Ask the Car Doc: What’s a do-it-yourselfer to do?

Q. Recently, while driving my 1991 Honda Accord, my speedometer temporarily stopped working. The car ran fine and everything else worked. A few miles later, the speedometer started to work and the “check engine” light came on. I do a fair amount of work on my car, but can’t figure out how to test this. I was told there is no on-board diagnostics. What does a do-it-yourselfer do?

A. Your car uses an electronic speedometer drive and no speedometer cable. As for doing your own repairs, I would start with a good repair guide. A repair guide book or online service will give you the specifics on how to troubleshoot the “check engine” light. Your car does allow some basic diagnostics. Below the right side of the dash is a “service check” connector. Jumping this connector will cause the “check engine” light to flash a code. Although this is not as good as a computer scan tool, the code should help you pinpoint the problem. I use AllData as a repair database. You might want to check out the do it yourself version of this database. www.alldatadiy.com

Q. I have 2009 VW Golf with 113,000 miles. At about 90,000 miles, the car’s gas mileage decreased three to five miles per gallon. The car suddenly seemed sluggish. I noticed that although the car shifted fine, the transmission did not seem to coast freely. I figured the lack of coasting would be responsible for my loss of gas mileage. Would this be a likely cause? Is the problem from my transmission or can it be fixed elsewhere?

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A. Start with a basic inspection of the car. Look at the brakes first: It is possible one wheel is dragging. I have seen a lot of sticking brake calipers lately. Then have a transmission shop check the transmission. It is possible the transmission is not shifting into overdrive or the torque converter is malfunctioning. In addition a technician with a scan tool should check all of the sensor inputs to see that all of the readings are correct.

Q. My grandmother’s1997 Ford Taurus recently has had problems starting. After I turn the ignition, it takes 20 to 30 seconds before it starts. I’m concerned it won’t start at all very soon and I would hate to see her get stranded. What should I do?

A. Have a repair shop perform a diagnostic inspection. The testing should focus on the fuel system and other engine controls. The Ford Taurus has been known to have problems with the idle air control motor as well as the fuel pump. This is just two of many possibilities. You should leave the car with a quality repair shop overnight so they can experience the problem. If your grandmother doesn’t have one, buy her a cell-phone.

Q. Every morning when I get into my car, the clock displays the wrong time and the radio doesn’t work. I have checked the fuse. Is this a battery problem?

A. In most cars, the clock and radio have two sources of power. One fuse supplies power to the components and the second supplies power to keep the memory of those components. The vehicle’s owner’s manual should help you identify the correct fuse.

Follow up: Several readers have asked about cars for short statured drivers (vertically challenged) and my friends at Edmunds.com have come through with a list. Edmunds editor Warren Clarke reminds us to keep in mind that ultimately, your individual physique will determine which vehicles suit you best. A car that works well for a 5-foot-2-inch driver with a short torso may not work so well for a driver of the same height with a longer midsection. Always test-drive the vehicle you’re interested in before committing to a purchase. Here are ten cars that may work. BMW 3 Series, Honda Accord Honda, Honda CR-V, Kia Soul, Lexus LS-460, Mazda 3, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Subaru Forester, Toyota Sienna and Volkswagen Passat . My suggestion would be also be to open the doors, trunk and hatch to make sure that you can operate them safely and comfortably.