looked their prices and they seem in some cases almost too good to be true. Do you have any experience with this company?
 

Some of the parts can be bargain priced and I would guess the quality and price go hand in hand. When I purchase parts from them I look for a brand name or original equipment supplier notations in the description. A couple of years ago I purchased a replacement cooling fan module for my wife’s car. The dealer price was $375.00, the local “big-box” parts store was $175.00 and RockAuto was $85.00. I ordered a brand-name part on Sunday evening and it showed up at my house on Wednesday. One other time the wrong part was delivered, I emailed them and explained the situation and they sent me a Fed-Ex return label and my account was credited in a couple of days. My overall experience with RockAuto has been quite good.

I have a 2007 Toyota Tacoma pickup that I purchased last November. The tire air pressure sensor light on the dashboard lit up, so I put air to all five tires and the light on the dashboard did not go out. I took the truck to a local tire store and they were able to turn the light off. All was fine until I hit a bump and the light on the dash came back on and has been on since. Are these tire pressure sensors necessary? With the light being on, does it affect anything? Can they be removed without affecting the computer? Is there a tool for adjustment? Are they expensive to replace?


The tire pressure sensors are required on most vehicles after 2007. Disabling the sensors or removing them is not advised. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a statement that essentially says disabling the system is illegal. The problem is that the average life of the sensors is about seven years and 150,000 miles. The cost of new sensors can run from $23 to well over $100. 


I have a 2012 Chevy 2500 extended van. When I brought it in for an oil change at 3,200 miles I was told that I didn’t need it because the oil percent gauge read 38 percent. I was told that it needed to be at 20 percent before they could honor the free oil change included for two years. Now I find myself driving more than 5,000 miles. I am not comfortable waiting this long.


General Motors states: To help conserve oil while maintaining engine protection, many GM vehicles are equipped with the GM Oil Life System. This system can provide oil change intervals that exceed the traditional 3,000-mile recommendation. The Dexos oil specification, with its requirements for improved oil robustness, compliments the GM Oil Life System by supporting extended oil change intervals. If all GM customers with GM Oil Life System equipped vehicles used the system as intended, GM estimates that more than 100 million gallons of oil could be saved annually. If you drive your truck on dusty roads, in extreme temperatures and carrying heavy loads, I would follow the severe maintenance schedule which recommends oil changes every 3,750 miles. 


I have a 2005 Toyota Highlander with the same battery for 10 years. It still starts in the winter, even when it is zero degrees, and after sitting for five or six days. This is what I do: A. Every two or three years, I take the battery out and wash off all the salt; B. I clean the battery terminals and the connecting cables; C. I add distilled water if needed; D. I use full synthetic oil in the winter; E. I sing to the battery, my own song: “Long Live the Battery.” I do sing my song in Japanese, because it is a Nippon Denso battery. OK Mr. Car Doctor which of A, B, C, D or E is the most important?


Cleaning the battery is important since it helps protect against parasitic drain. When the battery case is dirty or damp it can cause a slow discharge. Cleaning the cables is ensures good current flow to the starter motor. Many road service calls could be avoided by cleaning battery cables. A battery low on water is a battery that is short on life and could also indicate a malfunctioning charging system. Synthetic oil allows for quicker easier starts and better lubrication, not just in winter but year-round. For long battery life, singing to the battery would be my answer.


How important are snow tires for an all-wheel drive car? 


After the snowiest winter I can remember, I’m considering an all-wheel-drive car, but was hoping to avoid snow tire changeover. My budget is up to $60,000, and I have been looking at Audi, Lincoln, Jaguar and Mercedes Benz models. 
All of these cars are great choices but dedicated winter tires can make a huge difference in how a car performs. Several years back I drove an Audi A6 with conventional tires in a few inches of snow, and although this is a car that is usually an outstanding performer in winter weather, on this day the car was terrible. This Audi would take off OK, but safe stopping and handling were a challenge. Recently I drove a Jaguar XF with all-wheel drive, equipped with 19-inch winter tires and the car performed remarkably in deep snow and icy roads. 
Front wheel, rear wheel or all-wheel drive winter tires can transform a car’s cold weather performance. 


I was at a local repair shop getting an oil change, and the mechanic suggested having the cooling system flushed. My car is a 10-year- old Subaru that runs good and was great this winter. Are there any issues with flushing the radiator rather than draining it and refilling it like I did a few years back?


There was a time when all radiators were copper and most antifreeze was green. Today there are many different types of engine coolant and radiators can be made of aluminum, plastic and even some copper/brass alloys. 
Subaru has a concern that flushing machines used to service cars other than Subaru that have copper radiators could cause chemical reaction that over time could cause a clogging of the cooling system. Subaru recommends that if the cooling system needs flushing use only fresh tap water. 


I have no heat in my 2003 Ford Taurus. I took it to a mechanic, he flushed the system with solvent and said there didn’t seem to be any obstruction. He changed the door actuator motor, and then put the original back after deciding it wasn’t the problem. He told me it was fixed. It was not. The next day I asked him to replace the thermostat, still nothing. I checked online and people were saying Taurus has had a lot of problems with water pump blades deteriorating. I brought it to a new mechanic, and he said the hose going into the heater core was hot and the out hose was cold, he thinks he can force air or water though it to clean it out. 


I think your new shop is on to something. More than likely the heater core is partially clogged and not allowing hot coolant to circulate leaving you with no cabin heat. Flushing the heater core may help, but be aware that forcing water or air at pressures higher than the average in the cooling system of a 12-year-old car may result in a leaking heater core. If this procedure causes a leak, the labor to replace a heater core in your car will take about six hours and the parts, depending on where purchased, could cost up to $200. 


With 108,000 miles my 2005 Accord Sedan makes a whirring noise when I back up. My mechanic told me this is normal for a Honda with that many miles. 


I would get a second opinion. The noise could be internal to the transmission and an expensive repair that may not be worth investing in at this point. Or, the noise may be a wheel bearing or brake issue that could impact your safety. 


I would like a suggestion for a crossover or small SUV. We have a RAV4, which we like, but the newer RAV4 is too big. All-wheel drive sedans just don’t have the ease of entry or visibility that we are looking for, and we like four-wheel or all-wheel drive for winter.

There are many choices. Suddenly, the small SUV/crossover is hot with manufacturers. Some to look at are the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax and Jeep Renegade. I have not driven any of these extensively yet. Slightly larger is Mazda CX5 or Ford Escape. If you can wait a while, Honda is coming out with a new smaller vehicle, the H-RV. I saw it at the Detroit Auto Show and it looks well thought out. In the same category, Mazda is coming out with the CX3. Either vehicle may be just what you are looking for. 

I have a 2009 Buick Enclave and generally liked the car until this winter. When the temperature dropped below zero the power brakes didn’t work. After a couple of minutes everything seemed fine. This happened a couple of times in very cold weather. What is wrong? 

Some Buicks, GMC and Saturn SUVs have had similar problems. The repair involves replacing the brake power booster check valves, and in some cases, the power brake booster. There was a technical service bulletin issued, unfortunately your car is well past the date of the free repair. 

I had my 2011 Nissan Rogue in for service and was told the serpentine belt needed replacement. The car has only 70,000 miles. Does this sound right? 

There was a time where we would see belts as well as cooling system hoses replaced every three years or 36,000 miles. Today we are seeing longer life, most likely due to better materials. Replacing a serpentine belt at 70,000 miles is money well spent. 

I own a 2012 Honda CR-V. Occasionally, when I take my foot off the gas to slow down, then step on the gas again, the car does not accelerate for a couple of seconds. Then when it does accelerate, it jumps ahead because I’ve pushed too hard on the accelerator. I’ve had it to two mechanics, one being a Honda dealership, but they are not able to reproduce the problem, and therefore, cannot diagnose it.

It is always difficult to diagnose and repair a vehicle where the problem doesn’t happen on a regular basis. I have checked for updates and technical service bulletins on the database I use AllData and didn’t find any that would specifically apply. There are several possibilities, but at best I would just be guessing. If the check engine light is not on and all the computer data looks correct, time may be the best diagnostic tool. Perhaps keeping a log of when and where the hesitation happens and at what speed and temperature will help the shop get the car repaired. - See more at: http://www.aaahorizons.com/content.cfm?a=2989#sthash.ZDubx6sk.dpuf
What’s the deal with different grades of gas? My local station was out of 87 octane the other day, so they were giving away the super grade at a discount. I asked him if there was any difference, and he said vehicles get better mileage with the higher grades. 

Putting higher octane fuel in a car that doesn’t need it does nothing to improve fuel economy or engine performance. The higher-octane fuel won’t cause any harm but stay with 87 octane. 

I replaced my windshield wipers on my 2006 Buick Lucerne about a month ago and still get occasional chatter when used.

The problem is most likely the angle that the blade is contacting the windshield. The wiper blade should contact the windshield at a 90-degree angle. If the windshield wiper arm has twisted slightly over time the windshield wipers will chatter. A little work adjusting the wiper arm should help. In the past I have used an adjustable wrench on the flat part of the wiper arm and twisted the arm slightly to get the wiper to contact the windshield correctly. 

In 1988, the brake lines on my 1979 Chevrolet Caprice failed. Fortunately, I was only backing out of the yard at the time. Today, I own a 2004 VW Passat with 104,000 miles. Since it is 10 years old, I’m concerned about the brake lines. 

There are two types of brake lines in cars, the metal lines and the flexible “rubber” lines. Rubber brake lines can fail from the inside out, usually due to age and stress. Steel brake lines rust from the outside and are easy to visually inspect. As any car gets older, it is always a good idea to have a technician look the car over for rust. In addition to brake lines, rust can cause problems with fuel tanks and lines as well as, in some cases, structural problems that could jeopardize safety in a crash. Regarding non-rusting brake lines, some new car manufacturers such as Volvo and Audi use copper/nickel due to its rust-resistant nature. Some repair shops will use copper/nickel lines when replacing steel lines. 

I have a new Toyota Avalon with front-wheel drive. I feel pretty secure with the car’s handling, but still have a concern about winter. Would you recommend winter tires? 

In general, the Avalon handles winter weather pretty well, especially with new tires. But even new all-season tires will not provide the traction of a snow tire. If your driving takes you out in poor weather before the roads are plowed, there is no substitute for snow tires.

I have seen some of the reports of the new Ford Mustang and was wondering if you have driven one yet and what your thoughts are about it? 

I drove the 2015 Mustang for a day or two and really liked the car. The model I drove was the 5.0-liter, V-8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission. The interior was a step up in quality over previous generations, which were still pretty good, especially in the last few years. The engine performance was outstanding and the manual shifter may have been the best that I have driven in a domestic car. The only criticism is the rear seat is not designed for adults and may be barely suitable for kids. 

The service manual for my truck says that I have to disable the airbag system if I have to do any work in the vicinity of the steering column. In fact, as I read about my truck it even warns about working around the radiator or even changing a parking light bulb without disconnecting the airbag. How important is this? 

All vehicles are different, but if there is a warning about disabling the airbag system you should heed that warning. The airbag system in some cases can be easily disabled by removing the appropriate fuses and then waiting a couple of minutes for the reserve power to discharge. Follow the vehicle manufacturer’s direction to the letter to prevent accidental deployment of the airbags. 

I have an Audi Q7, and when taking a left turn from a stop, on a slight pavement decline, the car nearly stalls. No matter how much I press on the gas pedal while turning left, the car loses power. I have taken it into the dealership several times, but they cannot reproduce the problem. The only repair that they have performed is to replace the fuel filters. Any ideas?

It sounds like a fuel starvation problem. Realizing the symptom is difficult to duplicate, I would still want to have the repair shop install a fuel pressure gauge and monitor the fuel pressure during different driving situations. The problem could be a faulty fuel pump, restricted fuel line or something in the fuel tank.

Short of going to a dealer, body shop or wheel repair shop, do you have a suggestion to repair scrapes to my car’s aluminum wheels? The scrapes are on the outer surfaces in about three different spots. These are very low-profile 20-inch wheels, and since they are aluminum alloy, are easy to damage.

Depending on the extent of damage, you could grind and sand the area and then refinish the surface of the wheel with appropriate wheel paint. Both Duplicolor and Plasti-Dip have wheel paint that should be able to match the factory finish of the wheels. This type of repair won’t make the wheels perfect but will improve the overall appearance. 

I own a 2007 Honda Element, and one of the headlamps gets moisture inside of the plastic lens cover. During the summer months, this will dry out, but during the rest of the year the moisture remains. I suspect it is affecting the effectiveness of the lamp. What should I do?

Moisture in the headlamp assembly will cause some distortion to the light pattern and limit lighting effectiveness. Carefully remove the bulb and dry out the headlight assembly. There are two places moisture could be entering the assembly: where the bulb fits into the headlight reflector or where headlight lenses mount to the headlight assembly. Some lenses have a gasket/seal that dries out over time. In some cases, you can just clean around the edge of the lens and reseal it with some clear silicone. Some headlights can be separated and can be re-gasketed to prevent future leaks.

I was wondering how important it is to change the fluids in my car. It’s a 2006 Honda pilot with 110,500 miles.

According to the factory Honda service schedule, the transmission fluid, differential and transfer case fluid all need to be changed by now. Since these fluids are specifically listed as maintenance items, I would get the service performed to maintain the dependability of your vehicle. 

Recently, my wife saw a list of vehicles suitable for short people (about 5 feet). However, we cannot locate it. The list probably included a Subaru model that we are interested in.

There are plenty of lists on the Internet that suggest cars for shorter drivers, but some that are my favorites are the Subaru Forester, Subaru XV, Mazda3 and Kia Soul. If you find a vehicle you like, I would suggest an extended road test just to make sure it meets your needs.

I’m planning to be out of state for work-related travel for over three months, and may not be taking my car, a 2008 Honda Civic EX. What do I need to have done to prepare the car for long-term storage? If I can get someone to car sit, what usage would you prescribe to maintain the car?

Having someone drive the car is the best answer. If someone can drive the car for 20 minutes every two to three weeks, that would be best. This way, you are not just keeping the battery charged but you are exercising the entire vehicle. If that doesn’t work out, as a bare minimum, properly inflate the tires, top off all the vital fluids, fill the fuel tank and add fuel stabilizer. When you return in three months, the battery may need recharging, and I would have the oil changed and have a technician give the car a quick evaluation. 

I have a 1993 Chevy S10 pickup with a V-6 engine. The engine gets up to 200 degrees, but the heater isn’t blowing any hot air. What could be wrong? 

The problem could be an inoperative heater fan or a clogged heater core. If you can hear the fan and there is air coming from the vents, the fan is OK. If not, once the engine is warmed up, look at the heater. Both heater hoses should be hot to the touch. The last possibility is the heater is blocked with an air pocket. This could be caused by a leaking cylinder head gasket. 

I was wondering if my 2013 Honda Accord Sport with Goodyear Eagle tires has any recall notices about the tires. I heard a brief TV story about Goodyear Eagle tires that are being recalled due to tread failure.

Just like cars, tires get recalled every day. The best place to look for transportation-related recalls is the website www.safercar.gov. It makes sense to look at this website periodically to see if there any problems with your car, tires or even a child’s car seat. 

I recently purchased a lightly used Audi A6 2.7T Quattro with 73,000 miles. While driving at low speed, or particularly from a stop, during right or left turns, I can hear a chattering sound coming from the front wheels. My mechanic has very little experience with Audi and could not find the problem. He checked to see if Audi had any service bulletins and found none. Any assistance or guidance on this would be appreciated.


It is possible that the car is starting to have some problems with the center differential. I would start by removing the cover and draining the fluid and carefully inspecting the fluid for any debris that would indicate wear. Over time, the fluid can lose its friction additives and cause a chatter. Replacing the fluid with the correct Audi fluid may solve the problem.

I am considering building a kit car as a hobby project with my twin boys. I’m not a mechanic, but I can weld, and I’m generally pretty handy. Is there a certain model/manufacturer you would recommend? 

The cars that I am most familiar with are models from Factor Five Racing (www.factoryfive.com). It has several models including a 1933-style hot rod, a 1960s roadster, a 1965 coupe, an exotic supercar and a recently introduced model called the 818 that uses a Subaru WRX as a donor car. I like this company for a couple of reasons: It is local, based in Wareham, Mass., and it has a large network of customers who have built and driven these cars. The Cobra-style roadster that uses a Mustang as a donor car or the 818 would be great projects.

I have a new Toyota Avalon with front-wheel drive. I feel pretty secure with the car’s handling, but I still have a concern about winter. Would you recommend winter tires? 

In general, the Avalon handles winter weather pretty well, especially with new tires. But even new all-season tires will not provide the traction of a snow tire. If your driving takes you out in poor weather before the roads are plowed, there is no substitute for snow tires.

I have seen some of the reports of the new Ford Mustang and was wondering if you have driven one yet and what your thoughts are about it? 

I drove the 2015 Mustang for a day or two and really liked the car. The model I drove was the 5.0-liter V-8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission. The interior was a step up in quality over previous generations, which were still pretty good, especially in the last few years. The engine performance was outstanding and the manual shifter may have been the best that I have driven in a domestic car. The only criticism is that the rear seat is not designed for adults and may be barely suitable for kids.

I took my 10-year-old Hyundai Elantra to a quick lube to get an oil change, and was informed that I need to replace my radiator and transmission fluids. Is this something I can do myself? Should I take it to the dealer? Is it actually necessary?

It is important to change some of the vital fluids in the car as they age and break down. The coolant is certainly one of the most important and should be changed in your car according to the manufacturer’s schedule. The transmission fluid, unless it shows signs of wear, has a much longer life and can stay in the car for 100,000 miles. 

I want a vehicle that I can use on trips to various locations in North America. It needs to be comfortable for long trips (good seats, good power and handling, decent fuel economy and modern technology). I’ll need four-wheel drive, seating for three to four people and easy access to cargo space. I’d like an SUV, but I don’t see a lot of good options with four-wheel drive. The Toyota 4Runner is reliable but doesn’t get great reviews.

