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Car Doctor: Is replacing the brake fluid necessary?

Posted by John Paul  September 6, 2011 02:02 PM

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Q. While wintering in South Carolina last year, I went into a few well-known tire shops that seemed to be pushing brake fluid replacement with their brake jobs. I have been driving for 60 years and never have run into this. My second question is concerning my 2002 Town Car. Can I change to synthetic oil after driving 50,000 miles on regular oil? I enjoy your column each Sunday.

A. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it seeks moisture. This moisture can cause rust, which is very detrimental to today’s anti-lock brake systems. Years ago, the only time brake fluid was replaced was when a hydraulic component was replaced.

Replacing the brake fluid when performing a brake repair could limit problems in the future. In fact, some vehicles have a specific recommendation to replace the brake fluid. Regarding switching to synthetic oil, this is not a problem. When synthetic oil first became popular, people would warn against switching by claiming the oil would cause the engine to leak oil. This is not true, although due to the nature of synthetic oil it will find a leak, if one does exist.

Q. Hello Car Doctor, do you have any information on where to obtain service and/or parts for a Peugeot diesel vehicle in the Providence/Boston area?

A. Sorry, I can’t be much help on this request since it has been so long since these cars were imported. The engines are not overly complicated so perhaps a Mercedes technician that specializes in diesels may be a good start. From what I understand the parts are available but usually take quite a while to get. Certainly check out the Approved Auto Repair section of AAA’s website for a quality repair shop. Perhaps our readers have a specific suggestion. Readers, email me with your Peugeot repair shop recommendations.

Q. I was on a trip with my 1999 Isuzu VehiCross (yes, I know it is old) and had driven about 50 miles. The car started "bucking" but no lights came on. I pulled off the highway and the car barely got to a service station. If I stepped on the gas the car bucked, had no power, and backfired. The mechanic put the car on a diagnostic machine, but by the time they looked at the car it was running fine. I asked that they change the fuel filter, which they said was real bad. I drove about 20 miles and it started again, although not as bad – you can feel the car "losing power" (surging is perhaps a better word to use). It ran OK at 55 mph but if I tried to step down on it to go into "passing gear" it just died out. Around town it is fine. Do you have any suggestions before my next long trip?

A. Since the fuel filter solved much of the problem, the next step would be to check the fuel pump for both pressure and volume. I would also look at a possible ignition coil issue. This system uses a coil for each spark plug and perhaps one of these coils is failing when it gets hot. Once that is completed have your repair shop check for a possible restriction in the exhaust. It is possible that one of the catalytic converters is starting to plug up.

Q. My 2000 Ford F-150 won’t start. You turn the key and get nothing — or maybe a faint click. Is it possible that the alarm could be the problem? I don’t use this truck much. Is there anything I can check prior to having it towed?

A. There are a few basic tests you can perform with little or no tools. Start with turning the headlights on; are they strong and bright? If so, the battery is likely to be charged. Check the electrical connections from the battery to the starter looking for corrosion or a poor connection. Don’t forget to check for a possible faulty fuse. With a helper turning the key, tap lightly on the starter. Jarring the starter slightly may get the car to start. If it does start, you didn’t fix the car, it still needs a permanent repair.

Q. I have a 2003 Kia Sorento with 74,000 miles on it. It has a full size spare tire that has never been used. Is it safe to use this spare tire for tire rotation and drive as normal as with the other four tires that I replaced at 65,000 miles?

A. Several car manufacturers recommend that tires are replaced if they have been in service for six or more years. The Rubber Manufacturers Association doesn’t look at shelf life but more of how the tire was stored. I have spoken with both local and regional tire stores and most believe that tires have a shelf life between six and 10 years. If this was my vehicle, I would leave the eight-year-old spare tire where it is and use it only as a temporary replacement if you get a flat.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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