Seeking a small car for the Vineyard

Q. I have a house on Vineyard and was thinking about a small car. I was looking at the Smart car, Fiat 500 or maybe a Mini-Cooper. What car do you like out of these or is there something else you would consider?

A. In order, I would go with the Mini Cooper (most fun), Fiat 500 (cutest) and then the Smart. A small car worth the look is the latest offering from Scion, the IQ. This car is only about 10 feet long, seats four, has 11 airbags and should have Toyota’s typical  reliability.

Q. I have a Mercury Grand Marquis GS which I love and don’t want to ever give up.  I get very good FM reception from my radio, but poor reception for AM. I took a quick look and didn’t see anything obvious. What is wrong?

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A. Start with a basic test to see if the problem is the radio or electrical interference from the car. Use a portable AM radio in the car. If it is picking up the same static, then the problem may be related to the ignition system or some other component in the car causing the static. If the portable AM radio is OK, then suspect a faulty antenna.

Q. I have a 2009 Toyota Avalon XLS that has been doing some strange things. From time to time, the car hesitates and recently it has been surging. On the latest occasion, I was traveling at about 15 miles per hour and the car started to accelerate. I had my foot on the brake and the car was “peeling” rubber. The car made a loud thump and then everything was normal. The dealer checked the car and told me it was fine. This is a safety issue. Do you have any advice? With all the past Toyota problems I’m a little worried, should I be?

A. The surging and hesitation is one problem that should be able to be repaired. The second situation you describe is referred to as sudden or unintended acceleration. Although it is possible there could be some sort of mechanical failure, it is unlikely the car would accelerate while the brakes would fail to hold the car. In every case I have researched, the common issue is pedal misapplication—stepping on the accelerator rather than the brake. In all safety-related issues, though, I would recommend you file a report with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at

Q. I had my idle-air-control valve on my 2001 Ford Sport Trac replaced last December. The truck was having trouble starting (like it was not getting fuel) and nothing showed up on the diagnostic. I was told it could be the idle-air-control valve. Is this possible or likely? It has been driven about 15,000 since the last repair.

A. It is certainly possible that the valve could have failed. In many cases, the valve motor will stick in the closed position and cause the hard starting. The other possibility is the intake-manifold gaskets are starting to leak. This can also cause a hard-start condition and rough running when the engine is cold.

Q. I just purchased a newer car and I’m not familiar with manual overdrive transmission (it has a button). With my old car, I used L when going up or down steep hills. I would like to be able to do this again. I feel like I have more control. Could you please advise me how I can do this with my new car?

A. I would leave the car in the overdrive position during just about every driving situation. The car’s computer is designed to allow the transmission to shift in its most efficient manner. The only exception would be when driving in very hilly terrain or towing a trailer. In that case, switch the overdrive to the off position.

Q. We have a problem with mice building nests in the engine of our Toyota Highlander. Is there anything we can do to prevent this? I really don't want to use poison or traps to kill them.

A. The first thing you need to do is remove any nearby food source that is attracting the mice. If you have pet food, birdseed or anything else that might appeal to the mice, it needs to be stored in a sealed container preferably away from your Toyota. There are many classic remedies that may help, such as mothballs, Bounty Drier Sheets or oil of peppermint. Readers tell me that predator urine (available in many hardware stores) works best. Since there are usually more than one mouse you may need to get traps or if all else fails, get a cat.