Q. I’d appreciate your comment on the value, if any, of providing extra winter stability for a front-wheel-drive car by placing weight in the trunk over the rear wheels. My wife likes to have concrete blocks at each side of the trunk of her 2007 Honda Civic because she says the extra weight makes the car feel safer in slippery conditions. A neighbor recently told her that because the car has front-wheel-drive the blocks don’t help. What’s your opinion on this?
A. Adding weight to the rear of a front-wheel-drive car only diminishes traction to the front drive wheels. In addition, the cement block could be a safety hazard in a crash. The best way to improve traction with any car in the winter is to use four winter tires.
Q. My 2011 Hyundai Elantra owner’s manual says to increase the recommended tire pressure by 4 PSI for snow tires. That would end up with 36 pounds of pressure. Does that make sense?
A. I tend to always default to the vehicle owner’s manual, but tires can vary substantially by manufacturer. I have no problem with adding the extra four pounds of pressure, providing it doesn’t exceed the maximum inflation pressure listed on the sidewall of the tire.
Q. Do you believe the risk/reward favors buying a used, off-lease, dealer demo or privately owned low mileage vehicle to defray the rapid depreciation inherent in buying new? Assume the car is one to two years old, has average to below-average miles, and comes with the balance of the manufacturer warranty. I’ve bought both new and used and, frankly, would rather pocket the difference in exchange for foregoing the new car “experience.”
A. There is something to be said for buying a brand new car. To some people the idea that no one has driven a car before them is worth the extra cost and generally rapid first year depreciation. That said, buying a year old car can be a much better investment. This can be especially true if you buy a year old car introduced late in the previous year; an example is a 2011 vehicle introduced in late 2010 and purchased in 2011. This strategy allows even a better trade-in when that time comes. In addition, in many cases the factory warranty will transfer to the second owner. Both my car as well as my wife’s car have been former low-mile rentals and so far have been quite good.
Q. We live about 3/10 mile from the ocean. For the past few years, after leaving a car in the driveway for the month of March, we have come home to noisy, rusted brakes. Normal driving hasn’t worn off the rust and I have had to replace rotors or more. Some years the brakes haven’t had much mileage on them. Any preventive suggestions other than renting indoor storage?
A. Surface rust on brake rotors, sometimes known a flash rust, will occur in as little as a couple of hours if the conditions are just right. In most cases, after a few brake applications, the rust wears off. Since much of the moisture can come from the ground, parking on top of a tarp may help limit the moisture and, in turn, the rust. Don’t put any lubricant or rust inhibitor on the rotors, as that will contaminate the brake pads and compromise braking.
Q. I own a 2010 Ford Fusion that has an electronic gauge informing me of the percentage of oil life left before an oil change is required. Can you tell me how this works? Is it set to decrease as the mileage increases to the 7,500-mile recommended change interval? Or, is there some type of sensor that detects the cleanliness of my oil?
A. This system uses just time (180 days) and mileage (7,500) to indicate when the oil needs changing. In fact, it can be set to lower the limits by 10 percent if you as the owner feel that is too long a distance. Other cars actually measure the oil contaminants as well as looking at time and mileage.
Q. I recently purchased a used Infiniti FX 35 and love everything about it, except the tire noise. I have the model with the 20-inch rims, so naturally there will be some noise, but it seems way too loud. Is this a tire issue, or just something I should expect from a cross-over SUV?
A. As they start to wear, the performance tires on the FX 35 will get noisier over time. This doesn’t indicate a safety problem, just more of an annoyance. Even new replacement tires can be noisy, depending on tread design, although a little research may lead you to the quietest tire for your crossover.
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 email@example.com or go to www.boston.com/cardoctor for past columns, tips, and repair help.