The Toyota 4Runner is a good choice. It is a solid, reliable vehicle with great off-road ability. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is also a worthy choice and is available with a V-6, V-8 and now a diesel engine. The diesel-powered Grand Cherokee, although pricey, is one of my favorite vehicles. One other vehicle to check out is the Nissan Xterra. It is a great off-road performer, has decent storage space, but the seats are not the most supportive for long road trips. 

How important are snow tires with an all-wheel-drive vehicle? I’m considering a Jaguar with all-wheel drive.

In all cases, dedicated winter tires will improve a vehicle’s performance. I drove an all-wheel-drive car with 19-inch performance tires in the snow, and it was terrible. Last year, I drove essentially the same car with winter tires and the car was remarkable in the snow. If you need to be out before the snow plows, my advice is to purchase four winter tires. 

I have a 2012 Ford Focus. It takes all of my strength to get the horn to work. What is the problem and can it be fixed? 

The problem is in the design of the horn switch. It is built into the airbag cover, and to get the horn to work requires a firm direct push. I have checked with the technical database that I use and have found no updates for this issue. 

I recently locked my keys in my car. I was at a parking garage and the attendant used a Slim Jim to open the door. Although I was happy to get the car open, I found out later that he damaged the wiring for the power lock. What does AAA do, and can you warn motorists to be careful if someone is using one of these tools? 

At AAA, we use a variety of specialized door-opening tools along with vehicle-specific manuals to prevent any damage. Of course, vehicle manufacturers are trying to make their cars more theft-resistant and are making it even harder for a professional to open car doors without damage. 

I am considering a new truck. I’m looking at Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, Dodge and the new Ford. What full-size truck do you like? 

I have not driven the Ford F-150. Of the other full-size truck choices, I think the Chevrolet or GMC are slightly better than the rest. The ride is almost as quiet as a sedan, the engines are powerful and fairly fuel efficient, and fit, finish and interior quality are good. 

We have a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee that will start and then die when it is cold. My repair shop has replaced the idle air control valve, throttle position sensor and the coolant sensor. Where else should we look? 

The engine could be dying from having too much fuel entering the system or not enough. Look at the EGR valve. If it is opening when the engine is cold, it will cause the engine to stall. The second place is the evaporative emissions system. If the purge valve is faulty, it could be pulling extra fuel into the system and flooding the engine.

I replaced the battery in my minivan and now the DVD player doesn’t work. What did I do wrong and how do I fix it?

When AAA replaces a battery in a vehicle, we use tools to maintain the memory of the electrical components. Try disconnecting the battery and holding the positive and negative cables together for a minute or so. This should reset the computer system. 

My 5-year-old Buick won’t always start. I get a jump-start, and it is fine – until it happens again. What could be wrong? 

Test the battery and the electrical connections. Since the battery is 5 years old, it would be money well spent to replace it. It is possible that the battery has an internal connection that periodically fails.

I want to have a remote car starter installed. The dealer told me that if it does not install it and I’m not using factory parts I could void the warranty on my new car because the car has a push-button starter. Is this true? 

No. If the remote-starter system is installed properly, it will not void the car’s warranty, even on those cars that use a proximity key and push-button starter. In fact, many dealer-installed remote starters are aftermarket brands and are not from the vehicle manufacturer. Consumers are protected by the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act, which makes it illegal for companies to void your warranty or deny coverage under the warranty simply because you used an aftermarket part, providing that the part was installed correctly. 

I have a 2010 Ford Edge, and the door-ajar light comes on. I had the switch replaced before under warranty, but now I am having the same problem. I went looking for a door switch (pin style) that cars have had for years, but didn’t find one.

There was a time when the dome and other interior lights were on very simple circuits. Now the lighting circuit runs through the car’s computer system and smart junction box. The switch is actually part of a latch/lock system. 
Unfortunately there is no repairing the switch, only replacing it. A good technician will check the system for fault codes as well as all of the associated wiring. 

I was listening to your radio program and you compared a Mazda3 with the touring package to a BMW 2 series. What are you thinking? First off, the Mazda is front-wheel drive and the BMW is rear-wheel drive. 

The point I was trying to make was that the cars are similar in size and are both fun to drive. The Mazda handles well, has smooth, precise steering, and with a 184-horsepower engine, is quite responsive. Add in 215/45/18 tires, a six-speed manual transmission and a stylish interior complete with the latest technology package and the Mazda3 is a very good car. Is it as good as a BMW 2 series? Of course not, but at nearly a $20,000 savings over a BMW, it is hard not to like this car. 

I took my 10-year-old Hyundai Elantra to a quick lube to get an oil change, and was informed that I need to replace my radiator and transmission fluids. Is this something I can do myself? Should I take it to the dealer? Is it actually necessary?

It is important to change some of the vital fluids in the car as they age and break down. The coolant is certainly one of the most important, and should be changed in your car according to the manufacturer’s schedule. The transmission fluid, unless it shows signs of wear, has a much longer life and can stay in the car for 100,000 miles. 

My 2001 Subaru Forester has a clunking noise right under the shifter when I shift from first to second gear. My mechanic said it was the center bearing between the front and rear drive shafts and the whole drive shaft needs to be replaced by a Subaru dealer because the part cannot be purchased anywhere else. Is this true? 

The center bearing is not a serviceable item and is only available from a Subaru dealer. Your repair shop could purchase the part from the dealer and install it. 

I was listening to your radio program and heard that you attended the auto show in Detroit. If you had to pick one car that was a standout, what was it? 

My favorite was the Acura NSX. It looked great, and with its combination of a purpose-built V-6 engine and three electric motors totaling something more than 550 horsepower, it should be a phenomenal performer. Something a bit more sedate but still a head-turner was the Buick “concept” car, the Avenir. This four-door vehicle was stunning. 

I own a 2014 Kia Optima EX that feels like it floats at highway speeds, and takes an effort to keep in its lane and going straight. Is there anything that can be done to fix this?

The first place to look is at the tire pressure and wheel alignment. Wheel alignment that isn’t perfect combined with slightly underinflated tires could be part of the problem. As I recall, from my last road test of the Optima, the overall ride was slightly floating. The Optima with the sport suspension is an improvement, but the tradeoff is a much firmer ride. Anything you try will be an expensive experiment that will involve an upgrade to the suspension and a wheel and tire change. 

I have a 2013 Scion iQ (don’t judge me), and it makes an odd knocking noise when the engine is cold. There are also other times it doesn’t idle very well. Do you have any advice for my tiny car? 

The problem is a result of excessive carbon buildup in the engine. The repair is extensive, with replacement of the pistons/rings. This requires removal of the engine. The good news is that the repair is covered under the car’s 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. With the exception of how the iQ shifts, I like this tiny Toyota much better than the Smart Fortwo. 

I recently replaced the drive belt on my Dodge pickup and now, from time to time, the belt squeals. I replaced the belt tensioner and I still get a noise. I replaced the old belt because it was worn, but it didn’t squeal. What is wrong?

 

Your truck uses an automatic belt tensioner to hold the belt tight rather than a sliding pulley that tightens the belt. Occasionally, I have seen some aftermarket belts that are just a little longer than the original belt and the tensioner can’t quite keep the belt tight. If you still happen to have the old belt, match it up with the new one. If the new belt is just a bit longer than the original belt, this could be the cause of the belt squeal. 

 

I would like to sell or trade in my 2009 Saab 9-3 with 97,000 miles to buy a 2015 Mini Cooper. How much do you think I could get? I know I can check all those books, but I need help. It’s in excellent condition and has a sunroof, heated seats, snow tires and regular tires.

The typical retail value of your car, based on several book value reports, was in the $7,500 to $8,500 range in early March. Doing a little more research online finds dealers selling these cars for well above the typical book value by several thousand dollars. Based on the condition you reported, I would ask about $10,000 and be flexible with offers. 

While I was driving on the highway doing about 65 mph, my Cadillac SRX suddenly lost power. As I scrambled to the side of the road fearing that I would be killed, the reduced power light came on. Even if this car is fixed, I have lost faith in it. What should I do?

The repair shop will check the vehicle for trouble or fault codes. This will determine what caused the car to go into limp mode. The shop may find a faulty sensor or poor wiring connection. Once the problem has been found and the repair completed and verified, I wouldn’t have any concerns about the vehicle. 

I have retired, and as a result, I drive my car less than 7,000 miles a year. I was wondering if I should replace my tires due to aging of the rubber or only after they wear out from driving?

There is no hard and fast rule on how long tires will last. It has more to do with how they are used and what they are exposed to. I would have the tires inspected once they are 5 years old. A good technician will look for dry rot and age cracks. If one tire shows any signs of age-related wear, I would replace the entire set. 

I have a 1992 Pontiac Grand Am. When it gets real cold, the horn goes off, often in the middle of the night. What can I do to prevent this from happening and not irritate my neighbors? 

The repair is not cheap. The issue is with the airbag cover, which also incorporates the horn switch, shrinking in cold weather and activating the horn. It will need to be replaced. As a temporary solution, you could remove the fuse or run a switch to deactivate the horn. 

A friend has a 2007 Volkswagen Beetle convertible for sale at $3,000. The car has 107,000 miles and the transmission has been repaired. The car is in good condition. Should I buy or move on?

The engine should last another 100,000 miles without any serious problems. The transmission could have an issue, especially if it was run low on fluid, but even if you had to replace the transmission and do some other repairs, $3,000 for this Volkswagen is a bargain. Similar Volkswagens of that age and miles are selling for $7,000 to $9,000. 

I just had a new battery installed, and it keeps stalling out. There has also been a lot of smoke from exhaust on starting the car even before the battery was replaced. What could be wrong? Is there anything I can do myself? 

The problem is related to the fuel system. It could be a leaking fuel injector, a faulty evaporative fuel system or fuel pressure regulator or a clogged fuel return hose. There’s not much you can do without the proper tools and equipment. 

I am building a hot rod and need to tuck the battery out of the way. Everyone tells me the only battery I should buy is an Optima. I purchased the battery, and now people tell me I need a special battery charger or I’ll damage my new and very expensive battery. Is this true?

An Optima is an AGM (absorbed glass mat) battery. A deeply discharged AGM will not test or recharge properly if treated as a gel battery or traditional battery. Most high-quality, newer battery chargers now have built-in features to charge AGM batteries. If your Optima battery is allowed to go dead and you have an older style battery charger it may not recharge your car’s battery. 

In a past Car Doctor column you answered some questions about event data recorders also known as black boxes, but I have some additional questions. To whom does the collected data belong? Does this information require the car owner's permission to access, and can an owner de-activate the event data recorder? 

 

When it comes to event data recorders and the data they store, the information belongs to the vehicle owner. Police, insurance companies and vehicle manufacturers may access this data with the owner's permission or a court order. Regarding disabling the EDR, the device is integral to the car's electronics and would be nearly impossible to remove. 


I have a problem with my 2007 Mazda3. For the last month or so, my car will only occasionally start in park but will always start when I shift into neutral. I've become wary about traveling too far from home, and I'm afraid the car won't start at all. Any suggestions? 

The problem is most likely the park/neutral safety switch, sometimes called a transmission range switch. The repair takes only about an hour and the replacement part is about $80. Regarding traveling too far from home, I have never seen both the park and neutral problems at the same time. 

I am thinking about getting LED 9005 headlight bulbs for my car. Online reviews have not been very good. Do you have any information? 

Performing headlight conversion can be tricky. The best conversions are more than just a bulb replacement, with some even having a cooling fan to extend bulb life. The other issue is that any headlight system that does not meet Society of Automotive Engineers or Department of Transportation standards will fail the annual state motor vehicle inspection. My opinion is to stay with a headlight bulb designed for your car. 

In a past column, you had a reader who was looking for a hybrid car to replace his Lincoln and you recommended the Toyota Avalon and the Lincoln MKZ hybrids as cars that might replace the Lincoln. I like the MKZ style and the reliability of the Toyota. My question is where would you put a Lexus ES 300h on your list of luxury hybrids? 

I have always been a fan of the ES models from Lexus. They are very nice cars that do just about everything right. The hybrid feature makes for the most fuel-efficient version, although at a slight performance penalty. I recently drove the 2014 ES 300h and found it to be a quiet, comfortable cruiser. The four-cylinder engine, even when coupled to the electric motor, had sufficient power but couldn't rival the V-6-powered car. The lack of power was offset by the nearly 38 mpg when I had the car. The ES 300h is a fine choice if you are looking for the combination of a comfortable ride, upscale interior and great fuel mileage. 

I found out a year after purchasing my 2014 Kia that it did not come with a spare tire. I cannot help but feel I should have been told about the fact. Is this some sort of cost savings trend? 

You are not alone in this concern. At AAA, we keep a list of vehicles that may not have a spare tire so that our road service technicians know what to expect. At last count, the number was more than 100. Although cars don't get flat tires like they once did, getting a flat tire and not having a spare can turn into quite an ordeal. Many people will buy a spare tire and keep it in the trunk if their vehicle only came with a repair kit. Although it takes up room and adds weight, knowing it is there can help increase their peace of mind. Drivers who have a spare tire should check it at least twice a year to make sure it is properly inflated and that they have the tools necessary to change a flat tire. 

My 2012 Toyota Prius has 122,000 miles. Over the last couple of months, I noticed the driver seat is losing support. After an hour or so of driving, my back starts to hurt. Can you recommend a solution? Considering how much I drive, how long do you think the hybrid battery will last? 

Considering the age of the car, I'm surprised the seat is that badly worn. I would contact an automotive upholstery shop and see about getting the seat rebuilt, perhaps with a more robust foam. Adding heavier foam should improve the seat's support and make your Prius comfortable to drive again. Regarding the hybrid battery, most high-mileage hybrid users report the batteries last 275,000 to 300,000 miles. 

If you were shopping for a luxury coupe and had a $175,000 budget, what would you buy? For me, it would be a Bentley, but I'm curious what you would pick. 

In this category there are no bad choices. It really depends on what you like. The Bentley is certainly a good choice with its high-profile looks and fantastic performance. I prefer the more subtle look of the Mercedes Benz S550. The performance is great as is the ride and handling. During my test drive of a recent S550, I enjoyed the high-tech features such as the night vision camera, great infotainment system, and sumptuous interior as well as the excellent driving position. In addition, with the $50,000 savings over the Bentley, I could buy a nice little boat for summer fun. 

What modern hybrid car would you recommend to replace my very dependable Lincoln Town Car? I enjoy the smooth cushiony ride of the Town Car but would like better gas mileage and improved traction in the snow. 

I would take a look at the Toyota Avalon hybrid and the Lincoln MKZ hybrid. The Avalon is larger and has a bit softer ride. The MKZ is more of a personal size Lincoln with a great look and a slightly sporty feel. 

What's a good car for city parking, highway commuting and family safety? I want to get a secondhand car that will be pretty easy to maintain in the $12,000 to $15,000 range. 

I would take a look at the Mazda5; it is best described as a mini-minivan. They are reliable, easy to park, have a versatile/flexible interior and decent fuel mileage. 

My 2003 Hyundai Elantra has a gas tank problem. The self-service pump shuts off every few seconds. The first time it happened, I thought the problem was with the pump, but of course it continued to happen at any pump at any station. 

The problem is most likely related to the gas-tank vent system. Many vehicles have problems with spiders building nests in the vent valve assembly, which makes it difficult to fill the fuel tank. The other possibility is the evaporative emissions canister has failed and the charcoal pellets are blocking the vent line. 

My question isn't technical but rather a question of resources. Over the years, I have noticed that you cite AllData or Mitchell service manuals for the time necessary to perform a repair. I am interested in knowing if you believe that Chilton labor guide is as accurate? 

There was a time when Chilton manuals were very popular, but I see Mitchell and AllData used more in the industry. All of the manufacturers use time studies provided by the vehicle manufactures, so my impression is that Chilton guides would be as accurate as any when it comes to actual labor time guides. 

I replaced the all coil/strut suspension units and four sway bar bushings on my 2001 Honda Civic EX. I also replaced all wheel bearings, front ball joints, outer tie rods, and CV joints. All brakes were done a year ago. I am saving the car for a budding teenage driver. I am getting intermittent rear squeaks coming from the rear strut assembly area. Is there a rear bushing attached to the body of the car where the rear suspension units are bolted? 

The most common cause of squeaking on the Civic is the rear knuckle bushings. These can squeak and pop over bumps. The best method to find this noise is with the car on a drive-on style lift, where the technician can do a more thorough inspection on the suspension. If the car still has the steel insert in the knuckles, the entire knuckle will need replacing. If they are rubber bushings, you can just replace the bushings. 

I am storing my 1969 Camaro for the winter in a tent-style garage that has very little ventilation and can be almost drippy wet. Short of a dehumidifier, which would be impractical, is there anything I can do to protect my car? 

Ventilation is the key in any garage. Perhaps opening the end flaps a bit may help keep the air circulating. The other method that I have seen in a conventional garage is to use a Car Capsule. This is a giant PVC bag that your car goes into and has a small fan that changes the air several times per hour. The theory is that by changing the air, the temperature stays constant and condensation is eliminated. 

Our 2004 Land Rover Discovery HSE is starting to run and look a bit rough. I'm hoping to just swap it out with something smaller, with better mpg and less maintenance. We use the Discovery mostly for in-town errands, but take four trips a year to the backwoods of Quebec. 

A small all-wheel-drive vehicle like a Subaru Outback or Honda CR-V should meet all of your needs. Both get decent fuel economy, offer versatile interior space and can handle a surprising amount of off-road travel. 

How often should I polish/wax my car? I thought of taking my car to a professional detailer, but the prices and services vary so widely that I can't decide which is best. 

