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The Car Doctor - February 7, 2008

Email|Print| Text size + By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
February 8, 2008

Q. I have a good one for you. First there were standard brakes. Then there were rear antilock brakes. Then there were four-wheel antilock brakes. I remember being told to pump standard brakes and to step on and hold four-wheel antilock brakes. What do you suggest for rear-only antilock brakes like my 1999 Dodge Durango has? This was a commonly used system on many late 1990s small and mid-sized pickup trucks that are still on the road today.

A. Rear-only ABS is designed to prevent skids that are caused by the rear wheels locking and the rear end coming around. With this type of brakes, the front wheels can still lock up, just like convention brakes. If you are driving and need to stop rapidly, and you feel the front brakes lock up, release the brake pedal to regain steering. Then reapply steady pressure, and look and steer in the direction you want the truck to go.

Q. My Chevrolet Impala has a radio static problem. It makes the noise mostly on the AM band. I don't think it is related to the ignition since the noise doesn't change with the speed on the engine. Sometimes it is fine; other times it is very noisy. I like AM radio for news, weather and your Saturday morning radio program. What do you suggest?

A. You first need to find out if the problem is the car or the radio. A simple check is to take a portable radio into the car. If the portable radio is noisy, then the car is causing the problem. One possibility is the rear window defroster has a crack in the grid and the static is current jumping the break in the grid. Just so you and other listeners/readers know, my radio program is moving to AM 950 WROL. The time will be Saturday mornings from 9 to 10.

Q. I have chance to buy a Honda S2000 for a really good price. The problem is the car was involved in a flood. What is your opinion about buying a "flood" car?

A. A flood car can be a tinker's dream or one of the biggest nightmares of your life. The type of water the car was flooded in can make a difference in how much work is required. If it was a salt-water flood, then the damage can be extensive to both the body and the electrical components. If it is fresh water, then it is possible the car could be dried out and the fluids changed, and the car will be fine. Another scenario we have seen from the Gulf Coast is cars that were in a flood caused by overflowing drains and septic systems. If this is the case, the car could turn into a bacterial breeding ground.

Q. I have a 1999 VW Passat, and lately I get an oil-burning smell through the ducts - but only when I'm idling on an incline. If I'm parked, idling on a level surface, there is no smell. I assume oil is leaking out somewhere, but why only on an incline (up or down)? I'm not getting any oil spots in my driveway (level surface), so it must be a very slow leak. Any ideas before I bring it in to the shop?

A. The most common cause of an oil leak with your Volkswagen is slight seepage at the cylinder head gasket. The best method to find a minor oil leak is to have a repair shop add a dye to the oil. Once the dye has mixed with the oil, a technician will use an ultraviolet light to verify the leak and suggest a suitable repair. The repair itself can be quite expensive, and although it isn't going to get any better by itself, watchful waiting may be the best course of repair.

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