I’m short and need a car with good visibility

Q. I have a new 2013 Toyota Prius, which recharges the battery when braking. I was wondering if it has been studied whether the battery charges differently when braking lightly for the whole stopping distance, as compared to coasting for a while, and then braking harder for a shorter distance?

A. It is coasting and light braking that help recharge the battery. In all cases, decelerate at a slow and steady pace. Applying pressure on the pedal increases the deceleration rate, which can cause the actual service brakes to be applied too early. The service brake is certainly necessary to stop the car, but hybrid or not braking wastes energy. In a conventional car, the old adage of easy on the gas and brake to maximize fuel economy works just as well with hybrids.

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Q. Recently when I use my air conditioning my car starts staggering/chugging pretty badly. Any thoughts as to what this might be? It’s a well cared for 2000 Neon; it was my grandmother’s car and it only has 80,000 miles. Other than this the car doesn’t have any others problems.

A. 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 or faulty fuel injector could be the problem.

Q. I am considering a Lexus hybrid; I like the GS hybrid model over the ES (too much of a Camry) or CT (overpriced Prius) models. I have been checking and the GS hybrid looks like it will cost $10,000 more than the GS350. Is the GS 450h worth the extra money?

A. I have driven both cars and the GS 450h handles and rides well, in fact better than I expected. The fuel economy is very good with the GS450h returning 35 miles per gallon during my time with the car. If you are looking to just save money on fuel the GS hybrid is not worth the money. It would likely take six year to pay off the additional cost of the hybrid. On the other hand if you are tech junky that looks for the latest products, want better than average performance and fuel economy to boot the GS450h is well worth the money.

Q. I own a 2005 Nissan Maxima and my catalytic convertor is glowing red hot after about 10 minutes of driving. My SES light is on, after a lot of research on line 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? I’m trying to keep costs down and don’t want to buy any unnecessary parts. I was told by a mechanic I only needed to replace the front catalytic convertor. This car only has 68,000 miles and I don’t drive much. What should I do?

A. I would start with finding a new repair shop. Replacing the catalytic converter without finding out why it is getting hot and turning red is just 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.

Q. I’m hoping you can help me out with this issue. I am considering buying a used Honda Odyssey with PAX Tire System tires. Knowing that I’ll be taking it in for inspection after I buy it, I checked the tires out and found that they are unlikely to pass inspection. The only option I seem to have is replacing them with new PAX tires through Honda at a ridiculous cost of about $1400. I’m not very happy with this, but Honda tells me that there is no other option. Is there any option? I enjoy your column very much and thank you for any advice you can give on this. Would you buy this van with the PAX system?

A. As far as I know Honda has not approved a replacement for the run-flat PAX tire system that came standard on some Honda models. The Honda dealer is not the only option. With a past reader I enquired with the folks at Sullivan Tire and Auto Service and they told me they could order and install the PAX tires. You could order different wheels and tires but this is not advised by Honda and would be at your own risk. If it were me, I would only buy this van if the price reflected the cost of buying new tires.

Q. I am only 4’9” tall 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. The cars that I have been looking at are either too small or too big for me. This car should have a fully adjustable driver’s seat that can help with my bad back. Finally, I can only spend about $19,000. Do you have any suggestions?

A. A few cars to look at are the Scion xA, Mazda 3, Ford Focus, Honda FIT and the Fiesta. Of these cars the FIT offers the most usable room and the Mazda 3 is probably the best handling. But it really comes down to personal choice, vehicles are not one-size-fits all. Readers do you have a suggestion for our vertically challenged reader, please send it to jpaul@aaasne.com