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Volvo trunks, Saab batteries and Chrysler airbags

Posted by John Paul  May 16, 2012 09:53 AM

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Q. I’m hoping you can shed some light on a problem with my Volvo wagon. About six weeks ago, the trunk/hatch stopped opening. The car was not involved in an accident or otherwise bumped. There is no exterior lock on the trunk and no interior release lever. We have checked the fuses. The dealership says the only way to open it is a dramatic (and expensive) removal of the rear bumper and then the entire hatch. They provided this diagnosis without examining the car. I took the car to a local garage and the mechanic said that his research indicated that there is a covered exterior lock, where the outside release handle is on the trunk. He showed me a circular indentation which he believes can be punched out to expose the manual lock. He was hesitant to punch it out, in case he was wrong. Do you know if there as an exterior trunk lock that could be exposed and used with a key to open the trunk? I always try to read your column and miss it when it is not in the paper.

A. I have heard from other Volvo owners before and it doesn't look like there is a good answer. Some technicians have had some success with this scenario. On the passenger side of the license plate lighting area, you will find an area to drill for a key system. It may be a lightly scribed circle area just to the right of the light bulb cover. Once you drill a hole you may be able to manipulate a homemade wire hook to trip the lock. Since this procedure involves potentially damaging the car I would try to find someone who has done this before. I also spoke a independent Volvo specialist. He prefers to carefully pry the rear panel off and replace any broken clips rather than drill holes in a customer’s car. This knowledgeable technician has run into this before and found this to be the best solution to this otherwise poor design.

Q. My 1997 Saab 9000 has only 109,000 miles on it. Very recently, its seven year old battery went dead. AAA came and jump started the car. The battery was dead but the charging system was working fine. It was suggested that I replace the battery. I had a new NAPA battery installed. Within 48 hours of installing this new battery, it went dead. Please note that the dashboard lights have been flickering on and off. I would appreciate your thoughts on resolving this problem.

A. I would start with a complete check of the charging system. This test should also include a performance test of your new battery. If the charging system and battery test okay, then the system needs to be checked for a parasitic drain. The term parasitic battery draw refers to the electrical devices that continue to draw excessive current from the battery when the ignition key is in the ignition is switched off. There are any number of items in this car that could cause this type of drain. One possibility is the ignition switch. As the switch wears it may not fully shut off, the worn ignition could also be the source of the flickering dashboard lights.

Q. I own a 2011 Lexus RX 350 with 37, 000 miles on it. Last year I was rear-ended to the tune of $2000 in damages, and a month ago I hit a deer, sustaining $10,000 worth of damage. I just got the car back and it looks brand new. I am, however, wondering if I should trade it in or keep it.

A. Currently used cars are enjoying premium prices due to tight inventories. But with still high gas prices, your Lexus SUV might not appeal to every buyer. In addition, the mileage is a bit high for such a new car, which will certainly impact your trade in price. If you are happy with the car and the quality of the repair, I would be tempted to keep the car and enjoy it.

Q. I have a 2004 Chrysler Town and Country Touring Edition with AWD. We have had the airbag sensor light come on periodically. After about 12 months, it is on again. This is the fourth time. Each time the dealer has replaced the "clock-spring.” With the exception of one time when the car was under warranty, we have paid for this repair. Is it normal for this part to wear out so quickly? Is it a defect in design? Is there anything else to check or do?

A. This is a common failure, although four replacements in eight years is certainly abnormal. Earlier models had a recall to replace the clock-spring, and in some cases offered customers a lifetime warranty. At this point, I would call Chrysler customer assistance to get their input on this problem. The phone number is 1-800-853-1403.

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