With my vehicles, I try to wax and polish them three to four times a year. At the same time, I try to inspect the car for any scratches that can be touched up before they start to rust. It is a great idea to get a coat of wax on your car every year before winter really sets in. 

I have a 2005 Prius. The plastic covering the headlamps has deteriorated. What do you recommend? 

I have had good luck with the headlight cleaner called Quixx. It uses a polish and sandpaper to clean the lenses then a sealer to prevent further deterioration. The other product that I have tried is the Meguiar's Headlight restoration kit. It includes a buffing wheel to polish the lenses. 

I went to pick up my new-to-me Chevrolet Camaro convertible, and while lowering and raising the top, the passenger window didn't go back up. The dealer's service department replaced the wiring harness in the door and ordered a complete new harness. My wife said, “don't take that car, it's a lemon." I disagree. What is your opinion?

 

At one time I was a “lemon law" arbiter, and it was my experience that there were very few actual lemons. Most cars that have a problem just need to be properly diagnosed and have the faulty parts replaced. Once the failed part is replaced, your new Camaro will be fine. 

I need to transport a headboard for a bed and was thinking about doing it on  the roof of my car. Is there an easy way to do it while protecting the paint of the car and without investing in a roof rack?  

 

I have always found a couple of nylon ratchet straps and an egg crate mattress pad works great. The mattress pad protects the paint and keeps the cargo from shifting. Although you need to remember not to carry too much weight and you also need to remember you are responsible if the cargo flies off your car’s roof.

 

I have a 2004 Honda Civic EX with about 90,000 miles. Starting about two months ago, it would overheat once I had been driving for 45 to 50 minutes. A local dealership replaced the water pump. When this didn’t fix the problem, I went back to the dealer and was told it might be the cylinder head gasket, which would cost $720 to $2,000 to fix. What do you think?

 

It is possible that your car needs a cylinder head gasket. Testing for an internal coolant leak is relatively easy. The shop either needs to use an infrared exhaust gas analyzer or a kit that measures exhaust gas in the coolant. If the shop has an exhaust gas analyzer, it can determine if the engine has a problem within minutes. If it doesn’t have this tester, it may use a “block-check” kit. The reusable kit costs about $50. Regarding the prices to perform the repair, if the engine just needs a new gasket $700 is about right, if the cylinder head was damaged, the price could run $2,000.

 

What are the advantages of using synthetic oil? Is it interchangeable with conventional oil? Once changed, do you have to stay with it or can I switch back and forth?

 

There is no reason why you can’t go back to conventional motor oil once you have used synthetic oil in your car’s engine. In fact, there are many motor oils that are blends of synthetic and conventional oils. Synthetic oil has been shown to keep engines cleaner, reduce wear and provide better performance in extreme temperatures.

 

From time to time, I can’t get the shifter in my truck from park to drive. I need to turn the key on and off and step on the brake several times. What do you think could be wrong?

 

The shift interlock system is engaged whenever the ignition switch is in the lock or accessory position. An additional feature will prevent shifting out of the park position unless the brake pedal is depressed approximately one-half inch. The problem could be with the brake switch, solenoid or even a wiring issue.

 

I am heading to Florida for about seven months. We are leaving my wife’s car home. What should we do before we leave?

 

The best thing you can do is have a friend drive the car once a month for about 30 to 45 minutes. Lack of use is, in some cases, worse for a car than abusing it. If this isn’t possible, the following will help.

Change the oil and filter. When this service is being performed, let the garage know the car will be sitting, and ask the technician to lubricate any rubber bushings with silicone spray. At the same time, lubricate any cables, locks and hinges. Top off all other fluids, including the engine coolant. The coolant should be clean and have the ability to protect the engine to at least 30 degrees below zero. Tire pressure should be checked. Fill the gas tank and add a gas stabilizer: StaBil is one brand. Buy a battery charger that will maintain the battery: The Battery Tender is a good choice. This style of charger stays plugged in all the time to maintain the battery’s overall condition. If this isn’t possible, remove the battery and store it out of the weather. Wash and wax the car and consider a car cover — even if it’s indoors. Put in moisture absorbent packs to eliminate dampness. Finally, if you have critters around, seal up the tail pipe and air intake (aluminum foil or steel wool works well) to prevent nesting. When you come home and are ready to drive the car, start it and let it warm up completely. Shift the car through all the gears to exercise the transmission. Take the car for a ride, and drive it as if it were brand new — nice and easy. Have the oil changed again, and perform the normal safety and maintenance checks.

 

I have a 2007 Toyota Camry with a six-cylinder engine and would like to know at what mileage I should consider replacing the timing belt.

 

Your Camry doesn’t use a timing belt, it uses a timing chain. Timing chains are generally designed to last the life of the car. Timing belts need to be replaced every 60,000 to 105,000.

 

I have a 2009 four-cylinder Honda Civic. I receive random oil change coupons offering services with synthetic oil. Is there any harm in switching back and forth between conventional/petroleum based and synthetic oils to take advantage of the cost savings? I have heard stories about oil leaks in even newer engines.

 

Years ago there were concerns about switching from conventional to synthetic oil and back again, which have proved unfounded. The only concern you should have is, if you have not been diligent about oil changes, synthetic oil is a very good cleaner and can wash away any accumulated sludge. If the only thing keeping your car’s engine from leaking oil is sludge, the synthetic oil could find any weak gaskets or seals. And of course only use the oil type and grade recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

 

I am a happy Toyota Prius owner, and I’m considering buying a 2015 plug-in electric model. What do you think of the plug-in model, and will we see more charging stations for recharging the battery?

 

The plug-in Prius works just like a regular hybrid Prius. There is an extended electric driving range for better fuel economy. In the fully electric mode, the Prius has about a 12-mile range, which doesn’t sound like much, but when combined with the already great fuel economy of the Prius, can add up to an EPA rated 95 mpg equivalent. Regarding charging stations, they are starting to pop up in many locations including here at AAA headquarters in Providence, R.I. Find more charging stations at www.chargepoint.com.

 

I have a 2003 Toyota Camry with a four-cylinder engine and 205,000 miles. Every morning, or after sitting for several hours, a cloud of black smoke exits the tail pipe when I start the car. Could it be a leaky fuel injector?

 

Black smoke almost always indicates excessive fuel is being burned. That fuel could come from a leaking fuel injector, leaking fuel-pressure regulator, or even a faulty evaporative purge valve. If the smoke is blue/black, I would suspect the valve seals are worn and need replacing.

 

I have a 2003 Honda CR-V. Recently, there have been two problems with it. The first is when I depress the clutch pedal, there is sort of a groaning noise. As I drive in the city, this gets to be nerve- wracking. I have sprayed WD-40 everyplace I can see, but the noise is still there. The second issue is that the door locks do not work. I replaced the driver’s side lock, but replacing all the locks seems way too expensive. Would an aftermarket key fob remote be a solution?

 

More than likely, the problem is with the clutch master cylinder pushrod. Adding a few drops of a good lubricant to the friction points of the pushrod should quiet the squeaks. Regarding the door lock issue, a new remote won’t solve the problem if it is a wiring or actuator problem. The door locks themselves have been problematic in these vehicles and there is little you can do other than rebuild them. This was enough of a problem that, at one point, Honda was even covering the cost of the repair outside of the warranty period.

 

I have 32,600 miles on my 2007 Honda Civic, and the Honda dealer recommends a transmission fluid change and fuel injector service. Should these be done at this time?

 

Honda doesn’t recommend a transmission fluid change on this model until well over 100,000 miles and does not have any service interval for fuel injection cleaning. If the transmission fluid is contaminated or the engine is performing poorly, both of these services are worthwhile. If the car is running well and the transmission fluid appears to be in good condition, neither is necessary.

 

Some settings on my heater and air conditioner fan blower on my 1999 Toyota Camry have stopped working. Out of the five settings, only the “off” and “high” are working. No air comes out of the three settings in between. Any idea what could be causing this?

 

The problem is the fan motor resistor. The symptom is common in your car and many others. The repair in your car will take less than an hour and the part is about $30.

 

You responded to a reader who was leaving a car unused for six months. Part of your answer was to buy a Battery Tender. I have a big motorcycle and like to ride it year-round. Would a Battery Tender be OK for this? What is the difference between this type of charger and a standard battery or trickle charger?

 

The Battery Tender is perfect for your application. These types of devices are referred to as “float” chargers. They have built-in circuitry that charges the battery and then switches to a maintenance mode. Conventional battery chargers are not designed for long-term charging and could potentially damage the battery. The Battery Tender is available at many auto part stores, hardware stores and some AAA branches.

 

I have a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee. When I want heat, the passenger side blows cold air, but there is heat in the middle vent and driver’s vent. What could be wrong?

 

The duct system in your Jeep uses an actuator that controls air flow in the air ducts. The actuator is controlled by a vacuum through a series of vacuum lines. The problem could be the actuator or even something as simple as a leaking vacuum line or a foreign object blocking the duct.

 

I am considering purchasing a work van and was thinking about the new Ford Transit or the Ram ProMaster. What do you think?

 

I have driven both vehicles in limited road tests. I preferred the Ford EcoBoost engine performance over the Ram gasoline engine. When it comes to diesels, the performance looks similar. The Ford offers more overall headroom and is more esthetically appealing.

 

I often think about how the salt on the road affects my car. There are some times that the car is frozen in ice. Is it best to wash off the salt at a carwash?

 

You are correct that salt is corrosive to cars. The best thing you can do is rinse off the salt with fresh water at home. I’m always concerned about using a high-pressure spray and getting water in places it was never designed to go. Some tests have shown that when carwash systems recycle water, and when a system isn’t working properly, the water can have salt in it. Regarding the frozen salt and water, it isn’t corrosive until it thaws. If your car is covered with ice, as it starts to melt, wash away any salt residue with fresh water. The good news is that today’s cars, with their robust factory coating, are more resistant to rust.

How often should power steering, brake and coolant fluids be changed? My regular mechanic says it’s necessary only when you have work done. But big chain stores and dealerships say they should be changed semi-regularly. Also, why do General Motors vehicles require only Dex-Cool coolant?

 

You should follow the recommendation from your vehicle’s owner’s manual. In many cases, transmission, differential and power-steering fluids are designed to be left in the vehicle for well over 100,000 miles. My advice is to change any fluid if it is dirty or contaminated regardless of the mileage. Dex-Cool uses organic acid technology, which makes it unique, and in some cases, has an extended service life over 150,000 miles. Many manufacturers, including Prestone, have Dex-Cool compatible products.

 

I listened to your radio program and heard you had a contest where you gave away some car wax. Then I heard someone who had won say he was very happy with its performance. What is its name, and where do I buy it?

 

The wax/polish is called 200MPH Paint Protectant. An auto enthusiast/listener saw the polish at a car show and was so impressed he became a distributer. You can give him a call at Daye Distributers, 781-849-3293.

 

I have a big family, and we do a lot of outdoor activities. I want a vehicle with all-wheel drive, somewhat luxurious, with room for at least six. My two boys are 6 feet tall, so room is important. I have looked at the Cadillac Escalade, but is there a truck I’m missing?

 

I would take a look at the Infiniti QX80. It has the room you need, comfort and luxury. The engine is a 400-horsepower 5.6-liter V-8 with all-wheel drive and even a low gear range, if you did travel far off the beaten path. As big as the QX80 is, I found it to drive smaller than its size. If carrying passengers and cargo are equally important, then you should look at the Escalade ESV. This is the longer version of the Escalade, offering more legroom as well as cargo space.

 

I drive about 35,000 miles per year. I have a glass of wine or two when I take clients out to dinner, so I’m on the road a lot and can’t jeopardize my license. Has any car come out with a system that will let me know if I have had too much to drink?

 

From a traffic safety standpoint, my advice is never drink and drive. As an alternative, you could carry your own blood-alcohol breath tester. I recently tested BACtrack-VIO. This keychain device syncs to a smartphone and reads blood alcohol concentration. What is unique about this device is that if the user is impaired, it will calculate when they are safe to drive. It will also give the user an indication of level of impairment and what functions are impaired – such as decision-making, balance, etc. Since this is a consumer device and relatively inexpensive ($50), it is most likely not as accurate as a portable breath tester used by police departments. For more information, go to www.bactrack.com.

 

I have a 1998 Toyota Celica with 180,000 miles, which still runs great. My wife would like me to buy a newer car. Unfortunately, Toyota doesn’t make Celicas anymore, and I haven’t found a car that meets my conditions: standard transmission, two-by-two seating, hatchback, two door, front-wheel drive, sporty look and not outrageously expensive.

 

The spiritual successor to the Celica is the Scion Tc. It is a two-door hatchback, reasonably priced and one of the few cars with an available six-speed manual transmission. It may not be quite up to the refinement of the Celica, but it should check off all the boxes that you and your wife find important.

 

My son is in middle school and as we look at high school and college I wanted to know your thoughts about a career in auto repair. My son really seems to enjoy computers but also taking things apart and putting them back together. With the complexity of cars today, is there a future in auto repair?

 

Considering how cars have changed and how technology has advanced, I believe the future looks bright for young automotive technicians. Recently, Ford Motor Company stated they need an additional 5,500 technicians in the near future. As cars get more complicated, talented technicians will become more valuable and better paid. Furthermore, motorists are keeping their cars longer and will need these cars repaired into the future. Add in that the potential yearly earnings for some talented technicians can exceed six figures – without four years of college and the associated mountain of debt – and that makes it more appealing. Another advantage: These jobs can’t move overseas.

 

I drive a 2005 Lincoln Town Car with 153,000 miles. The brake light on the dash sometimes stays on for a few seconds and goes off if I pump the brakes. The brakes are fine, and the brake fluid level is full. What could cause this problem? The second issue is the car gets only 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. Would changing the fuel filter improve gas mileage? Finally, do you recommend an oil change every 3,000 or 5,000 miles? 

 

The red brake light could be an issue with the brake hydraulic system or the car’s parking brake mechanism. Your car uses a brake-fluid-level sensor, which has been known to be wonky. When it comes to brakes and road safety, this issue should be a priority. Regarding fuel economy, lack of routine maintenance, including tire pressure, could be a problem. Recently, a reader noticed gas mileage dropping off as the result of a sticking brake caliper. When it comes to oil changes, the “old” 3,000-mile standard is no longer necessary.

 

I have filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about my 2015 Subaru Outback. The navigation feature has a glossy screen that reflects light from the sunroof. I have had to place a dish towel over the screen when driving because of the incredibly dangerous glare. Any suggestions?

 

I have not driven the 2015 Outback, but did recently drive the 2015 Subaru Legacy sedan with a sunroof and navigation system. I didn’t find an issue, but that could be a result of the sedan design and maybe even my height behind the wheel. I have seen similar problems in many cars that can be cured by closing the sunroof shade. I would try using a piece of static cling window tint fitted over the screen. This will make the screen a bit harder to see but should also limit some reflective glare. You could also try tinting the sunroof glass with a static cling tint.

 

My Chevrolet Suburban has 73,000 miles. When I’m filling the gas tank, the pump shuts off every few seconds unless I fill the tank slowly. I tried two other gas stations and the same thing happens. What should I have checked?

 

I would start with the obvious and make sure the fill-pipe and vent hose are clear. If they are OK, then check to see that the vent solenoid is open when the key is turned off. If not, you will likely need to replace this solenoid and evaporative part of the evaporative emissions system.

 

My wife is looking for a more upscale vehicle that she plans to keep for several years. Of the 2010-12 Mercedes E350, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti G37X, Cadillac CTS, Lexus ES 350, BMW 525xi and Toyota Avalon, which would you recommend?

 

All are good choices, each having its own characteristics. The BMW, Infinity and Cadillac are more driver-type cars; the Lexus, Mercedes, Genesis and Avalon are luxury cars, not sports sedans. My choice for sport/luxury would be the BMW, and for dependable luxury, it would be the Lexus.

 

My mechanic said it is better for a vehicle to be left out than garaged. He said vehicles do not dry out after heavy rain or snow when garaged. What is your opinion?

 

To some extent, your mechanic is correct. If the garage is completely airtight, the car would remain damp, which could cause rust or corrosion. If your car is wet or snow covered, it will dry out if there is some ventilation in the garage. If the garage has windows, or vents make sure they are open – even just a bit. This will allow the air to circulate and allow the car to dry out.

 

I own a 2004 BMW 325Ci, five-speed manual, with 145,000 miles. Recently, I had the mass airflow sensor, oil-level sensor and water pump replaced. A week later, I needed to add oil and have been adding about a quart of oil every 300 miles. I took it to a garage that “fixed” it for $1,000, by replacing the oil separator. I brought it back after three weeks and three more quarts of oil. They checked the cylinders, pressures, and found a minimal leak from one gasket that would not account for the massive oil loss. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

 

I believe the car is burning oil, and it may be caused by an issue with the PCV (crankcase ventilation system). A malfunctioning PCV system can result in excessive oil consumption. I would go to either a BMW specialist or the dealer and have the PCV system tested.

 

I have a 2009 Chevrolet Traverse. The power steering stops working at idle speed and comes back at 1,200 rpm and works after that. I have found mentions online of a faulty pump, rack and pinion unit or even a clogged inline filter. Is there a known solution without replacing everything in the system?

 

There is a specific procedure to check the power-steering system. You can do a few tests without specific tools. Start with a visual inspection of the system for damaged or leaking hoses. If all looks OK, you can perform a simple flow test. The power-steering system should flow about a gallon of fluid per minute. If the pump is not flowing this amount, the pump will need to be replaced. A professional shop technician will install gauges to test pump pressure.

 

I’m going to buy a new car. I’m interested in the Subaru Forester, but there are many articles online about excessive oil consumption. Owner’s manuals currently state that losing up to a quart of engine oil per 1,200 miles is considered within limits. What do you know about this?

