Q. My Volvo S40 has 85,000 miles on it, and I recently had the oil changed and the automatic transmission fluid flushed out. This morning, the car had a hard time starting (it worked after the third try with the gas pedal slightly pressed). The transmission flush machine power came from the car battery. Can changing the transmission fluid or oil impact how my car starts?
A. Battery voltage can have a dramatic affect on how today's computer-controlled cars start. If the battery is in marginal shape, it is possible that running the fluid exchange pump could have caused the battery voltage to drop and cause a starting problem. At this point, I would test the battery and inspect any vacuum hoses or connections that could have been disturbed when the fluids were changed. Just changing the fluids should have no effect on how the car starts.
Q. I own a 1995 Ford Crown Victoria with 81,500 miles on it. It looks almost brand new and has always been serviced by a Ford dealership. My sense is that parts wear out over mileage but things like gaskets and bushings may wear out by being exposed to the environment for 13 years. With a 13-year-old car, minor repairs can pop up at any instant. But with labor rates at roughly $92 an hour, any repair is expensive. Years ago, I thought people could keep a 13-year-old car running for many years in an economical way, but in 2008 I question if it makes sense. Senior citizens like me generally drive a lot less, so it would be easy to have a 13-year-old car to have only 60,000 to 80,000 miles. What are your thoughts on this subject?
A. Since labor rates have gone up with just about everything else, it still is cheaper to fix an old car than to buy a new one. Still, with a new car you get dependability, better fuel economy, more safety features and a vehicle that is kinder to the environment.
Q. I have a 2005 Ford Taurus SE with 51,000 miles. Over the past year, it has developed a "jerk" that feels like you have been bumped from behind. The weirdest thing is that it is more prominent when it is snowing. I wonder if it was the transmission or a plugged fuel injector. I have not taken it to a dealership for them to check it out. Do you know a possible problem that would cause this?
A. Start by taking a road test with the technician who will be working on the car. This way, you both will identify the same problem/concern. Some possible issues are a worn motor mount or even a slight vacuum leak causing the idle to surge.
Q. I have the option to buy a 1987 Mercedes 450SEL with about 115,000 miles on it for $3,000. The seller, who is the granddaughter of the original owner, says it's in great shape. Is it worth buying?
A. The big Mercedes sedans of the 1980s were wonderful luxurious cars but also were very costly to repair. Buying any 20-year-old car is a gamble, even with relatively low mileage for the year. Before you consider buying this car, have it thoroughly inspected by a repair shop that is familiar with German vehicles. If the vehicle looks sound, keep in mind that they are expensive to maintain.