Q. I have a 2008 Cadillac SRX and I get a message that the “Stabiltrak not ready.” What needs to be done to get it “ready” and what would be the time and cost required?
A. This problem is typically related to one of the wheel sensors malfunctioning. The problem could be wiring or the sensor itself. Expect to pay at least one hour of labor for basic diagnostics to get an idea what part has failed.
Q. We are getting by with our 1999 Camry but anticipate perhaps replacing it with a new car next year. It’s pretty much just my wife and I so a sedan is just fine. Typically we’ve spent about $20-$22,000 for a new car, most recently buying a Honda Accord. I have no problem buying either a Camry or Accord again. But I got to thinking—what if we spent a little more? What’s the next price point where you can detect a noticeable difference in quality? Would it be $25,000, $30,000 or more?
A. You can get a high quality car for $20,000 such as a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. But if you are looking for that combination of luxury and quality I think you will need to spend in the $35,000 range to start. Something such as a Lexus ES 350 is a very nice car, solid and reliable with luxury touches throughout.
Q. I drive a 2000 Toyota Solara convertible with 140,000 miles on it. I was very interested in the Camry Solara but after driving a used one I felt it was showing its age. Do you have a suggestion for a 66 year old, five foot tall woman who still wants to drive a convertible? In addition it needs to seat four, have good safety and repair records. The car should be reasonably priced.
A. Buying an affordable four passenger convertible can be a challenge. I would suggest the Volkswagen Beetle; it is affordable and fun to drive. The Volkswagen Eos, is a hardtop convertible and also good performer, but more expensive. Other four passenger models are the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, Chrysler 200, Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper. Moving up over $40,000 the choices get better with the Audi A5, Lexus IS and BMW. The Chrysler 200 may be the closest match to your current car. A convertible can be a very personal choice. When my wife’s VW Cabrio was showing its age, we started looking for an affordable convertible. Her criteria when shopping was, it needed to seat four, have front wheel drive and have room in the trunk for two beach chairs. At the time, the Chrysler PT Cruiser fit the bill. Now, seven years later, it may be time to start looking again.
Q. I have a Chrysler Pacifica 2004. I noticed that I am spending a lot on gas. It seems I get only 290 miles on a full tank, is that normal?
A. According to my records you will use about six gallon of fuel to go about 100 miles. The car has a useable 21 gallons of fuel. Based on my crude calculation you should be able to travel about 350 miles between fill ups. Now this can vary based on how and where you drive and the condition of the car.
Q. My 1999 Pontiac G rand Prix has a gas smell that’s intermittent. The garage looked it over, did a smoke test and can’t find any kind of leak. I have brought it back three times and they also put it up on lift and examined everything. I always think of fire, do you have any inclination of what the problem might be?
A. I would be suspicious of the evaporative emission systems and the top of the fuel tank. I have found over the years the best tool to find a fuel leak is an exhaust gas analyzer. These tools do a remarkable job of sniffing out fuel leaks.
John Paul, the “Car Doctor,” is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and a columnist for Boston.com. A certified master technician, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on 950 WROL in Boston (www.wrolradio.com) on Saturday mornings at 9. Need car advice? E-mail John at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.boston.com/cardoctor for past columns, tips, and repair help.