 

I have not heard of any particular issues with the newest Subaru models, although Subaru did issue a service bulletin about a new design piston ring if oil use is noted.

 

I live at the top of a very steep road. I have always gotten by with all-season tires on my Toyota Camry. Last year I could barely make it home. Do you think snow tires would help?

 

Snow tires will certainly make an improvement in the overall winter performance of the car. When you purchase snow tires, you need to buy four. Although a bigger initial investment, you might want to consider four snow tires and wheels. This combination will save you money, since the installation will be much easier and even something you can do yourself.

 

I have some rust at an old scratch on my car door. I would rather fix it myself. I have some touch-up paint, but don’t know how to effectively get rid of the rust before painting.

 

Just like any type of painting, to get good results, it is all about the surface preparation. You will need to sand/prime/fill the affected area before painting. Once the rusted area looks good, then you can apply the paint and, depending on the car, then apply a clear topcoat. Skipping any step will result is a less than perfect finish.

 

I have a 2004 Honda Civic EX with about 90,000 miles. It overheats when I have been driving for 45 to 50 minutes. A dealership replaced the water pump. When this didn’t fix the problem, I was told it might be the cylinder head gasket, which would cost $720 to $2,000 to fix.

 

It is possible that your car needs a cylinder head gasket. Testing for an internal coolant leak is relatively easy. The shop either needs to use an infrared exhaust gas analyzer or a kit that measures exhaust gas in the coolant. If the shop has an exhaust gas analyzer, it can determine if the engine has a problem within minutes. If it doesn’t have this tester, it may use a “block-check” kit. The reusable kit costs about $50. Regarding the prices to perform the repair; if the engine just needs a new gasket $700 is about right, if the cylinder-head was damaged, the price could run up to $2,000.

 

I have a 2007 Toyota Camry with a six-cylinder engine and would like to know at what mileage I should consider replacing the timing belt.

 

The V-6 engine in your Camry doesn’t use a timing belt; it uses a timing chain. Timing chains are generally designed to last the life of the car. Timing belts need to be replaced every 60,000 to 105,000 miles.

 

I am heading to Florida for about seven months. We are leaving my wife’s car home. What should we do before we leave?

 

The best thing you can do is have a friend drive the car once a month for about 30 to 45 minutes. Lack of use is, in some cases, worse for a car than abusing it. If this isn’t possible, the following will help. Change the oil and filter. When this service is being performed let the garage know the car will be sitting, and ask the technician to lubricate any rubber bushings with silicone spray. At the same time, lubricate any cables, locks and hinges. Top off all other fluids, including the engine coolant. The coolant should be clean and have the ability to protect the engine to at least 30 degrees below zero. Tire pressure should be checked. Fill the gas tank and add a gas stabilizer: StaBil is one brand. Buy a battery charger that will maintain the battery: The Battery Tender is a good choice. This style of charger stays plugged in all the time to maintain the battery’s overall condition. If this isn’t possible, remove the battery and store it out of the weather. Wash and wax the car and consider a car cover – even if it’s indoors. Put in moisture absorbent packs to eliminate dampness. Finally, if you have critters around, seal up the tail pipe and air intake (aluminum foil or steel wool works well) to prevent nesting. When you come home and are ready to drive the car, start it and let it warm up completely. Shift the car through all the gears to exercise the transmission. Take the car for a ride, and drive it as if it were brand new – nice and easy. Have the oil changed again, and perform the normal safety and maintenance checks.

 

I have a 2009 four-cylinder Honda Civic. I receive random oil change coupons offering services with synthetic oil. Is there any harm in switching back and forth between conventional/petroleum based and synthetic oils to take advantage of the cost savings? I have heard stories about oil leaks in even newer engines. Is this true?

 

Years ago there were concerns about switching from conventional to synthetic oil and back again, which have proved unfounded. The only concern you should have is, if you have not been diligent about oil changes, synthetic oil is a very good cleaner and can wash away any accumulated sludge. If the only thing keeping your car’s engine from leaking oil is sludge, the synthetic oil could find any weak gaskets or seals. And of course only use the oil type and grade recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

 

I often think about how the salt on the road affects my car. There are some times that the car is frozen in ice, and I’m concerned I can’t wash away the frozen snow and ice. Is it best to wash off the salt at a carwash, and should I be concerned about more water freezing?

 

You are correct that salt is corrosive to cars. The best thing you can do is rinse off the salt with fresh water at home. I’m always concerned about using a high-pressure spray and getting water in places it was never designed to go. Some tests have shown that when carwash systems recycle water, and when a system isn’t working properly, the water can have salt in it. Regarding the frozen salt and water, it isn’t corrosive until it thaws. If your car is covered with ice, as it starts to melt, wash away any salt residue with fresh water. The good news is that the today’s cars, with their robust factory coating, are more resistant to rust.

I have a 2003 Toyota Highlander, and recently had new front brakes installed. This included pads, rotors and calipers. Why are calipers replaced?

 

Calipers, the part of the braking system that provides the clamping force when stopping, can fail due to rust. This rust is generally caused from moisture contamination of the brake fluid. Considering your Highlander is 11 years old, replacing the calipers was most likely money well spent. If a brake caliper replacement is needed, they should be replaced in pairs to provide equal braking performance. 

 

When I use my defroster/air conditioning, my car starts staggering and chugging pretty badly. Any thoughts as to what this might be? It’s a well-cared-for 2000 Neon with 140,000 miles. 

 

The air conditioner puts additional load on the engine. If the engine is starting to misfire, this additional load may be exacerbating the condition. To find the problem, a technician will test both the ignition and fuel systems. A worn spark plug or faulty fuel injector could be the problem.

 

I purchased a new car two years ago and recently had a flat tire. To my surprise, there was no spare. The car dealer told me if I wanted, I could buy one for $250. To me, this is outrageous and should be illegal. Why does it have no spare, and what can I do?

 

Many cars today don’t have spare tires; in fact, at AAA, we keep a list of nearly 100 makes and models of cars on the road today that may not have a spare tire if a member calls in with a flat tire. Vehicle manufacturers remove spare tires for a variety of reasons, including weight/fuel savings as well as cost savings. In some cases, there is simply no place to store a spare tire. If there is room to carry a spare tire in your car, you might check with your local salvage yard and purchase a usable and generally cheaper spare tire that will get you out of trouble if you need it.

 

I own a 14-year-old Nissan Maxima, and my catalytic converter glows red-hot after about 10 minutes of driving. My check-engine light is on, and after a lot of research online it seems that the oxygen sensor may be an underlying cause. Do I need to replace all three catalytic converters? How do I find out which sensor is bad? 

 

Replacing the catalytic converter without finding out why it is getting hot and turning red is a waste of money. A good technician will check the car’s computer, read the fault codes and use a diagnostic flow chart to verify the problem, find the cause and, finally, repair the car. Go to AAA.com for a list of AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities. These shops will warranty their work for 12 months or 12,000 miles, and in the event of a problem, a AAA representative will look into the matter and mediate any issues. 

 

My friend has a 2000 Buick LeSabre. None of the power windows work. Can you tell me what to check or what it might be? 

 

This diagnostic and repair is not as simple as it once was. Even this 14-year-old car uses a computer to run the windows. Start with the basics, such as checking for a faulty fuse or broken wire. The driver’s door has a large cluster of wires that run to it, and over the years of opening and closing, the wires can break. The windows’ motor and controls are powered by discrete power and ground circuits. Just to give you an idea on how the windows work, the driver’s door module receives a request from the window switch over a “data” line, and if the status information is correct, then the window opens. This system can even generate a computer fault code to help with diagnosis. 

 

I’m interested in a five-door Ford Fiesta with the three-cylinder engine. Do you know of any comments on safety, or general drivability? 

 

The Fiesta has been rated by both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety with overall good scores. In recent years, Ford products have had a better-than-average repair/reliability rating. The ride, for a small car, is quite good, and I like the seating and versatility of the cabin. Overall fuel economy approaches that of a hybrid vehicle. During my road test of the manual-transmission Fiesta, I averaged 43 mpg. The manual transmission made the car fun to drive, but to take advantage of the turbocharged engine, I was constantly shifting. This is an engine that doesn’t tolerate being “lugged” in the wrong gear.

 

I am in the market for a six- to eight-year-old Honda CR-V to keep at my beach house. Am I correct in believing that buying this car from a Honda dealer is a safer bet for a better quality car than buying from a neighborhood used car dealer?

 

Many times, the local used car lot and dealers buy vehicles from the same place, a used car auction. The advantage of a new car dealer is that they may get a low-mileage trade-in from a previous customer and this could be a better car. When buying any six- to eight-year-old used car, my advice is that no matter where purchased, have a used car inspection performed before buying the vehicle. 

 

I have a Ford Taurus, and when it was in for service, I was told it needed a new air filter, cabin filter and fuel filter. How often do these filters need to be changed – besides the obvious answer of when they are dirty? 

 

According to the service manual for a Ford Taurus, the engine air filter has about a 30,000-mile life span, and the cabin air filter has 15,000 miles. The fuel filter replacement certainly didn’t hurt, but may not have been necessary depending on how the car is driven. Keep in mind that if you drive in dusty environments, the air and cabin filters may need changing sooner. 

 

I have a 2010 Chrysler Town and Country minivan with 74,000 miles. The engine light comes on occasionally. The computer codes directed the mechanic to replace the gas cap, but the light remains on.

 

Based on your description, the service engine light is coming on due to a problem with the evaporative emissions system. I would find a shop that has a smoke machine. This tool fills the evaporative emissions system with synthetic smoke, allowing the technician to find even the smallest leaks by simply looking for the smoke escaping.

 

I have a Chevrolet Tahoe that I purchased from a police auction and the “service engine soon” light comes on intermittently. The engine runs the same whether the light is on or off. What do you think is the problem? Do you think any of this has to do with this vehicle coming from a police auction?

 

I don’t think where your Tahoe came from has anything to do with the check engine light, although the random check engine light could be a result of general lack of maintenance. There are a variety of items that need to be checked. Your repair shop needs to follow a typical fault-tree diagnostic procedure to find the issue. Some of the items to check are vacuum leaks, restricted fuel filter, leaking exhaust, and even the integrity of the intake manifold.

 

I have a 2006 Cadillac SRX with 140,252 miles. Within the past two years, I have replaced the catalytic converters, and since then, the car has been burning oil. What could be the problem? 

 

The catalytic converter failure is most likely a result of your Cadillac burning oil. The first and simplest check would be to ensure the positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system is operating properly. If the PCV system is not working properly, this can result in increased oil use. Also, higher than normal engine temperatures, worn piston rings and damaged valve seals can all lead to increased oil use. At this point, I would have a repair shop perform a complete diagnostic check of the engine. This should also include cylinder leak down and compression tests. 

 

I’m in the market for a new vehicle. I used to drive my vehicle on the sand to go fishing, and now that I’m retired, I may do more fishing. As I look at vehicles, I see lots of all-wheel drives and wonder how they would fare on sand? 

 

At one time, to go off-roading you needed a truck with four-wheel drive and a low range when the going got tough. Today, with the electronics built into an all-wheel-drive system, you just need a little common sense and appropriate tires. Some to consider are the Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Xterra and Jeep Cherokee; all deliver more than 25 mpg, have off-road capability and are comfortable to drive on a daily basis. 

 

I recently purchased a 1994 Cadillac Eldorado from a neighbor for $1,500, but it needs an oil pan. I didn’t think it would be a big job, but I have asked about repairs and have been quoted $1,000 or more. Are these prices realistic, and why is it so expensive? 

 

For some vehicles, replacing an oil pan can be a simple job, and for others like your Cadillac, it can get very labor-intensive. If the engine oil pan does need replacing, the repair takes about nine hours. This is because the engine needs to be removed from the car, so it is easy to see how the cost could go well over $1,000 for just labor. It is possible that the oil leak is from the lower oil pan bolts, and in some cases, this can be resealed. 

 

I am a 69-year-old woman trying to locate a used sedan, large or midsized, with all-wheel drive and a regular turnkey ignition. I would prefer to have comfortable adjustable driver seating with lumbar support and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel without overly complicated electronics.

 

I would start with a later model Ford Taurus. These cars are dependable, have a great all-wheel-drive system and should satisfy all of your requirements. As with any used-car purchase, you should have the car fully inspected by a reputable repair shop. 

 

I own a 14-year-old Nissan Maxima and my catalytic converter is glowing red-hot after about 10 minutes of driving. My check-engine light is on, and after a lot of research online it seems that the oxygen sensor may be an underlying cause. Do I need to replace all three catalytic converters? How do I find out which oxygen sensor is bad? 

 

Replacing the catalytic converter without finding out why it is getting hot and turning red is a waste of money. A good technician will check the car’s computer, read the fault codes and use a diagnostic flow chart to verify the problem, find the cause and, finally, repair the car. Go to AAA.com for a list of AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities. These AAA shops will warranty their work for 12 months or 12,000 miles, and in the event of a problem, a AAA representative will look into the matter and mediate any issues.

 

My 2009 Cadillac CTS has some moisture inside the headlights. Is this something I should worry about? I was thinking of drilling a drain hole in the lens. Is this a solution?

 

It is possible that the seal for the bulb assembly is allowing moisture into the headlamp capsule. Although drilling a hole in the lens would drain the water, it doesn’t fix the problem. My advice is to spend some time with a water hose and try to find where the water is leaking in. 

 

I have a very dependable 2006 RAV4 with four-wheel drive and about 143,000 miles. When I am traveling at about 35 to 43 mph, there is a loud rumbling noise and even a bit of a vibration. Any ideas?   

 

The problem could be the transmission or wheel bearing, but it also could be related to the overall running of the engine. I have seen this model, as well as some others, have a slight misfire at this speed, causing the rumble and vibration that you describe. Before I condemn the transmission, I would want to test the ignition system, including the spark plugs and ignition coils. 

 

I borrowed a 2013 Ford Focus from a neighbor, and I was surprised there was no gas cap. What is up with that? Also, the little flap that is in the filler tube doesn’t open when you push on it. How would you put gas in if you run out? 

 

Ford calls this a capless fuel system, and the design has a built-in system that prevents fumes from escaping. Included with the car is a special fuel that releases the flap and allows you to add fuel with a gas can.

 

I have an older Chevy truck with a 350 engine, and spark plugs six and eight get fouled with oil. What problems am I looking for? 

 

It is not uncommon on this engine to see valve guide wear. As they wear, oil is sucked in by the valve seals and ends up in the combustion chamber. I would perform a compression test on the engine; if the compression is low in those two cylinders, you may be faced with an engine overhaul. In the short term, you could put in a slightly hotter spark plug or even a spark plug anti-fouler. The anti-fouler would solve the oil consumption problem and would keep the plug clean and prevent the engine from skipping. 

 

I have a 2010 Ford F-150, and I have a problem keeping my interior windshield clean. Nobody smokes in my truck, but within a few days after washing my windshield, there is a film back on it similar to a smoke film. I’ve tried various cleaning solutions but none keep it clean longer than a few days.

 

This film on the inside of the windshield is from the outgassing of all the plastics and foam in your truck. I have found that there isn’t much you can do other than clean the windshield periodically. My favorite glass cleaners are Zep Glass Cleaner, Invisible Glass and Sprayway. Once the window is clean, follow up with a microfiber cloth. This should get the windows nice and clean. Leaving the windows open just a bit will help, too. 

 

I have a 2014 Subaru Crosstrek. The transmission is very slow to engage, especially from reverse to drive; it takes three to four seconds before the car moves. The dealership salesman said the car needed to be reprogrammed, but then the service manager told me that there was nothing wrong. I believe this car is dangerous. I called Subaru and opened up a claim. 

 

I have driven several 2014 Subaru models and haven’t experienced this problem, but have heard from readers with similar concerns. One reader reported that it can take up to seven seconds for the transmission to shift from reverse to drive. Since not every 2014 Subaru has this problem, it seems to me that it can be fixed. I would continue to work with Subaru customer service, not the dealership, to try to get the matter resolved.

I recently purchased a Chevy Spark and was told that I should get about 300 miles out of a tank of gas. The car has only 3,000 miles on it, but it doesn’t seem like I’m getting anywhere near that.

 

The first thing to do is check the actual gas mileage. As good as the mileage indicators are in cars today, I still like to check the fuel economy the old-fashioned way. Here is the method I use. Slowly fill the fuel tank and stop once the gas pump clicks off – just once. Record the mileage, for example, 12,525. Then drive normally. When you use about three quarters of a tank, refill the tank using the same method – slow fill, stop at first click. Record the mileage and gallons used.

 

In this example the mileage is now 12,810 and the car used 10.5 gallons of fuel.

So in this test you drove 285 miles and needed 10.5 gallons to refill the tank. So you divide 285 miles by 10.5 gallons and end up with a calculation of 27 mpg. You should do this same test over several fill-ups and then average those numbers together. The Chevy Spark, according to the EPA, should get 39 mpg on the highway, but your mileage can vary. Additionally, the best mileage with any car won’t be realized until it fully breaks in, which in some cases could be 7,500 miles or more.

 

I am considering buying a new car and wonder what you think of the S4 versus the BMW 335?

 

The Audi S4 versus the BMW 335 is as debated as Camaro versus Mustang. When you compare the two cars, they are very similar. The Audi has a little more horsepower but weighs more, making the day-to-day performance about the same. Fuel economy, should you care about such things, is better in the BMW. The BMW is a bit cheaper to purchase depending on how you add options. I recently drove the Audi S4 and found it to be quick, and it handled well. The interior was a class leader. Comparing it to the BMW 335 (it has been a while since I drove a 3 series BMW), I would favor the Audi. If you factor in price and fuel mileage, then my vote would go to the BMW.

