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Should I buy a used Volvo or a new Subaru?

Posted by John Paul  January 24, 2012 11:53 AM

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Q. We're looking for a car for our college-age son to replace his 1998 Volvo S70. He does cycling and triathlons, so storage/cargo space is important; however, he doesn't want to drive anything as big as my Honda Pilot. All-wheel-drive would be a big plus, reliability is very important, and we're hoping to stay under $27,000. Possibilities include a new Subaru Outback and a '08 Volvo XC 70, but if you have any ideas about other models to consider, we would appreciate it

A. The Subaru Outback in my opinion is a great choice. It has the storage you need, plus a wide range of factory accessories to carry bikes and other items. In addition to being all-wheel-drive, it will have the latest safety features, a full warranty, and is pretty good on gas.

Q. I have a very vexing problem which concerns my wife; she is 80 years old and has asthma and bronchitis. Since the colder season has arrived, my wife seems to have a coughing attack every time she rides in my car, which has only 52,000 miles on it. It always seems to be when the heater/ventilation fan is on. When I turn off the fan completely, she stops coughing, but of course we are not as warm. Could it be that there is dust in my vents? I did have the cabin filter replaced.

A. The problem may not be dust, but mold and mildew. The ducts themselves are dark and damp and can be a perfect place for mold to grow. Over time, some vehicles will build up mold in the air ducts. Depending on the mold growth, spraying the ducts with a disinfectant spray may solve the problem. Severe cases may require the duct work and heater/air conditioner plenum chamber to be disassembled to be cleaned.

Q. I have taken my 2007 Toyota Avalon to two different garages to have them diagnose a loud squeal that I hear every time I back up. Neither the dealer nor the service station could tell me what it could be. I have had new brakes put on both front and back, so I know that is not the problem. Can you help?

A. The first thing you need to do is have the technician at the garage hear the noise to ensure you are both talking about the same problem. Just because the brakes are new doesn?t mean they are not the cause of the noise. Depending on the composition, some brake pads will tend to be noisier than others. This can be especially true during the first brake application of the day when a film of rust can build up on the brake surfaces overnight.

Q. The ?malfunction indicator light? on my wife?s ?03 Honda CRV with 151,000 miles has been coming on intermittently for the past two months. In December of last year, the Honda dealer replaced the ?ELD detector unit? and ?primary oxygen sensor? and then cleared and reset the codes for about $700. The ?malfunction indicator light? is on again and the dealer said that the catalytic converter would need to be replaced at a cost of $2300. One independent mechanic estimated $600 for an aftermarket converter (installed) and $1,500 for an OEM unit. A second independent mechanic said he doesn?t install after market converters because they are prone to problems and not worth the subsequent customer service issues. As you can see, the range of estimates is significant. Is this a typical case of ?If it looks too good to be true, it probably is?? What are your thoughts?

A. Some aftermarket catalytic convertors on some vehicles can be a problematic. They will fit okay, but over time they will stop working and trigger a check engine light for poor efficiency. The Federal government requires that manufacturers of new converters are also required to provide a warranty on the converter shell and end pipes for 5 years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, and for 25,000 miles on converter emission performance. If the technician is comfortable with the aftermarket product they are installing, it is fully warranted, and you can save money, the aftermarket part may be the answer.

Q.I have a 1993 Honda Accord that has 361,000 miles on it. I plan to keep it for a couple of more years unless there is some major malfunction. I like to listen to you on AM radio, but I have a static discharge problem while the car is in motion on a dry road. There is no problem when the engine is revved up while stopped, and there is no problem while the car is in motion on rainy days. Given these symptoms, there is no problem with the radio, antenna, or the transmission line connecting the two. And there is no problem of engine-generated noise. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Years back there were some tire brands that due to their design would build up static electricity. Perhaps old-fashioned static straps may solve the problem by providing a path for the static electricity to discharge.

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