Q. We love reading your column as much as we love our 1999 Ford Ranger truck. Our truck has 161,000 plus miles and several “new band-aids”. We want to replace our truck, but are unable to find any small new trucks on the market. Unfortunately, Ford no longer makes the Ranger. It is just the perfect size for us as we are older and retired and don’t need a heavy duty work-horse type truck. Do you know of any small trucks? We are looking for something reliable, easy to handle and hopefully with 4 wheel drive. Any thoughts?
A. Small trucks are getting harder to find and many people are missing both the Ranger and the GM Colorado/Canyon. There is a rumor that GM will have a new compact truck for 2015. At this point though, you are pretty much limited to the Nissan Frontier and the Toyota Tacoma. The Tacoma or the Frontier could easily meet your needs. One vehicle that is a little bigger but easy to drive and very versatile is the Honda Ridgeline. I like the Ridgeline’s standard four door cab, decent fuel economy and all-wheel-drive. It could use more power and it is not really a truck, but it is quite practical.
Q. I own a 2005 Lexus RX330 SUV and it has 45,000 miles on it. What is the manufacturer’s recommendation on the timing belt replacement? I can’t find anything in the manual.
A. Alldata, the technical database that I use, lists the timing belt replacement on your Lexus at 90,000 miles or 108 months, whichever comes first. Based on this recommendation, you will need to replace the timing belt in the next year or so. Replacing the timing belt will take about three hours and the belt itself is about $65.00. At the same time, the drive belts and cooling system should be looked at.
Q. My question is with regard to Hybrid car batteries in the following situation: I live in Florida for about 7 months a year and my vehicles are in a covered garage in an 18 story condo building. I leave a car in Florida while I’m up north from May until early October. Have there been any studies about the effect on batteries of hybrid cars leaving them for that length of time without driving? I currently leave my traditional car there and have it driven for about 20 miles per week and this works fine. Would that be enough to keep the hybrid batteries in proper condition or would the lack of regular use detract from the life of the batteries?
A. Using the popular Prius as an example, the hybrid battery is essentially disconnected every time you turn off the car so it shouldn’t be a problem. Depending on the battery type; nickel metal hydride batteries have a discharge rate of 3% per month and Lithium Ion batteries have a discharge rate of 8% per month. Both have little or no issues with battery memory. The discharge rate on both types of batteries will bring the batteries to 50-75 percent of charge over a six month period. The bigger problem in my opinion is the standard 12 volt battery. If this was my car, I would disconnect the 12 volt battery and recharge it before putting back in service.
Q. I am buying a new car and I am concerned about theft. What kind of alarm or other anti-theft device do you recommend?
A. The best systems will use GPS or radio tracking. These systems will allow the monitor company or police to quickly find the car once it is reported stolen. Keep in mind that the best anti-theft systems will do little if the thief is sophisticated enough to tow the car away. Anti-theft system or not, drivers should always park in well lit areas and remove the keys and lock the car. Studies show that 50 percent of the cars stolen were unlocked and some had the keys in them.
John Paul, the “Car Doctor,” is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and a columnist for Boston.com. A certified master technician, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on 950 WROL in Boston (www.wrolradio.com) on Saturday mornings at 9. Need car advice? E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.boston.com/cardoctor for past columns, tips, and repair help.