 

My neighbor backed into the driver’s side door of my 2005 Volvo wagon. There are 175,000 miles on the car, and all the electrical components work in the damaged door. I got a repair estimate for the insurance company that included an extensive list of junkyard doors ranging in price from $300 to $700. The insurance company will pay for the lowest price door. I am concerned it may  have water damage to all the electrical parts. Do you have any information on where one might go to get a door that for sure has no internal water damage?

 

It has been my experience that a quality body shop will not want to take a chance with questionable used parts. The professional body shops that I know will carefully inspect any used part before installing it in a customer’s car. This is both for the benefit of the customer and the reputation of the body shop. Now you certainly can’t guarantee the life of electrical parts but if you use a good body shop, it should help minimize future problems.

 

I get a “chattering” feeling in the steering wheel of my 2002 Toyota Camry when I’m driving around a curve. This happens only on curves to the left and not while turning right, what’s up?

 

The chattering could be related to a worn wheel bearing or even a worn tire. Have a repair shop take a look at all of the steering and suspension components, paying particular attention to the wheel bearings.

 

I am considering buying a “hot” coupe, and I’m looking at the Subaru WRX and the Honda Civic Si. Which do you like and why?

 

The WRX is one of my favorite cars. It’s fast, handles well and is generally comfortable to drive. The Civic Si is fast and easy to drive. It feels like a performance car when pushed hard and a stock Civic when driven in stop-and-go traffic. Living in New England, my choice would be the all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza.

 

My new 2014 Buick is a good car, but has a problem. When I am driving at night with the lights on, to the left bottom side of the speedometer there are blue and green blurbs of light that bounce around in the panel next to the speedometer. I know it’s not my eyes – only this car has the problem. I have left it with the dealer for several days, and they claim there is no problem. It is like I have dancing bugs in the dash, what is your opinion?

 

I would ask the dealer if you can road test the same type of car at night. If the lights are not present, then the light and reflections are a problem with your car. If the lights are present in a different car then it is a characteristic and most likely can’t be repaired.

 

From time to time I can’t get the shifter from park to drive in my Dodge truck. I need to turn the key on and off and step on the brake several times. What do you think could be wrong?

 

The shift interlock system is engaged whenever the ignition switch is in the lock or accessory position. An additional feature will prevent shifting out of the park position unless the brake pedal is depressed approximately one-half an inch. The problem could be with the brake switch, solenoid or even a wiring issue.

 

I have seen three-cylinder engines being offered. Ford has one in the Fiesta and Mitsubishi has one in the Mirage. I remember the Geo Metro with its three-cylinder engine and it was terrible, what do you think?

 

I have not driven the Mirage but recently have driven the Fiesta with the 1.0 liter Ecoboost engine and the five-speed manual transmission and found it to be a very useable combination. The performance, as long as you took advantage of the power supplied by the turbocharger, was more than adequate and made for a fun-to-drive car. Even more impressive was the fuel economy, I averaged 43 mpg in a 50/50 mix of city/highway driving. This mileage approaches that of a typical hybrid car.

 

I have a 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser with 112,000 miles. The dealer says I am due for a new timing belt for $915. Should I get the work done?

 

You should certainly get the timing belt and associated components replaced. If the timing belt fails, the engine will be badly damaged and will cost much more than $915 to perform the necessary preventative maintenance.

 

I am in the market for a 6- to 8-year-old Honda CR-V for my son to take to college in Vermont. Is buying this car from a Honda dealer a safer bet for a better quality car than buying from a neighborhood used car dealer?

 

Many times, the local used car lot and dealers all buy vehicles from the same place, a used car auction. The advantage of a new car dealer is that they may get a low mileage trade in from a previous customer and this could be a better car. No matter where it was purchased, have a used-car inspection performed by a reputable shop before buying the vehicle.

 

I am looking for a used car for our petite 5-foot tall daughter. The car needs to be safe with good visibility for her. Our budget is about $16,000. What would you recommend?

 

My first choice would be a late model Subaru Impreza. This car is great for short statured drivers, has the advantage of all-wheel drive and performs well in crash testing. The other car I would look at is the Mazda3. It handles great, is fuel-efficient and may be one of the best small affordable cars on the market today.

 

I have a 2013 Camry SE V-6 equipped with push-button start that occasionally does not work the first time. The dealer could find nothing wrong. It seems to happen more often when the car has been driven, is shut off for a short time and then re-started, like when I stop for gas.

 

Although the problem could be related to the push-button starting system, I would look at the basics first. This is a classic example of “hot-soak” where an engine doesn’t want to start right away when it is warm and allowed to sit for a few minutes. I would continue to make the dealer aware of when and where the starting issue happens to allow proper diagnostics and repairs.

 

I have a 1996 Pontiac Sunfire convertible in mint condition with approximately 20,000 miles. The car is garaged and only driven once a week in nice weather. When it is hot outside the transmission doesn’t seem to go right into drive or reverse. There is no transmission dipstick and the owner’s manual says that the fluid never has to be replaced.

 

There is a bolt that can be removed to check the transmission fluid level and, considering the car is 18 years old, it wouldn’t hurt to check the fluid level and condition. If the fluid shows signs of age, it would be wise to change the filter and perform a fluid exchange. That said, the first indication of a transmission failure is usually a hesitation to engage reverse gear. Although this is one of the signs of failure, it could easily last for many more years. Considering the age of the car, even though it is in good condition, I wouldn’t be in any rush to overhaul the transmission until the problem becomes more pronounced.

 

I have a Jeep Grand Cherokee and it has a squeak and bang coming from the back. When it was in for an oil change they looked at it but didn’t find anything. Any thoughts?

 

The problem could be the rear-spring insulators, these are rubber pads that are used to isolate the springs from the body of the vehicle. Check the pads and take a good look at the springs. With age, some of these springs can break and cause the banging noise.

 

I bought a new 2013 Honda Civic from a dealer and have a question about the doors. When I raise the windows to the full closed position, I can feel the door being drawn in to a tighter position. When I took it back to the dealer, he told me they were designed to work that way.  Can this be true?

 

In many cars today, when the windows are fully closed, you can feel the door/window frame flex. I don’t believe this has anything to do with the sealing of the door, but just how the door and windows are constructed. In the case of your Honda, I would just chalk it up to a characteristic of the car.

 

Are you in favor of self-driving cars?

 

I enjoy driving, but there are times when I would like to be in a car that drives without my help, such as when I’m stuck in traffic. Then there are times when there is nothing more rewarding than driving a sporty car on a twisty road. I had the opportunity to talk with Volvo’s Anders Eugensson on my radio program. He predicts that by 2020, no new Volvos will be involved in any fatal crashes because of some level of self-driving. The interview is on my podcast site if you want to give it a listen: http://johnfpaul.podomatic.com/

 

I recently purchased a Mazda Miata. I have heard that you shouldn’t use the parking brake in the winter, and what about snow tires? Two or four?

 

In general, if the weather is below freezing and it’s wet, try to avoid using the parking brake. The parking brake cables can become coated with slush and freeze, and you will be stuck. Regarding snow tires, using four is the best option. You will get better traction to get moving but also to stop. I drove a Miata during a winter storm, and it did remarkably well with its biggest limitation being the lack of ground clearance.

When I wash my car, I always dry it with a chamois. My neighbor told me he dries his car with a leaf blower. What do you think of this – can it do harm?

 

Using an electric leaf blower is a quick way to dry your car, and I can’t see how it could harm anything. Of course, you need to be careful and stay a little away from the paint so you don’t scratch the car. I have been using one for years and it cuts my drying time in half.

 

I am considering buying a used luxury car, but I am concerned about maintenance costs. Are used BMW and Mercedes Benz vehicles high maintenance? I heard an oil change for a BMW costs $150.

 

Looking at a Mercedes S550 as an example (BMW is similar), the oil change labor is 1.1 hours, the oil filter is $16 and the oil is synthetic, which has a retail price of about $8 a quart. An oil change could be $150 or more, but you only need to change the oil every 10,000 miles.

 

Do you have opinions on the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape?

 

I have always been a fan of the Honda CR-V. Over the years, it does just about everything right. The RAV4 and Ford Escape are fine vehicles but the styling of the Escape doesn’t appeal to me. You might take a look at the Hyundai Tucson – it is more than a good value, with a long warranty, and it’s now well-engineered and competitive with similar vehicles.

 

I have seen you write about small SUVs such as the RAV4, CR-V and Tucson but you always seem to leave out my car, the VW Tiguan. Is there something wrong with this vehicle or do you just not like it?

 

I recently road-tested a VW Tiguan and found it to have very good road manners. On the highways, it was smooth and stable, and the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine provided smooth power. The interior was comfortable and most controls pretty straightforward. Cargo space was a bit tight compared to some other vehicles in the same class. The car that I road-tested had a delivered price of $32,000, which puts it several thousand dollars above the competition.

 

I always used grease on my car’s battery cables, but my mechanic tells me it isn’t a good idea. When my battery was serviced, he used a sticky spray, which he told me is now the recommended procedure. What is wrong with grease?

 

Grease is an acid and, although it aids in sealing the connections at the cables, it can dissolve and cause its own share of problems. The battery sprays are designed for this and work well. I have personally had good luck with barbecue paint; it dries quickly and forms a good seal to prevent corrosion.

 

You once said you weren’t sure how Hyundai would do with the luxury Equus. Have you had a chance to drive one and have your thoughts changed?

 

I recently drove the Equus again and continue to come away very impressed. The cabin is pure luxury with every conceivable option. The ride is comfortable, although slightly firm; the 429-horsepower, V-8 engine provided stellar performance. The top-of-the-line Equus, called the Ultimate, has a retail price of $68,000. This is expensive for a Hyundai, but tens of thousands less than the nearest European equivalent. For buyers more concerned about the value for their dollar and less about the name on the car, the Equus is a winner.

 

I am having trouble finding a garage that is able to service my V-8 powered 1965 Falcon convertible. It’s in nice shape, but it has a carburetor problem that has stymied the two shops that have looked at it. I think that the mechanics today don’t know how to work on old cars.

 

Carburetor specialists have gone the way of curb feelers and cassette players. One place to try is a marina. Many boats still use carburetors and the technicians are usually quite good at getting them squared away. You may need to have your local shop remove the carburetor for rebuilding. You could also go to one of the many car shows and ask around for a shop that works on old cars.

 

I am considering buying a diagnostic scan tool to help with the diagnosing and repairing of my car. I have looked at a couple and was wondering about the type that interfaces with my iPhone. Are these any good?

 

I have been trying out two units; one is from Actron, called U-Scan, and the other is from Lemur Monitors, called BlueDriver. Both of these units have the ability to wirelessly read and clear diagnostic trouble codes using an android or iPhone. The BlueDriver unit allows the user to generate vehicle-specific information such as code definition, possible causes and repair recommendations. Accessing the BlueDriver repair database allows five free repair reports, and then it’s only 99 cents for five additional reports. I also like the feature that tells you if all of the emissions monitors are set so that the car can be tested at state smog inspections. The U-Scan tool can also connect to Actron’s CodeConnect database with millions of top reported fixes that can tell you what is wrong with your vehicle. Both of these tools offer plenty of do-it yourself information, certainly not to the extent of a bidirectional scan tool used at a professional shop. But for less than $100, these tools can be very helpful and save you money. I would recommend either tool for home use as well as a spare scan tool for a professional shop.

 

I am trying to decide between a 2014 Honda Accord EX-L and a 2012 Infiniti G37X. I like the idea of purchasing new but want to get a little more for the money. I am concerned about the long-term cost of a used Infiniti.

 

There is nothing like a new car, and the Honda Accord EX-L comes pretty well equipped with navigation, a lane departure warning system and a host of other convenience and comfort options. The Infiniti is a true luxury car that has a few items you can’t get in the Honda, such as all-wheel drive. If the Infiniti is your choice, you could purchase an extended warranty to alleviate your concerns.

 

I have a 1991 Honda Accord that has 361,000 miles. I plan to keep it for a couple more years. I like to listen to you on AM radio, but I have a static discharge problem while the car is in motion on a dry road.

 

Years back, there were some tire brands that, due to their design, would build up static electricity. I received an email like this a few years ago and the owner of the car solved the problem with an old-fashioned static strap mounted to the underside of the body of the car and touching the road to eliminate static electricity buildup.

 

The check-engine light was on in my Chevy. The repair shop tested everything and told me the battery was faulty. They replaced the battery and the light is off. The battery was only a couple of years old. Did it actually cause the problem?

 

So many of today’s car problems are caused by faulty/undercharged batteries or poor electrical connections. It is entirely possible that the battery was faulty, causing low voltage on the computer, which in turn can turn on the check-engine light. The other common issue is that battery terminals can build up with corrosion and cause all kinds of problems. Most shops will clean the connections and the battery before diagnostic testing.

 

I love my 2013 Altima 2.5SL except for what I feel is a major safety flaw. At times, when my wife is in the front passenger seat, her airbag system is off. I have been told by the dealer that at 5 feet 2, 104 pounds and 16 inches wide, she is perceived by the sensors as a “small object” and that she is safer without the airbags deploying. What should I do?

 

Nissan actually had a voluntary recall about this very matter. It is replacing the occupant classification system sensors on certain 2013 Altima vehicles. To get more information, you should call 800-647-7261 and explain exactly what is happening with your car. The Nissan campaign number is PC214.

 

I’m considering a new car, with the Jaguar XF, BMW 550 and the Infiniti Q70 in mind. Do you have a favorite?

 

My favorite car, based on pure style, is the Jaguar. It has to be one of the most attractive cars on the road. The BMW continues to be a driver’s car. It handles well, has telepathic steering, and the twin turbo V-8 engine is very responsive.

The Infiniti Q70 is the one car I haven’t driven. Previous models handled well, were comfortable and were loaded with technology. But the style doesn’t do it for me. The BMW with its 4.4-liter 450-horsepower V-8, eight-speed transmission and stealthy style would be my choice.

 

A friend of mine has a late model Lexus with keyless start, and he has left it running a number of times as it does not shut off automatically. He even left it running in the garage. He’s been to the dealer many times to try to get them to install something that will shut the car off automatically. They have no solutions.

 

This is not the first time I have heard about this problem; in fact, some safety agencies have suggested there should be legislation that would prohibit this from happening. Generally speaking, in all of the keyless-start cars that I have driven, if you walk away with the key and the engine is running, the car will alert the driver with a tone or beep. This would be the same issue if you were trying to lock the car and the engine was running. I think it is a new technology that people need to get used to.

 

Recently you did a comparison of small SUVs and left out the Subaru Forester. In my opinion, the Forester stacks up better than the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V. Considering how well it does in crash tests, why did you leave this car out of the mix?

 

The Subaru Forester is a great car; the writer who emailed me for some reason was specific that they didn’t want a Subaru. I like the Forester a lot, although some readers tell me their cars are prone to wandering on very windy days at highway speeds.

 

I am looking for a luxury coupe and have a budget of about $75,000. I have been looking at the Audi S5, the Porsche Cayman and the Jaguar F-Type. I’m leaning toward the Cayman. What do you like?

 

The Cayman, S5 and the F-Type are all great cars, but of the three, the F-Type Jaguar turned more heads than any car in recent memory. The handling was very good and the ride, even over our less than perfect New England roads, was comfortable. The engine (my test car had the six cylinder) was powerful and the transmission shifted with a crispness not found in every car. The engine also had a mellow exhaust note. For me, the Jaguar F-Type is the winner.

 

My son has recently joined the military and I will be storing his car. What do I need to do?

 

The best thing you can do is drive the car once a month for 30 to 45 minutes. If this isn’t possible, the following will help: Change the oil and filter. Let the garage know the car will be sitting, and ask the technician to lubricate any rubber bushings with silicone spray. At the same time, lubricate any cables, locks and hinges. Top off all fluids, including the engine coolant. The coolant should be clean and have the ability to protect the engine to at least 30 degrees below zero. Check the tire pressure. Fill the gas tank and add a gas stabilizer. And buy a battery charger that will maintain the battery such as the Battery Tender. Wash and wax the car and consider a car cover – even if it’s indoors. On hot days, open the windows slightly to let the car breathe. Put in moisture absorbent packs to eliminate dampness. If you have critters around, seal up the tail pipe and air intake (aluminum foil or steel wool works well) to prevent nesting. When your son comes home and is ready to drive his car, start it and let it warm up completely. Shift the car through all the gears to exercise the transmission. Take the car for a ride, and drive it as if it were brand new – nice and easy. Have the oil changed again, and perform the normal safety and maintenance checks.

What is the difference between a yield sign and a merge sign, and do they have the same meaning in every state?

 

A yield sign is a regulatory sign that requires drivers to slow down and be prepared to stop. If there are pedestrians, bike riders and other motorists you must come to a complete stop if traffic conditions require it. A merge sign is a warning sign and, by definition, is a blending or combining of traffic. This blending is accomplished with an adjustment of speed.

 

I heard that New Jersey passed a law about traveling in the passing lane on highways. Are there laws in other states restricting travel in the left lane?

 

Many states now have laws regarding driving in the passing lane. Recently, Massachusetts has been warning drivers that the left lane is for passing and is not a high-speed travel lane. In Connecticut, the law states the left lane is for passing when the speed limit is 65 mph.

 

What do two solid white lines on the road mean? I usually see these lines as I’m entering a construction area.

 

A double-solid white line separates two lanes of traffic going in the same direction. You may see these lines on the highway or occasionally on residential roads. Crossing a double solid white line is not permitted.

 

If I get into a car accident, what should I do with my car? Should I leave it where the accident happened or move it?

 

If you are involved in a collision, you should move your vehicle out of the traffic lane (unless it is disabled) when it is safe to do so. Law enforcement agencies may tow or impound your vehicle if it is left in an unsafe area and causes safety concerns.

 

I was recently driving outside of New England and was on a road where the speed limit was 75 mph. Why don’t we have higher speed limits around here?

