Q. Recently, I had to bring my car to the mechanic because I had no heat and it was cold outside. After he repaired this problem, he mentioned to me that the left side strut was leaking. He said I should get both replaced quickly because if not, water can get in and the car will not run correctly. He told me that the cost to repair this problem would be $800-$1000; am I being taken advantage of or is this normal? The car is 10 years old and has over 114,000 miles on it. As much as I don’t want a car payment, it seems like I’ve been sinking a lot of money into this car the past year and I’m debating whether or not I should start looking for a new car in 2014. My mechanic said the car could last up to 200,000 miles if I take care of it.
A. It is not unusual to need to replace struts in a 10 year old car. That said, keep in mind that struts are generally not a safety item unless they are very badly worn. At this point, I would get a second opinion and an overall evaluation of your car. If the car is in good condition, it may make sense to replace the struts, perform any other needed repairs and maintenance, and enjoy car payment-free driving.
Q. I wonder if you might have an answer to my question. I had a 2001 Avalon XLS with 70,000 miles on it. I gave the car to my mother a few years ago and she has replaced the battery twice. She doesn’t drive much and each time the battery has been replaced, lights turn on and stay on indicating problems with the skid control and engine. The first time, Toyota charged $1100 to repair the problem. A second battery change cost $1200 and these indicator lights on the dashboard appeared immediately. We are thinking that there must be something quite simple that triggers these costly electrical repairs once the battery is replaced. I do believe she was sold rather inexpensive batteries and that combined with New England cold weather and little driving, the batteries died. Is there a way to prevent these computer problems going forward? We would be most interested in your opinion.
A. It is possible that you have more than one problem with your car. When the battery is disconnected it will clear the car’s computer memory but shouldn’t cause problems to any other systems in the car. Generally, when a battery is replaced, most good repair shops will use a tool to hold the car’s memory and prevent problems with the radio, antitheft system, and other components that have a memory.
Q. My wife has a 2009 Mazda 3 and around 60 to 65mph it has a slight vibration. At times it seems to me that the car sways sideways as if there is something loose in the suspension system. We took it to the dealer that does the car services, had the tires rotated and balanced and the under carriage/suspension checked, and all was okay; however, they told us all four rims were warped and needed to either be repaired or new rims installed. I can see one or two rims being damaged, but all four? They are 17-inch alloy and expensive; the dealer quoted around $800 for four or $300 to $500 for truing the existing rims. A local auto parts guy I spoke to tells me alloy rims don’t warp but will crack and corrode. What is your take on this problem?
A. I agree it is unusual that all four wheels would be damaged. A technician should be able to measure the run-out on both the wheels and tires and determine if there is a problem. I have seen a good tire technician use a road-force style balancer to solve many vibration problems. In addition, I would also give the steering rack and all the associated bushing a very close inspection.
Q. I am looking for a used car for around $6,000-$7,000. I only need something to get me to the train everyday with occasional trips of 80 miles or so. I need four doors and am hoping to find something with less than 100,000 miles on it. What are your thoughts on the 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe? Do you have any other suggestions for midsized cars/SUVs? I will say I do like Hyundai products.
A. The Sante-Fe is worth a look, but the second generation from 2007 is a much better vehicle. I would also take a look at the Hyundai Sonata. The Sonata has proved to be a dependable car. One last thing-don’t get hung up on mileage because today’s cars routinely go 200,000 miles or more with little problems.
A comment from Howard L: Recently, you had a question in a column that had to do with tire leaks in aluminum wheels. I have a doctorates degree from MIT in the field of metallurgy and materials science. These problems with aluminum wheels are from galvanic corrosion due to the steel and lead balancing weights up against the aluminum rims. This is a result of the anodic relation between the aluminum and steel/lead in the presence of all the water that splashes up during rain and melting snow.
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.