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The Car Doctor - January 17, 2008

Email|Print| Text size + By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
January 17, 2008

Q. I have a 2000 Hyundai Accent that I purchased new in 2000. I mostly use my car on weekends and have never had any problems until this past year. I've been having a problem with my car needing jump starts, so I purchased a brand new Sears Die Hard battery but I continued to have this problem. I had Sears check the battery and it was fine. Then I had the Hyundai dealer's electrical person check the electrical system and was told that the electrical system was fine. I wonder what could be draining my battery. Is there something that an electrical diagnosis is likely to miss? Is there a tool that a lay person can use to find out if something is activated?

A. I would ask for another test of the charging system. With weekend use it is critical the charging system is operating at 100 percent. Something as simple as a loose alternator belt could be the cause of your vehicle's dead battery. In addition, the technician should test for parasitic draw. This is a test to determine if some part of the electrical system is not shutting off when the car is turned off. A courtesy light or malfunctioning alarm could be the problem.

Q. Getting a new car is bittersweet, as I get bronchial constriction from the plastic out-gassing. After a couple of years it dissipates, but when it does I'm thinking about a new car. I have seen some air-cleaner devices that have a carbon filter which plugs into the utility outlet. Do you have any recommendations for driving in comfort and being able to enjoy a new car?

A. I have seen several ion and ozonator style air cleaners that plug into the cigarette lighter socket. They may offer some relief, although I have not tested them myself. I have found most of the out-gassing comes from the dash when the car is parked. I have had good luck covering the dash with a heavy towel and leaving the windows open slightly. The towel seems to act like a filter; take it off when you drive and allow it to "air" out when not in use.

Q. I'm in the market for a new car sometime late spring or early summer. I keep my cars for a long time and am looking for something practical, yet distinctive. My biggest concern is how it handles in inclement weather. I don't drive well under those conditions. My first car was a 1988 Honda Prelude. I currently drive a 1994 Infiniti J30 with close to 220,000 miles on it. Both cars handled poorly in snow and ice. What do you suggest?

A. All-wheel drive will offer the best traction in slippery weather. There are many all-wheel drive cars available in just about every budget. The cars range from under $25,000 for a Subaru or a Ford Taurus to over $100,000 for a Mercedes or a Bentley. Look at the Audi A6 - it offers a great combination of style, performance and all-weather handling.

Q. I have 1999 Chevrolet Lumina sedan, 3.1 V6 engine with 134,000 miles. I have been having a problem with "bucking" when the engine is under load, usually in overdrive, above about 40 mph. The bucking is not rhythmic, it is more erratic. It feels like something is breaking down. When not under load it seems okay. The service engine light has not come on. The only time the bucking does not happen is during the first four to five miles in the morning. After that, the car can sit nine to 10 hours at a park/ride lot and will buck as soon as I drive away. I have replaced the sparkplugs, wires, three ignition coils and gas filter with no success. I have also checked the EGR valve and it appears clean. I'm not sure if it is gas or spark related.

A. A few basic items need to be re-checked: fuel injector operation, as well as driving with a computer scanner attached to the car to look at engine misfire. Once all the normal issues have been checked, look at the torque converter lock-up function. If the torque converter clutch is slipping it may not set a code but will cause a "chuggle."

Q. My 2001 Mercury Grand Marquis is equipped with climate control. Recently I noticed that when I use the heat, the fan doesn't seem work. I don't get any air or heat out of the defroster, vents, floor, etc. I do not have an owner's manual. Could it be a blown fuse?

A. Although the fuse, wiring and fan motor itself are good places to start, the problem is more likely the blower resistor. The blower resistor is located near the fan motor, costs less than $20, and will take about a half hour to install.

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