 

Speed limits are based on a variety of factors, including road design and the number of vehicles that use specific roadways. Many traffic engineers set speed limits using the 85 percentile rule. In simple terms, this relates to the fact about 85 percent of all drivers travel at reasonably safe speeds for the various roadway conditions, regardless of speed limit signs. In some cases, this 85th percentile method is used to determine a reasonable and safe maximum speed.

 

I hear the term “roundabout” used. What is a roundabout and is it different from a rotary?

 

Roundabouts are similar to rotaries in function but are generally smaller and are designed more for traffic calming. Think of a roundabout as an alternative to a four-way stop sign. When entering a roundabout, you should follow the same rules as for a rotary, always yield to traffic in the rotary/roundabout and use your car’s turn signal when exiting.

 

I have seen some intersections with yellow triangles painted on the road. What do these mean?

 

You will usually see these yellow triangles as a yield line marked on the pavement where there is a yield sign.

It seems most quick-change oil places still insist that oil be changed every 3,000 miles. I think 5,000 miles is a more reasonable interval. A friend of mine with a Volvo was told he could go 7,500 miles between changes.

 

When I first got into the repair business, I also recommended changing engine oil every 2,500 to 3,000 miles. Today, engines rarely need major work, are more precisely manufactured and run cleaner. In addition, the quality of today’s oil and filters have improved dramatically. My recommendation is to follow the vehicle manufacturer’s schedule as stated in the owner’s manual. In some cases these intervals can run anywhere from 5,000 miles to 12,000 miles.

 

As I look to buy oil filters, there are about 200 different types on the shelf. As long as the oil filter threads mate and the rubber seal fits, is there any downside to picking a different filter?

 

When buying oil filters, look for a filter that meets or exceeds manufacturers’ standards. Many oil filter suppliers make oil filters for the vehicle manufacturerers. There are some substandard oil filters that could be a problem, including filters with substandard filter mediums and poorly designed anti-drain back valves. My suggestion would be to use factory or name-brand filters. I recently interviewed Jay Buckley from FRAM; he helps explain the differences in oil filters at this link: http://johnfpaul.podomatic.com/entry/2014-03-22T1...

 

 

I’m looking for a car to drive 7 miles a day, but would like to spend under $5,000. I need a car with some size. It looks like Ford Taurus and Chevy Impalas from 2000 to 2007 are not a good choice. I do see that 2000-03 Buicks, Lincolns and Cadillacs can be had for about $5,000 with around 110,000 miles on them. Are there problems with these makes from those years?

 

Any one of these cars could be a good or bad choice. It depends on how the car was maintained and driven. Many of the General Motors cars have or had intake manifold gasket issues. Some Ford products can be prone to head gasket issues and, even as good as Toyota and Honda vehicles are, they can have transmission and oil consumption problems. Find a car you like and have it checked out by a qualified repair shop.

 

My wife tells me that after driving her 2010 Kia Optima, when she takes the key out of the ignition, it’s often hot to the touch. The car is still under warranty and only has 29,000 miles.

 

I have checked Kia’s website and there are no technical service bulletins that describe this problem. Checking online, this does come up in Kia forums as an issue. I suspect the issue is from heat transfer between the ignition switch and the ignition lock. I would ask the dealer to address the issue so you will have documentation if the ignition fails outside of the warranty.

 

I have a gas mileage question on my 2011 Mazda6. I do a lot of local driving but live in a small city, so I am never in stop-and-go traffic or idling at lights. I get 14.5 mpg in city driving and 17.2 mpg on the highway. The literature that came with the car promised more. The dealer says it is because I do so much local driving, but still, the estimate on purchase was that I would get 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Am I expecting too much?

 

If the car is operating properly, you, the driver, have the biggest impact on fuel economy. It is entirely possible that the 14.5 mpg is reasonable based on your driving habits. At this point, I would ask the dealer to perform a fuel economy test to see what the actual fuel economy numbers look like. Low tire pressure, extended warm-up times, and cold weather driving can all have an effect on fuel economy. Regarding the literature that came with the car promising better fuel economy, those numbers are under ideal conditions.

 

I was driving my 1997 Acura Integra in second gear, and I heard a slight grinding noise. I drove it around, and it didn’t grind again for five days.

 

A worn bearing in the transmission is possible, as well as a worn inner constant velocity joint in one of the axles. With some cars, I have even seen a worn engine mount cause an intermittent grinding noise. At this point, you need to demonstrate the noise to a technician familiar with this car.

 

I like driving a manual shift car and really need a four-door vehicle. I’m looking for a mid-size car and have a budget in the $24,000 to $28,000 range. I can find compact cars but nothing in the  mid-size range.

 

There was a time many years ago when all cars came with a manual transmission. Today, the choices are somewhat limited. One car that I drove recently and really enjoyed was the Mazda6. The latest Mazda6 has a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission, very good handling and a quiet ride.

The interior comfortably seats five and there is plenty of storage. The Mazda6 is one of the best, but most underpublicized vehicles on the market today.

 

I own a 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 truck. The check-engine light comes on and then turns off and it is now back on. I had a test that showed a code of PO138, which indicates a problem with the oxygen sensor. I contacted the mechanic that services my vehicle and was told a new oxygen sensor may not correct the problem, and it could be a computer issue.

 

Computer fault codes can sometimes be misleading. There is a specific trouble-shooting procedure that needs to be followed for correct diagnosis and repair. The wiring, connections and the sensor itself need to be checked before the computer should be considered. I have seen many cases when the heater circuit in the oxygen sensor fails. In these cases, replacing the sensor or repairing the wiring solves the problem.

 

My 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited has developed an annoying dead-battery trick, even after the original battery was replaced last year. Recently I drove about 100 miles and let the car sit for a couple of days and it started with no problem. After the return trip, the car sat for a couple of days and didn’t start. The dealer could find nothing wrong with the battery or charging system, put a battery charger on the car, and fully charged the battery. I drove the car about 20 miles and parked it for about an hour. When I returned home, it took about four hours to bring the battery up to a full charge. In addition, the ventilation system switches to “recirc” from outside air when traveling.

 

I would keep working with your dealer to find an answer. The car is obviously not completely recharging the battery for one reason or another. The problem could be the alternator, poor electrical connections or even something as simple as a loose alternator belt. In addition, I would see if there have been any recalls. Many 2006 to 2010 Highlander hybrids have been recalled for an issue with the Intelligent Power Module inside the vehicle’s electrical inverter module. The ventilation issue could also be a result of a poor electrical connection or an underperforming charging system.

 

I am only 4 feet, 10 inches and need some advice with a new car. I want a car that steers, rides and handles well. I also need a car that has good visibility all around and is easy to park, since I live in the city. The cars that I have been looking at are all too big for me. This car should have an adjustable driver’s seat that can help with my bad back. Finally, I can only spend about $20,000.

 

A few cars to look at are the Scion xA, Mazda3, Ford Focus/Fiesta and Honda Fit. The 2015 Honda Fit and the Fiesta five-door offer good handling, maneuverability and a functional, usable  cabin. But it really comes down to personal choice.

 

My daughter is taking our 2005 Subaru Forester to Utah for school. Since they get more snow than we do, what do you think of using snow tires on this car?

 

The Subaru Forester is a competent vehicle in the winter that will improve with the use of four snow tires. The snow tires will improve traction, which will help with both starting and stopping. As with any snow tire, you may notice a slight decline in fuel economy. To save wear and tear, as well as the expense of changing the tires every winter season, you might want to consider mounting the snow tires on four steel wheels. This way she can change the tires more easily, saving the considerable cost of mounting and balancing.

 

I’m considering a new car. I have a 2007 Volvo XC 70 with all-wheel-drive. Replacing this Volvo with the same car is out of my budget. I am confused by all the different makes and models. I like the configuration of the wagon or small SUV or maybe even a hatchback. My budget is $30,000. I want all-wheel-drive; I prefer leather seats. I want a safe car and would like a six-cylinder engine.

 

My first suggestion is don’t overlook today’s four-cylinder engines. They are smooth and, in some cases, more powerful than older six-cylinder engines. If a four-cylinder engine isn’t a deal breaker, the Subaru Forester may be a good economical replacement for your Volvo, and it will give you the security of all-wheel-drive.

 

I own a 2006 Honda Element EX AWD with approximately 96,000 miles. It needs four new tires, which I estimate will cost about $800. I’m undecided as to whether I should invest this amount of money in a 6-year-old vehicle or trade it in.

 

Today we see cars routinely lasting 200,000 miles or more. If the Element still meets your needs and you are prepared to spend more money on additional maintenance such as brakes, suspension, drive belts and fluid changes, I can’t see any reason not to keep your car.

 

My car’s air conditioner doesn’t work. The repair shop says it needs a new evaporator core, $100 in other parts and about eight hours of labor. The total job is close to $1,000. Are there additives that will seal this leak?

 

Kits such as those made by Ac/Pro work pretty well to fix leaking seals, but won’t fix a leaky aluminum evaporator. If the evaporator needs replacement, you might want to shop around. Some shops that do this work all the time sometimes have found shortcuts to save the shop time and the customer money.

 

When will my car need a new battery? It is 7 years old and the battery is original.

 

The average life of a battery is just about five years so you may be pushing your luck. The battery in my car is 7 years old, and when tested, still looks OK. Many people think the real test of a battery is cold weather when it is, in fact, heat that is the No. 1 cause of battery failure and shortened battery life. My suggestion is to have your car’s battery tested and replace it if questionable.

 

My wife has a 2007 Lexus IS 250 that we have been running on conventional motor oil.  My mechanic suggested switching to synthetic. Also, I’ve heard that if you do switch to synthetic oil, you should not switch back.

 

The advantages of synthetic oil are longer oil change intervals, improved lubrication, and in some cases, a very slight improvement in fuel economy. A disadvantage is cost; synthetic oil can cost two to three times that of conventional oil. Using my wife’s car as an example, I was changing the conventional oil four times per year. With synthetic oil, I change the oil twice a year, and the costs are similar. Regarding problems with changing back and forth from conventional to synthetic – this is nothing more than a myth.

 

My 2007 Honda Accord with 48,000 miles started to twitch during mild acceleration, generally under 2,000 rpm. I can feel light shaking in the engine compartment. If I press the gas pedal hard, it disappears. I recently replaced the air filter with no change.

 

Start with a basic checkup. The issue you are having could be as simple as a vacuum leak causing a slight engine misfire. In addition, if the exhaust gas recirculation valve is opening a bit too early, this could also give you the same feeling. Both of these items could happen without causing a check engine light to appear.

 

I have a 2010 Nissan Altima. When I first start the car, there is this sound of running water for a few minutes. The car doesn’t always start, but if I just wait it will start up and run fine.

 

Leave the car overnight in a repair shop so the technician can hear the noise. You may even want to meet them in the morning when they start the car so you can identify the noise. At the same time, they can hook up some test equipment to measure fuel pressure and test the ignition system to determine if this may be a cause of the “no-start” condition.

 

I recently drove an Audi with xenon headlights and thought they were great. Can these lights be adapted to my 3-year-old Toyota Camry?

 

There are xenon light kits available, but many don’t have the self-leveling function to meet Department of Transportation standards and would be considered illegal. A better and cheaper choice may be upgrading the standard bulbs with brighter bulbs from Sylvania or GE. Sylvania has a whiter bulb called the Silver Star Plus and GE has a bulb called Nighthawk. Some cheaper bulbs are poorly focused and produce far too much glare to be safe.

 

I just inherited a Volvo. Due to my height, I sit close to the airbag. I’m concerned about getting hurt. Can I have it disconnected?

 

You can have the airbag disconnected, but consider this first: The majority of drivers are much safer with the airbags operational. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the chance of serious head injury is reduced by 83 percent when a seat belt and an airbag are in use. Consider pedal extensions instead. If you still would like to have the airbag on your car disconnected, go to the National Highway Safety website at www.nhtsa.gov to find the necessary information.

 

I have seen the Honda Odyssey minivan and really like it, but I’m wondering if you think it is worth the extra cost as compared to others?

 

Honda vehicles have a reputation for being some of the best built. I drove the Odyssey and found that it rode well, delivered decent fuel economy and plenty of seating flexibility. One novel feature that everyone who looked at the van loved was the built-in vacuum cleaner. Considering how well Honda products hold their value, I would not hesitate to pay what looks like a premium price when compared to the competition for the Odyssey minivan.

 

Do you have a question for AAA’s Car Doctor? Send it to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

I am interested in buying a new Honda Civic coupe, but have heard they are not as good as they once were. 

 

The latest Honda Civic is a nice car and has improved over the past models. The previous Civic was criticized for some cost cutting but, in the last two years, the car has improved. I drove a Civic for a week and found it wasn't the best, but I couldn't find anything wrong. The Mazda 3 may handle a bit better, and Volkswagen may still have a nicer interior but, at the end of the day, the Civic is a very good car.

 

 

My 2010 Ford has been taken over by mice! These nasty pests crawled under the intake area of the engine and gnawed the wires. I had transmission and brake problems. Hundreds of dollars later, it seems fixed. How may I prevent this from happening again?

 

I used to think this was a winter weather problem, but we are seeing it year-round. Manufacturers are getting away from petroleum-based products in foam and as wire insulation. Mice and other rodents like the taste of the soy products they’re using instead. I have heard of good results with the use of a product sold through www.critter-repellent.com/vole/vole-control. Popular folk remedies include oil of spearmint, Irish Spring soap or Bounty dryer sheets placed under the hood. Most importantly, remove any food source in the area such as birdseed or pet food. Short of traps and poison, these solutions may help.

When I use my air conditioning, my car staggers and chugs. It’s a well-cared-for 2000 Neon with only 80,000 miles and no other problems.

 

The air conditioner puts additional load on the engine. If the engine is starting to misfire, this additional load may be exacerbating the condition. To find the problem, a technician will test both the ignition system and fuel system. A worn spark plug, ignition coil/wire or faulty fuel injector could be the problem.

 

What is the necessity of the cabin filter? Will it cause any problems if I simply remove it and do not replace it?

 

I would not remove the pollen/dust filter but replace it only when it gets dirty, not based on mileage. You may not drive on dusty roads, but you do drive during pollen season. With most cars, replacing the filter is a simple do-it-yourself project. I have replaced the cabin filter on my car only once in five years, and it took less than five minutes.

 

Do you ever think there will be a hydrogen car for the everyday driver? I like the idea of not buying gasoline, but electric cars just don’t seem practical.

 

Without an infrastructure for hydrogen refueling, vehicle manufacturers are not inclined to build production cars, but most manufacturers are working on hydrogen cars. The other issue is the amount of energy needed to produce hydrogen just about equals the energy content of the hydrogen produced. Until there is a more economical method to produce hydrogen, hydrogen cars will have very limited use.

 

Do new tires lose a little air every month? I bought a Honda Insight in March 2013, and every three months, a light comes on telling me my car has low tire pressure. It’s happened twice so far; all four tires were low by 5 pounds.

 

All tires will lose air over time. In cooler weather, tires can lose 1 or 2 pounds of pressure per month. In warmer weather it can be higher. This is why it is important to check your car’s tire pressure at least once per month, using a quality tire gauge. Maintaining the correct pressure will maximize both fuel economy and tire life.

 

I saw your car review of the Subaru WRX. I wonder if you have driven the WRX STi. Is the extra performance worth the money?

 

The WRX STi is a great car; the handling is superb, and the drivetrain is well crafted. But for me, the WRX is just fine. The street performance of the STi is similar to the WRX. The stiff suspension of the STi, the more powerful engine and huge brakes are wasted on a car that will never be driven to its limits. And maybe it is my age, but the huge rear spoiler is just too over the top for my tastes.

 

I have a 2009 Jeep Liberty, and I’m thinking about installing an aftermarket speed control. Do these work as well as those that are factory installed? Is there a downside to doing this?

 

Today’s aftermarket cruise control systems work quite well. There are several companies that provide all the necessary parts, and if you are doing it yourself, installation videos. One that I found is www.cruisecontrolstore.com. Mike Fox, of The Cruise Control Store (a division of M&R Electronics), told me that with the exception of the airbag removal, the installation is relatively easy, but better suited to a professional or an advanced do-it-yourselfer.

 

I have a 1998 Lexus 300. I had a new timing belt put on about a year ago, and when I picked up the car, the radio screen was foggy black. The mechanic said “it’s old.” The radio works perfectly, I just can’t read what station I am on.

 

The radio LCD screen probably has failed. This could have happened when the battery was disconnected and re-connected for the repair. I don’t believe it was the fault of the repair shop. It can happen during normal service to a car that has 16-year-old electronics. The LCD panel can be replaced without replacing the radio, although it might be cheaper to replace the radio with an aftermarket unit.

 

I am considering buying a Dodge Charger. Do I need the V-8 engine? What about all-wheel drive?

 

I drove the all-wheel drive 2014 Charger SXT with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine. It had plenty of power, developing nearly 300 horsepower and still returning an average of 21 mpg. Although rear-wheel drive cars with traction control and snow tires will get you through winter, there is no substitute for all-wheel drive.

 

My 2007 Honda Civic is due for a 30,000-mile checkup. Does it need to go to a Honda dealership?

 

You can go to an independent repair shop. The 30,000-mile service is a series of checkups and filter changes. Because your car has such low mileage for 7 years old, also look at all of the service that would normally be performed up to about 80,000 miles, which will take into account the age and mileage.

 

I have a 2001 Jeep Cherokee with 89,000 miles. At 66,000 miles, it would not start. I had the crankshaft sensor replaced. At 86,000 miles, I had a check-engine light. I had two codes, one for the fuel cap and one for the crankcase sensor. I replaced the fuel cap, fuel filler hose and the valve cover gasket. The dealership said the sensor could wait. After 3,000 miles, I have no problem. Do I need to replace the sensor?

 

Wait to see if the check-engine light comes back on. It is possible that the sensor had a poor connection that was remedied during the inspection and fuel system repairs. If the light comes back on and indicates a check-crankshaft sensor issue, check the sensor and the associated wiring.

