Q. I am miserly when it comes to investment on anything that will be a liability to my wallet. I’m looking for advice on getting the best bargain out there for a car. My main goal is to pay less for brand name while also getting a low maintenance vehicle at a great price. I am wondering if you have any insights on cars that are not from Toyota or Honda but still meet my needs?

A. Toyota and Honda have a great reputation, hold their value and have good maintenance records, but there are other choices. I would look at the Hyundai Sonata, great warranty and generally low maintenance costs. I would also look at the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu, both are good cars with an above average reputation. You might also want to take a look at one-year-old used cars. Depending on the car, they can be well taken care of, have the remainder of the factory warranty, and be a good value. AAA members can also enjoy the advantages of our car buying program.

Q. Where is the lift-gate sensor located on a 2007 Jeep Commander? I am having a problem with the lift-gate not “power” closing when I push the button.  

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

A. Vehicles equipped with a power lift-gate system utilize two pinch sensors on each side of the tailgate. These sensors are not switches but look like weather-strips. These weather strips consist of several electrical parts and provide additional protection against vehicle damage or personal injury caused by an obstacle being "pinched" between the lift-gate and the lift-gate opening of the vehicle.

Q. I hope you can dispel or confirm rumors about flushing out a transmission and installing new fluid. Over the years there has been talk about the pros and cons of doing this service. Some shops say it can hurt the transmission, others feel it is very beneficial. What are your thoughts?

A. This has been an age old question even before transmission flushing machines were popular. There certainly is a benefit to this type of service since the vehicle will benefit from having a majority of the automatic transmission changed. New automatic transmission fluid will keep the transmission cleaner, help restore shift quality and may help prevent torque converter clutch shudder. As good as all this sounds, I found some information from an oil company, as well as the transmission rebuilders' industry, which recommended that if an automatic transmission has accumulated more than 60,000 miles since it was last serviced, that the consumer be forewarned before servicing that particular transmission.

Q. I am having a used car inspected by a local AAA shop. The car is a 2004 Toyota Sienna van with 80,000 miles on it. What should I have them look at when I bring it in? I have already had a CarFax report run and it looks good. I am interested in owning a car without worrying about repair work and other expenses.

A. Most shops will perform a “used-car” inspection. This should include a full visual inspection of items such as brakes, tires, suspension and the exhaust system. In addition, they should be scanning the computer for fault codes, looking at the drivetrain for leaks and perform a thorough road test. At the same time, they should be looking for any signs of previous body damage. All of this will help give you an indication of the condition of the car, but keep in mind you are dealing with a nine year old vehicle and problems can still come up. 

Q. The battery in my car won’t keep a charge and we have already replaced the alternator and battery. If I drive with the headlights on, the battery will go dead and the car won’t start.

A. Based on your description, the charging system is not performing properly. This could be as simple as a loose belt to something more complicated. A repair shop should perform a complete charging system test. Low alternator output can be caused by a computer problem, voltage regulator problem or corroded or damaged wiring.