Q. I am in the market for a new or 1-2 year old car. I would like to buy an American-made car from an American company. In the past, I have always bought Toyotas which were very reliable. I was originally interested in the Ford Fusion or Ford Focus but recently read that Ford’s quality dropped by 10 points. What is the best/most reliable American-made car available right now?

A. I personally believe Ford makes great products and wouldn’t hesitate to buy the latest Focus or Fusion. In fact, here at AAA, we have been using the Ford Focus for our driving schools and have had very good luck with them. Regarding the Fusion, the 2013 model is one of the most stylish vehicles from Ford in recent history. I recently drove a 2013 all-wheel-drive four cylinder Fusion with Eco-boost technology and found it to be a very nice car. My only complaint is with the over complicated infotainment system.

Q. I recently purchased a 2007 Hummer H3 and have an ORV (off road) permit to drive on the seashore. Are there any precautions I need to know about in terms of maintenance for my vehicle? Are there any negatives to driving on the beach?

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

A. The biggest thing to keep in mind is you are driving your vehicle in a pretty hostile environment. Sand, salt and water can be tough on both the body and mechanical parts of the vehicle. It would be a great idea to completely wash the underside of the vehicle. In addition, check all the tires and wheels for damage, inspect the bearings, brakes, drive shafts and axles for wear and proper lubrication. Also follow the off road advice I received from the Land Rover off- road school. When driving off road, go with drive as slow as possible as fast as necessary. This method causes the least amount of wear on the vehicle and the environment.

Q. Have a 2013 Jeep Wrangler with new V6 engine. Right after first oil change (at dealer) last week, the engine started making noise. Sounded like hydraulic lifters when they are lacking oil. On line communications indicate this is a common problem and that they are pushing back on fixing. We are taking the Jeep on a 5000 trip out west in 2 weeks. Is this typically an issue that would cause an engine malfunction and leave us stranded? Dropped car with dealer tonight but are concerned they will try to brush us off.

A. I have also heard of a few reports of engine tapping from this new V-6 engine when it was first introduced. The repair typically is replacing one cylinder head and replacing the valve lifters and other associated parts. I don’t believe the noise will leave you stranded. That said, I would like to see your Jeep fixed before a 5000 mile trip. Once the dealer has diagnosed the noise and has the parts, the repair should be able to be completed in one day.

Q. We own a 2004 Subaru Forester 2.5XS that we purchased new in November 2004. The car only has 59,000 miles but is pretty much driven daily, although often only short distances. While having the oil changed recently, the service advisor indicated that even though it had been driven less than 60,000 miles, because the car was about 90 months old, we should be thinking about having the timing belt replaced (along with the water pump). He also indicated this car was prone to problems with the head-gasket leaking which could start at any time and cost in the neighborhood of $1300. What are your thoughts about when I should replace the timing belt, and possible head-gasket problems on the way? Any and all information will be greatly appreciated.

A. The specification on the timing belt is to replace it at 105,000 miles or nine year whichever comes first. Based on this specification, I would say your car is due for this service. Regarding the cylinder head gaskets leaking, although this model is prone to problems, I wouldn’t consider such an expensive repair unless there was a problem.