 

I am considering a new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with the 2.0-liter engine. I am concerned about how long this small engine will last in a midsize truck.

 

In theory, a smaller engine will work harder to provide the same performance as a larger engine and, consequently, will have a shorter life. However, the latest smaller engines should easily last 200,000 miles with proper maintenance. I recently drove the 2014 Santa Fe Sport with the 2.0 turbo-charged engine, and the performance was better than my V-6 Sante Fe, and it delivered 4 mpg more.

 

The dealer as well as a few local repair shops cannot find rear brake calipers for my car. Do you have any suggestions?

 

Let the Internet do the work for you. Although some shops don’t like to install customer-purchased parts, in this case, I don’t think it would be a problem. I have had great luck with the website rockauto.com.

 

I have a 2003 Dodge Dakota with 70,500 miles. It has a 3.9-liter V-6 engine with automatic transmission. In the last three years, I have had to replace three catalytic converters.

 

The most common causes of catalytic convertor failure are engine misfire, silicone sealants, excessive engine blow-by or an overly rich fuel system. Another issue is that some aftermarket catalytic convertors are just poor quality.

Do you have a question for AAA’s Car Doctor? Send it to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

My wife has a 2003 Toyota Avalon XL with a hard-to-remove gas cap. I have rented a Ford Fusion that does not use a gas cap. Is it possible to have one of these new types of caps installed on her Avalon?

 

You can’t retrofit the gas tank on your car to a capless system, but there are some tools that might make gas cap removal easier. There are several websites that offer such tools. One tool looks like a wrench with a handle; it is made out of plastic and costs about $20.
 

 

I need some advice as to whether my car needs shocks and struts. I took my 2007 Nissan Maxima to a well-known tire store, and they said everything was fine as did my local mechanic. I, however, don’t like the way it feels on bumps, and the handling is just not tight.
 

As the car starts to wear, all of the suspension will loosen up. This would include struts, shocks, bushing and the steering. Add to this that over the past seven years, the springs have most likely started to sag a bit. As the springs start to sag the car will hit the bumps just a bit harder; add in slightly worn suspension parts, and the car will have a bit more of a vague steering feel. Since this is not a safety issue, only you can decide if it makes financial sense to invest in the repair.
 

I have a 2006 Jeep Wrangler unlimited with 53,000 miles on it. About three months ago, the heater would only blow air on the highest setting. Should I replace the switch or is there something else?
 

The most likely problem is a faulty blower motor resistor. This part can be checked with sample tools and, if faulty, can easily be replaced. The cost of the resistor is about $35, and it takes roughly 15 minutes to replace.
 

I had to reconnect the battery cable on a GMC Canyon pickup truck. How long do I have to drive it for the computer to reset the sensors? I will need a state inspection soon.
 

It typically takes about 75 to 100 miles of driving for all of the various monitors to set. There is also a procedure to set the monitors quickly that involves some very specific vehicle operation. Any qualified repair shop should be able to help you with this procedure.
 

I recently got my car back from the body shop after an accident. I am due for inspection, and the car failed because the system was not ready. I am worried that I will be pulled over due to a reject sticker on my car. It’s a 2004 Toyota Corolla and has 62,977 miles.
 

In Massachusetts, a rejection sticker for emission-related issues will be good for 60 days. Safety-related items need to be fixed immediately. Regarding the computer monitors not being ready, over normal driving the readiness monitor should set before the inspection sticker expires. If you are concerned that you will run out of time, a good repair shop should be able to quickly set the monitors using a very specific driving protocol. This procedure requires a series of driving exercises to set the monitors. In many cases this reset can be performed in less than 30 minutes.
 

I am interested in purchasing a 2004 Toyota Corolla with 26,000 miles. The dealer said that it had one owner who was 70 years old. Are there any concerns with a 10-year-old car that has low mileage?
 

Purchasing a 10-year-old car can have its challenges, and one with low mileage has its own special challenges. As with any used car, a series of tests of all the major systems should be performed. This should include the engine, transmission, brakes, steering, suspension and electrical system. Cars with very low mileage can suffer from a lack of exercise, which can sometimes be as bad as abuse. A qualified technician should be able to determine if this low-mileage car is in fact a good deal.
 

My girlfriend drives a 2012 Ford Fiesta SES. It has about 19,000 miles, the majority of which are from commuting in slow to stop-and-go traffic. In December, we noticed that the car hesitated from a stop when the accelerator was pressed. The car was taken to the dealer, and the remedy was to recalibrate the transmission through the computer; however, the hesitation is returning.
 

This car, like many today, has an automatic transmission that uses a clutch-like manual transmission. Ford has had some issues with this transmission; in some cases, it can be remedied with computer reprogramming, and in other cases, the clutch needs replacing. I would return to the servicing dealer and have them continue their diagnostic routine. The dealer should also be looking for any technical service bulletins that could apply. In addition, if your girlfriend is a “two-footed” driver who rests her foot on the brake while creeping in traffic, this can have an odd effect on transmission performance.
 

In one of your columns, I read about diesel engines in Volkswagen and Audi cars but you didn’t mention BMW or Mercedes vehicles.
 

It has been years since I drove a diesel Mercedes Benz, but I always found these cars and SUVs to be very competent. I did recently spend some time in a 2014 BMW 328 diesel and found the car to be a delight to drive. The 2.0-liter turbo-charged engine provided plenty of power at both lower speeds and on the highway. Unlike some other diesels, the transmission shifted smoothly and precisely and the steering and handling were typical BMW – nearly perfect. The fuel economy was equally impressive with highway mileage averaging 41 mpg. My only complaint was the engine lacked a sporty sound.
 

I have an intermittent misfiring problem with my car. The plugs, wires and coil have all been replaced. I have limited diagnostic gear, but try most repairs myself. Is there something I can look at before I go to the local mechanic? By the way, do you have a presence on Facebook?
 

One area that plagues even the best technicians is poor electrical connections. Carefully look at all of the various connections, especially the ground side of the circuits. Something as simple as cleaning and tightening ground terminals and bolts can be an easy solution to the most difficult drivability problem. Regarding social media, follow me on twitter/johnfpaul or friend me on Facebook/mrjohnfpaul.
 

I recently had the brakes replaced on my car at the local Cadillac dealership and I think I was taken advantage of. The garage charged me $148 for the brake rotors; I did some research online and found rotors from $28 to $99. Is there really a difference in brake rotor quality?
 

There is certainly a difference in brake parts and their overall performance. Cheaper brake rotors will tend to go out of round quickly and cause a brake vibration. Even when comparing the same part, the price you were charged at the dealership was list price. The price you see online is the actual “over the counter cost.” Keep in mind that a garage will usually mark up parts over their cost to cover expenses. In general, each shop sets their own mark up, although many use the list price as the one you are charged. This is standard practice in the industry. If you think of it, this is really not any different than buying a steak at the supermarket versus the cost of the same steak in a restaurant.
 

I have a Toyota Highlander Hybrid with 227,600 miles. With high mileage and the possibility of the hybrid battery system going in the not-too-distant future, I want to know if I should consider paying for a new hybrid battery system when it goes or trading it in for a newer vehicle.
 

My unscientific research indicates the typical life of a Toyota hybrid battery is about 350,000 miles. This is based on a little research I did with taxi companies driving Toyota hybrids. The cost of a hybrid battery for your vehicle is quite expensive, approaching $6,000. When it comes time to make a decision about your vehicle, you will be putting more than half the value of the vehicle toward the cost of the hybrid battery repair. In my opinion, this may not be a great investment in a vehicle that you will need to rely on. Since you generally had very good luck with the Highlander hybrid, you may want to consider replacing it with a new model. The latest Highlander has grown a bit in size, but has also become more fuel efficient.
 

I bought a new Subaru Legacy two years ago. This is my first car with all-wheel drive. My family says I do not need snow tires with a Subaru. What do you think?
 

Snow tires will give any car, all-wheel drive included, better traction for both starting and stopping. That said most Subaru owners find that the all-season tires will generally be sufficient in the winter.
 

I purchased a 2013 Toyota RAV4 last April and enjoyed it until some issues this winter. First, on a day with a lot of snow on the ground and a lot of fog, the temperature plummeted. When I got out of work eight hours later, I found that the entire front window had iced up on the inside. Second, when I drove in slushy, snowy conditions, the slush stuck to the rubber gasket at the inside bottom of all the doors and on the interior metal frame opposite the rubber. Third, when I back out of my garage down a slightly inclined driveway, the brakes squeal sometimes.
 

The ice that builds up inside the car can come from a combination of issues. Using the car’s heater in the recirculation mode keeps moisture trapped in the car. If the carpets get wet from slushy shoes, that moisture will make its way to the glass. To minimize this, keep the heater on the fresh air setting, and vacuum the car’s interior with a wet vacuum to remove any accumulated moisture. Regarding the gaskets and slush, wipe the gaskets off and spray them with silicone. The silicone will help displace any moisture. Waxing the metal surface will also help and will prevent any possible rust. Finally it is not uncommon to get some brake noise on the first couple of brake applications. The noise is from a thin layer of rust that builds up on the brake surfaces overnight. This is not a problem.
 

I was looking at a 2011 CR-V EX with all the bells and whistles, but it has 127,000 highway miles. The dealer is looking for $12,000; would you consider buying this vehicle?

 

Cars today routinely last 200,000 miles or more, and at 127,000, this Honda CR-V certainly has plenty of life left in it. In addition, at $12,000, it looks like a good buy. As with any used car, prior to purchasing, have it completely inspected by a qualified technician familiar with the vehicle.

 

I have a Hyundai Elantra GLS 2013. The original wipers were not clearing rain from the driver’s side windshield. We replaced the them with winter blades and still had a problem. We are thinking something is wrong with the wiper arm. We will have our Hyundai dealer replace it. Have you heard from anyone else who is also dealing with this issue?
 

I have not heard of any problems with this model, but it is certainly possible that the wiper arms or the angle of the blade is part of the problem. Switch back to the original equipment and check the angle of the blade to ensure it is perpendicular to the windshield. Then, completely clean the windshield. I have seen wax and road grime cause all kinds of windshield wiper problems.
 

My Toyota master key fell off my key chain, and I cannot find it. Toyota tells me it will cost more than $300 to replace. They say they have to match the new one to the computer in the car and that they have to replace the computer.
 

Keys on today’s cars are getting more expensive all the time. I have seen keys/fobs costing $1,000 or more. In some cases, when the master key is lost, the car’s computer will need to be replaced when new keys are programmed. This is due to anti-theft systems. The price is expensive for a key, but reasonable if the car’s computer needs replacing.
 

I would like to buy a new Porsche Cayman 911 or Boxster, but I would have to drive it year round. I have been told by several owners that even the all-wheel drive models are really not safe in the snow.
 

My experience with all-wheel-drive Porsche models is that when properly equipped with snow tires, performance in the snow is limited only to road clearance and common sense. Even the rear wheel drive Boxster with proper winter tires does pretty well in the snow. In fact in the past several years, members of the New England Motor Press Association have voted the Porsche 911 with all-wheel-drive, as best in class all-weather sports car.
 

Do you have a question for AAA’s Car Doctor? Send it to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

I recently was told that my Subaru needs a new timing belt. Should I have purchased a car with a timing chain? Replacing the timing belt is going to be expensive. A critical function, like engine timing, should have a more robust system. 

 

There was a time when most domestic cars had timing chains and imported cars with overhead camshaft engines had timing belts. Timing belts work well, but they do require regular maintenance with replacement between 60,000 and 120,000 miles. Now we are seeing a switch back to timing chains. This latest generation of timing chains is quiet and can provide accurate and quiet valve timing that was once only possible with rubber timing belts.

 

My current 2011 RX 350 is coming off of lease this summer. I have been told the 2015 will have major changes as compared to the 2014. Will the 2015 be a major change vehicle from Lexus or will it be 2016? I do not want to buy the last year of a car model before undergoing major change.

 

Based on some of the information that has been released so far, it appears that there will be some changes in the 2015 RX. Although it will still be based on the Camry/Avalon platform, there may be some new engine choices including an upgraded hybrid power plant. Overall styling will change but like all Toyota/Lexus products, I wouldn’t expect a radical departure from what we are seeing today.

 

My 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee has been having some hesitation when starting. I had the battery, alternator and starter checked by a mechanic, and everything was fine. When I tried to start my car immediately after his check, it would not turn over. He tried to jump-start it, and after four tries of me turning the key, some smoke came out of the engine.

 

If the testing equipment and the jump start pack were used correctly, the battery and associated components shouldn't have been damaged. I suspect that since you had an issue that prompted you to have the battery tested, your Jeep was suffering from some sort of electrical issue prior to this testing. It could have been electrical corrosion causing a voltage drop between the battery and the starter. My concern is that during testing you mentioned you saw smoke in the engine compartment. This smoke indicates either a poor electrical connection or a short circuit and possible additional repairs.

 

I have been reading about the new Subaru WRX. What is your opinion of this car? I’m looking for a fun, fast car but don’t have a budget for a Porsche 911 or a Nissan GT-R.

 

I think the latest 2015 Subaru WRX is the best yet. The interior has improved and the clutch and shifter operation now match some of the best cars on the road. Combine this with the very responsive 268-horse power 2.0-liter turbo-charged engine, accurate handling and steering, and this latest WRX is a winner.

 

At what time do I need to change the timing belt on my 2008 Honda Odyssey? About how much would it cost? The car has 105,000 miles on it.

 

The car is due to have the timing belt replaced. The basic cost is about $75 for the timing belt itself and about four hours of labor to perform the repair. If there are any seals, drive belts or associated items that need to be replaced, this would add to the final cost.

 

I drive a 2005 Nissan Xterra with about 125,000 miles. It will suddenly lose power when I press the accelerator. The service-engine light comes on, but there are no codes in the computer. A local mechanic checked the fuel pump, replaced the spark plugs, tested the fuel quality and replaced the mass air-flow sensor. After all of that, my truck continues to experience this periodic loss of power.

 

There is a history of failure of the computer relay (ECM relay) with these trucks. Some of these models had a recall. If this relay has not yet been replaced, this is the first place I would start.

 

I have a 2012 Kia Sedona. A light like a red enclosed exclamation point with a circle around it came on the dashboard. I looked it up in the manual and there is no explanation.

 

There are two indicators that look like the one you describe. One is the tire pressure monitoring system indicating a tire is low on air. The second indicator, and more critical one, is a warning of low fluid level for the brake system. In either case, a repair shop should be able to identify the warning light and suggest any necessary repairs.

 

I just bought a beautiful 2002 Lexus SC430 with 70,000 miles on it. Would you recommend, due to age, that I replace the timing belt and water pump? I think the manual recommends 90,000 miles, but considering the car is 12 years old, I’m thinking it might be the right thing to do.

 

Considering the age of the car, it would make sense to replace the timing belt. I would also replace the water pump, since it is an integral part of the timing-belt system. The labor to replace the timing belt is just under five hours, and it is only another 18 minutes to replace the water pump. This would be money very well spent.

 

I’m in the market for a comfortable, large, front-wheel drive sedan. I’ve been a Toyota guy most of my adult life and was naturally looking at the Avalon, but I’m hearing really good things about the new Chevrolet Impala. I’ve never bought a Chevy and have some reliability concerns about American-made cars.

 

The newest Impala is getting rave reviews. Regarding reliability, Toyota continues to make great products, but surveys show General Motors products are doing quite well. I wouldn't hesitate to buy the newest Impala.

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We drive a 2011 Honda CR-V with an automatic transmission, but my husband shifts into neutral whenever there is an opportunity to coast, claiming it saves gas. Is there a detriment to driving this way, and how much do you think we are saving?

 

Any slight savings in fuel economy would be lost in wear and tear to the transmission. Some states, such as Michigan, Texas and New Jersey, have laws against an operator moving on a downgrade coasting with the gears or transmission of the vehicle in neutral.

 

The transmission on my 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee will sometimes stay in third gear and the engine light will come on. When this happens, I can’t paddle shift up or down. If I stop and restart the car everything will be fine. Any idea why this happens?

 

It sounds like the transmission is going into “limp-in” mode. The common problem with this transmission is solenoid failure. A transmission shop should be able to diagnose the problem and provide you with an estimate for the repair.
 

 

My Toyota master key fell off my key chain, and I cannot find it. Toyota tells me it will cost over $300 to replace.
 

Keys on today’s cars are getting more expensive all the time. I have seen keys/fobs costing $1,000 or more. In some cases, when the master key is lost, the car’s computer will need to be replaced when new keys are programmed. This is due to antitheft systems. The price is expensive for a key, but reasonable if the car’s computer needs replacing.
 

I have a 2007 Honda Element. The heat suddenly stopped working. I took it to a mechanic, who didn’t see anything “mechanically wrong.” Strangely, when he closed the hood, the heat worked.
 

The heater system uses a cable-operated heater-control valve and a power temperature air-blending door. The heater valve is a quick check. The blend door control is a little trickier. It is possible the blend was simply stuck and the bang of closing the hood allowed it to move and work. The problem you face now is that it is very hard to fix something that is working properly.
 

I lived in Europe for years and diesel cars are very popular. Now that I am back in the United States, I am considering a diesel. I have been looking at the Mercedes and Audi diesels, what do you think?
 

I recently evaluated two models from Audi, the A6 sedan and Q7 SUV. Both cars performed at least as well as their gasoline equivalents. Performance was strong, the engines were quiet and there was not a hint of diesel smoke or smell. I would not hesitate to buy a modern diesel.
 

My car makes a strange noise first thing in the morning. When I bring it into the shop, it always acts fine. The shop wants me to leave the car overnight and meet them in the morning to demonstrate the problem. Because of my schedule I can’t do this. Do you have any ideas?
 

My suggestion would be to record the noise with a smartphone and email the video to the repair shop. I have seen many times where this technique works well to identify problems of all kinds.
 

I just bought a Ford C-Max hybrid in red. When I picked up the car at the dealership, I was charged an 
additional $300 because it was red. Is this standard procedure?
 

There are three colors of the Ford C-Max that command a premium price. One of them is ruby red metallic, which has a retail price of $395. It would have been best if they let you know about the price premium for your paint choice, but the actual paint cost to the dealer was $353. I feel the dealership 
treated you fairly.
 

Question for AAA’s Car Doctor or more information ? Send it to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

I am considering buying a used 2012 Lexus LS460. It is a beautiful car, but the Hyundai Equus looks like a great car, too, and is about the same price. How does it compare to the Lexus?

 

The Equus has more room, higher horsepower and a better overall warranty. It offers concierge customer service: The car is picked up and dropped off at your convenience for any service. The  Hyundai Equus matches or exceeds just about any comparative specifications from any luxury manufacturer. There was a time when I would recommend Hyundai because of the great warranty and decent overall value. Today Hyundai builds high-quality cars and SUVs. That said, Lexus has a reputation of building some of the highest quality cars. At the end of the day, only you can decide if you want to drive a Lexus or a Hyundai.
 

 

I drive a 2003 Chevrolet Blazer. I sometimes get a “coolant-sweet” odor from the heater ducts. Sometimes smoke or steam comes out of the front grill. I don’t know what to call it. The coolant level is fine and I can’t see any leaks. 

  

The steam from the radiator is more than likely condensation being drawn onto the hot engine. The smell from the vent is likely the beginning of a heater core leak. Even a very slight leak will translate into a coolant smell. A garage should be able to pressure-test the system to check the radiator and the heater core. If the heater core needs replacing, it is expensive. It will take about nine hours of labor to remove and replace it. The price of the heater core itself ranges from $75 to $180. Add to this the cost of coolant and any heater hoses.
 

 

I own a 2011 Toyota Corolla. One morning about three months ago, my battery was dead. I was surprised, because it had fewer than 12,000 miles. Then, a month ago, my battery died again. I was told it was because I had driven fewer than 12,000 miles in two years and today’s cars are built to be driven at least 12,000 miles every year. So I’ve been taking my car for 20-minute rides to nowhere every two days. Is this true?
 

 

You should have the battery and electrical system tested. A typical car has between 30 and 50 milliamps of parasitic draw. This electric discharge is due to computers and other devices that require some amount of power, even when the car is off. Your car’s battery should be capable of starting even after 30 days of non-use.
 

 

I have a 2010 Hyundai Elantra. To keep the warranty, the climate control air filter needs to be inspected. My own mechanic did the inspection and replaced what he called the cabin filter. Is the cabin filter the same as the climate control filter? Do I always have to go back to the dealer for warranty coverage?
 

 

The climate control filter and the cabin filter are the same. Technically, the filter is called a cabin air/particulate filter. It is designed to filter out dust as well as odor. Certainly having any work performed at the dealer allows for easier paperwork, but it isn’t necessary. To maintain the warranty, you need only have the work performed – or even do it yourself – document the repair.
 

 

I recently purchased a 2005 Grand Cherokee with only 44,000 miles. It has an intermittent problem starting; there is plenty of power coming from the battery but it won’t start. The dealer could not come up with any diagnostic code and said it may be the starter. I don’t want to put money into repairs without knowing the problem.
 

 

In this vehicle, the starter shouldn’t draw more than 250 amperes during normal operation. Ask the shop to inspect both battery cables. A poor engine ground caused by corrosion could be the problem. See if the shop would be willing to hook up a light that would illuminate when the starter is engaged. If the light comes on and the engine doesn’t crank, the problem would be the starter.
 

I have a 2006 Chevy Impala with only 36,000 miles. I live on an island. The highest speed limit is 45 mph. The only time the car gets highway mileage is the two or three times a year I bring it to the mainland. I have never had any brake or tune-up work performed. It runs fine, and I do change the oil on a regular basis.
 

Local driving can wear the brakes more quickly than highway driving. Check the brake lining condition at least yearly. Regarding tune-ups, the term is almost obsolete these days. Spark plugs in your car are designed to last 100,000 miles. But that doesn’t mean that engine performance can be ignored. Filters should be checked and replaced if dirty. A good repair shop should be able to advise you on what items need repairs.
 

All the celebrities seem to be driving Range Rovers. Are these vehicles really worth the money? And what makes them so special?
 

The Range Rover is a very nice vehicle. It has the capability to go just about anywhere. It also has a high-quality luxury interior and several powerful engine choices. The Range Rover is a status symbol, the same as a fur coat, Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton bag. After all, a good insulated parka would keep you warmer than a fur, a Timex may keep as good or better time than a Rolex and a Nine West handbag can hold your stuff. A Jeep Grand Cherokee could most likely do everything a Range Rover can, but it just doesn’t have the status of a Range Rover.
 

I have a 2013 Hyundai Sonata with a four-cylinder engine. I have been getting only 14 mpg. According to the sticker, I should be getting 24 mpg.
 

The last Hyundai that I drove returned mileage in the mid-20s. If you drive only short distances, the mileage will be significantly lower. Perform a simple mileage test: Fill the fuel tank slowly and stop as soon as the gas pump clicks off the first time. Drive the car 100 miles or so in a good mix of city and highway driving. Then refill the tank using the same technique. Divide the miles driven by the gallons used to get your vehicle fuel use. If the mileage is still low, return to the dealer to have the car evaluated. Keep in mind that the fuel mileage will improve as you put on more miles.
 

After driving on some dirt roads in Vermont, I now have a loud sound from the driver’s side of the car I borrowed from a friend. It sounds like there might be a hole in the muffler or a broken pipe. I parked at night and the sound was not there, but when I started it the next morning I immediately heard this noise, and I think it is getting louder.
 

The problem could be a cracked exhaust manifold or exhaust pipe. When the engine gets hot, the crack expands and seals. I recommend leaving the car overnight at a repair shop to allow the mechanic to start the engine when it is cold. This should help pinpoint the leak. If you drove the car reasonably while it was in your possession, the loud exhaust was not your fault.
 

Question for AAA’s Car Doctor or more information? Send it to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

I have a 2007 Toyota Camry with a six-cylinder engine. At what mileage, should I consider replacing the timing belt?

The V-6 engine in your 2007 Camry doesn’t use a timing belt, it uses a timing chain. Timing chains are designed to last the life of the car.
 

My daughter would like to have a remote car starter installed in her 2011 Ford Fusion. I have heard that they can cause serious problems.
 

A remote car starter, when installed properly, will not cause any problems or void any warranties. The problem usually arises from poor electrical connections. Professional installers will never just cut wiring, but will use custom-made wiring harnesses to avoid problems. My other advice is to purchase a remote starter from a reputable company that stands behind its work and offers a warranty.
 

Question for AAA’s Car Doctor or more information ? Send it to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.

Is there any effect on batteries of hybrid cars when left for a length of time without driving?

 

Using the Toyota Prius as an example, the hybrid battery is essentially disconnected every time you turn off the car so it shouldn’t be a problem. Nickel metal hydride batteries have a discharge rate of 3 percent per month and lithium ion batteries have a discharge rate of 8 percent per month. Both have little or no issues with battery memory. The discharge rate on both types of batteries will bring the batteries to 50 to 75 percent of charge over a six-month period. The bigger problem is the standard 12-volt battery. I would disconnect the 12-volt battery and recharge it before putting it back in service.

 

For the past few years, after leaving a car in the driveway for the month of March, we have come home to noisy, rusted brakes. Normal driving hasn’t worn off the rust, and I have had to replace the rotors and more. Any suggestions other than renting indoor storage?

 

Surface rust on brake rotors, sometimes known a flash rust, will occur in as little as a couple of hours if the conditions are right. In most cases, after a few brake applications, the rust wears off. Since much of the moisture comes from the ground, parking on top of a tarp may help limit the moisture and, in turn, the rust. Don’t put any lubricant or rust inhibitor on the rotors, as it will contaminate the brake pads and compromise braking.

 

I heard you on your radio program extolling the virtues of the Mazda3, calling it the poor man’s BMW 328. How can you compare this front-wheel-drive Mazda to a fabulous rear-wheel-drive sports sedan?

 

The Mazdaspeed3, the car I was talking about, is within several inches of the BMW 328 and weighs about the same. Both cars seat four adults, and although smaller, the Mazda offers about the same interior room. You can carry more stuff in the Mazda. The Mazda is powered by a 263 horsepower engine that develops 280-pound feet of torque. The BMW 328 with the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine develops 240 horsepower and 255-pound feet of torque. The BMW has legendary handling and steering, and I consider it one of the best compact sedans on the road. The Mazdaspeed3 is surprisingly good. The handling is first-rate, the steering offers great feedback and the engine is powerful and smooth. A base BMW starts at about $37,000 and the Mazdaspeed3, about $24,000. My point was you can get great performance and handling without breaking the bank.

 

I drive a 2000 Toyota Solara convertible with 140,000 miles. I was interested in the Camry Solara, but after driving a used one I felt it was showing its age. Do you have a suggestion for a 66-year-old, 5-foot-tall woman who still wants to drive a convertible? It needs to seat four and have good safety and repair records.

 

I would suggest the Volkswagen Beetle; it is affordable and fun to drive. The Volkswagen Eos is a hardtop convertible and a good performer, but more expensive. Other four-passenger models are the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, Chrysler 200, Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper. Moving up over $40,000, the choices get better with the Audi A5, Lexus IS and BMW. The Chrysler 200 may be the closest match to your car.

 

I have a 2004 Chrysler Pacifica. I noticed that I am spending a lot on gas. It seems I get only 290 miles on a full tank. Is that normal?
 

According to my records, you will use about 6 gallons of fuel to go about 100 miles. The car has a usable 21 gallons of fuel. Based on my crude calculation, you should be able to travel about 350 miles between fill-ups. This can vary based on how and where you drive and the condition of the car.
 

My 1999 Pontiac Grand Prix has a gas smell that’s intermittent. The garage looked it over and can’t find any kind of leak. I always think of fire. Do you have any inclination of what the problem might be?
 

I would be suspicious of the evaporative emission systems and the top of the fuel tank. I have found over the years the best tool to find a fuel leak is an exhaust gas analyzer. These tools do a remarkable job of sniffing out fuel leaks.
 

I want a small car that is fun. I am looking at the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Honda Fit. Which would you pick?
 

If I was looking for practicality, dependability and good fuel economy, I would choose the Honda Fit. If I wanted something with a bit more style and sharper handling, I would look at the Mini Cooper. As good as the Fiat 500 is, the Mini Cooper is just a little more poised and polished.
 

I have a 2004 BMW Z4 convertible. My remote key fob to open the top works only once in awhile. I have replaced the motor and the two keys and still can’t get it to work.
 

The problem is that there is interference between the key fob and the receiver built into the mirror. The repair involves disassembling the mirror and performing a minor retrofit. Your repair shop should reference technical service bulletin number SI B 66 05 05.
 

I had the computer on my 2003 Dodge Intrepid replaced for the second time. Now the engine revs occasionally. It sounds like another car has pulled alongside you. I took it to the garage twice, but they can’t duplicate the problem, so they can’t fix it.
 

It is very difficult for a technician to fix a problem that is intermittent. There are several issues that could cause a high idle. Since you have had two computers put in, the first place you should check is the ground circuit for the computer. A poor ground can have a variety of effects on overall drivability.
 

My son’s 2007 Mazda CX7 is on its third motor valve job. The latest is under warranty. The first was at 60,000 miles by the dealer, the second at 120,000 miles and the third at 123,000 miles by a local mechanic. The local mechanic said the turbo blew and I will have to pay $2,000 for the replacement. What is the relationship of the turbo to the engine problems?
 

The turbocharger should have been inspected as part of the first and second engine work. The cost of the turbocharger is $1,300, and it takes about five hours of labor to install it, so $2,000 sounds about right. Mazda has issued more than one technical service bulletin regarding cylinder head and turbocharger issues.
 

I have a 2005 Ford Taurus for a winter car. It starts fine when the temperature is above freezing. However, when it goes below freezing, it won’t start.
 

There are so many possibilities with this car. Some common problems have been the idle air control motor sticking, the crankshaft sensor, low fuel pressure and even the antitheft system. It will just take time (and money) to diagnose the various components. I would look carefully at the idle air control motor.
 

We have a 2003 VW Golf that is in overall excellent condition. Unfortunately, due to the timing belt breaking and despite a new one being installed, the engine is ruined. A new or rebuilt engine has to be installed. It has about 118,000 miles. Do you know of any local garages that buy cars for their parts?
 

If the car is in “overall excellent condition,” it would make sense to put a used engine in the car. The labor cost will be eight to 10 hours plus the cost of a used engine. Used replacement engines online seem to be about $1,000. Putting your car back in running condition could put the value at $4,000. A VW Golf that needs an engine might bring $500. If you decide to sell the car as is, I would look for independent shops that specialize in Volkswagen repairs. These shops are likely to give you the best price for your car.
 

I was wondering what your thoughts are on the complete redesign of the Ford Escape?
 

The previous design was one of the best-selling small SUVs sold and the latest design certainly gives the Escape a more contemporary look and feel. The 2014 Escape handles well, gets good fuel economy and has decent power. The performance and fuel economy get better when equipped with the EcoBoost engine. I also found the interior to be of higher quality and generally more upscale than older models.
 

I have a 1999 Cadillac with only 36,000 miles on its Northstar engine. The car overheats after about 50 miles of highway driving. I have been told it could be a head gasket or a blocked radiator. Could there be a problem with the cooling fan?
 

Both of these possible problems are fairly easy to diagnose. A technician with a gas analyzer or an engine-block leak check kit can easily verify a head gasket problem. A blocked cooling system can also be easily verified. A faulty cooling fan will cause fairly quick overheating, although this is typical of around-town driving.
 

The serpentine belt on my 2007 Subaru Outback has been changed four times. The belt tensioner was replaced last month. Now, the serpentine belt is wearing again. I’m told the problem is the power steering pump, and replacement will cost about $800. Does this seem right?
 

The biggest problem with belt wear is when the pulleys are not in alignment. This causes stress and wear on the serpentine belt. It is possible the power steering pump is worn, allowing the pulley to “walk” in and out. The factory cost on a replacement pump is about $500 plus labor. First, I would take a straight-edge ruler, and make sure all the pulleys are lined up properly. If they are not, add shims as necessary to line up the pulleys.
 

The air conditioner and heater on my 1997 Mustang will only blow out the defroster vents. It gets vacuum, but will not blow out other vents. Where are the vacuum lines for the front vents?
 

Vacuum lines can be as complicated as wiring diagrams in today’s cars. Most cars, for safety purposes, will default to the defroster setting. First check the vacuum tank and then the vacuum motors, which are attached to the duct system. It is also possible one of the arms that goes from the vacuum motor to the ducts’ doors is broken.
 

I’m looking for a new car. I will look at the Ford Fusion hybrid and both the Honda and Toyota hybrids, but I like the VW Jetta TDI. What do you think of these cars and the new technology for diesel engines? I drive a minimum of 60 miles per day, so I want something efficient and reliable.
 

The Jetta TDI handles well, and it easily gets 40 to 45 mpg on the highway. This is not like a diesel of 20 years ago; it starts easily, doesn’t emit smoke and is nearly as quiet as a gasoline car. If it is in your budget, look at the Audi A3 TDI. It handles a little better than the Golf/Jetta, is more comfortable and the five-door hatchback is a bit more stylish. If your driving is mostly around town, the fuel economy of a hybrid can be outstanding. As an example, I once was driving a hybrid and was stuck in traffic, creeping along for 15 miles. During this time, the gasoline engine start was off, and consequently, used no fuel. In years past, I would have picked a hybrid over a diesel. The new diesels rival their gasoline counterparts. If the Jetta, Golf or A3 appeals to you, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one.
 

My truck was upside down in a ditch filled with water. It’s a long story but I didn’t get hurt. The engine was not completely submerged, but it was upside down for more than an hour until the wrecker flipped it back. It runs and smokes, but hasn’t been run long. Will replacing fluids and oil be optimal, or should I be concerned with more serious damage?

 

Changing all the fluids would be beneficial. My biggest concern is that the engine suffered some internal damage when it was first started. If there was water in the engine and the engine was started, it could have easily bent a valve or connecting rod. I would drain and refill the fluids and perform a compression test to look for damage.

 

I have a 2001 Ford Windstar with 184,000 miles. Recently, I started to hear a ticking noise and was advised by a mechanic to use Slick 50 additive and heavier grade oil. The van still runs good and the noise only appears from time to time. What do you recommend?

 

A ticking noise is typical of a valve lifter problem. The additive and heavier oil may have helped somewhat, although I have seen better results with an additive to help clean the valve system. You might try something such as Marvel Mystery Oil. Once the engine is quiet, change the oil again and hope for the best. If the noise is related to a worn bearing, then additive won’t really help, and eventually, the engine will fail. Depending on how you drive, and if you take it easy the engine could last a long time.

 

I am interested in getting my 2008 Honda Odyssey a set of winter tires. I went to Tire Rack for some research. The website suggests that, in addition to my original equipment manufacturer tire size (235/65/16), I can also use 225/70/16. I also saw that there are two types of winter tires, studless and 
studable.

 

I would stay with the 235/65/16 tire size, since this is the correct size tire for your Honda. Regarding studless vs. studable tires, they both have strengths and weaknesses. The rubber compound on the studless tire that allows for better traction will tend to wear quicker. Tires with studs work very well on ice, but might not work well on a dry road. Unless you live on a glacier, I wouldn’t think about studded tires. The best traction will come from the studless (ice) tires.

 

Question for AAA’s Car Doctor or more information ? Send it to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.