John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England and the "Car Doctor" columnist for The Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and AAA Horizons. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950.
Q. Iím 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.FULL ENTRY
Q. Three years ago, my 2004 Hyundai XG350 was recalled due to sub frame rotting. The dealer drilled holes in the frame and applied an anticorrosive, according to manufacturer's guidelines. Last week, the car started pulling to the right and sliding across the road when I hit small bumps. I thought it needed an alignment, but when it got on the lift, turns out the entire sub frame had rotted from the inside out. The dealer is replacing sub frame at his cost, but I am worried about the stability of the fix, whether or not the car will be right once it is repaired. What would you do?FULL ENTRY
Q. I just read about the latest Hyundai Azera in one of the buff-books and it looked pretty good. Have you driven it and what is your take on this car? At one time it seemed people purchased a Hyundai because of price and warranty, are they truly good cars?FULL ENTRY
Q. I own a 2012 Hyundai Sonata that I plan on owning for a long time. Itís my familyís second vehicle so Iíll put around 7500 miles a year on it. Since the manufacturer recommends a 3750 mile interval between oil changes in severe conditions (such as a lot of short distance driving, which I do), thatís about 2 oil changes per year. Do you think that under those circumstances synthetic oil would make sense for me? I believe in the benefits of synthetic, but Iím not sure it makes sense because of the added cost. If you think synthetic would make sense, which brand is best? Iíve heard that Royal Purple can help increase fuel efficiency. By the way, I enjoy reading your advice columns.FULL ENTRY
Q. I just purchased a 2011 Chevy HHR that is a flex fuel car. The E85 gasoline looks tempting since it is 30 cents lower than regular gasoline. What are the positives and negatives of this (E15 and E 85) fuel?FULL ENTRY
Q. I have a 2003 Chevrolet Impala with 112,000 miles on it. The dealer advises it will soon need a steering rack with an estimated cost over $2,000 for this. Itís also possible that the power steering pump is shot. The car is in otherwise excellent condition, has been maintained ďby the bookĒ and never abused. It runs extremely well. Do you feel this type of repair is worth it for an older car? I am leaning toward repairing, just because the car is paid for and I enjoy having no car payments. I have friends with the same model who have easily driven 200K miles. What do you think?FULL ENTRY
Q. Here is my problem, I have a 2003 Honda Civic hybrid and I have been told the car needs its hybrid battery replaced. I have been told there is no answer except a $4,300 purchase of a new battery and computer. The Honda dealership says there is no repair, only replacement of the battery. My question is with the overall emerging hybrid market if someone is not finding a niche in repairing these batteries. The problem is the car runs fine but needs to be inspected in April. I am told that the car will not pass inspection with either the check or the IMA light on. Is there any hope or solution other than spending $4300.00?FULL ENTRY
Q. I've owned a 1966 Corvette for over 30 years. Although I don't drive it a lot, I always started the engine and drove it for a couple of miles at least once every two months. This past year, however, I got involved in a project and the car has sat for nearly the entire year without any activity. I'm concerned about starting the engine as the gas is old and there has been no circulation of the oil though the engine. I don't want to damage the engine when I attempt to start it, is there something I should do before starting the engine?FULL ENTRY
Q. You had a recent article about someone that had a problem with water leaking in the car soaking the rugs. I am having a similar issue with my 2002 Lincoln Town Car. The water is coming in from under the dash board on the passenger side of the car. I just had the windshield replace because someone said it was probably that, turns out it wasn't. Could you please give me any advice you have on this problem, my mechanic is baffled.FULL ENTRY
Q. My car was running terribly so I brought it to the dealership and was told that problem was caused by the air intake plugged with pollen. They cleaned it out and now the car runs fine. Can this be true or did they just find something simple like a hose that fell off but wanted more money for the repair?FULL ENTRY
Q. I have a 2003 Porsche Carrera with original wheels. The rear tire size is 285/30ZR -18. My question is, can I put 295/35ZR-18 tires and will it affect the accuracy of the speedometer?FULL ENTRY
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 itFULL ENTRY
Q. I recently purchased a 2011 Ford Fusion and received a remote starter for Christmas. I asked the Ford dealer about installing it and they told me that I needed to have a ford system installed or I would void the warranty. Is this true?
Q. My 2007 Camry has 115,000 miles on it. When I brought it in for transmission fluid change at 100,000 miles per the owner's manual, the service tech at my dealership told me it wasn't necessary. The technician told me that the transmission fluid was good forever. What do you think?FULL ENTRY
Q. I recently wanted to check the air pressure of the tires on my car after hearing you talk about how important it is on your radio program. I noticed that one of the valve stems was bent and the air gauge wouldnít read any pressure. I went to a local tire store to inquire about having the valve stem replaced and was told that it would cost about $75. The last tire valve I had replaced cost $5. Is this possible?FULL ENTRY
Q. I remember reading about a solution for static electric shocks that happen this time of year when you get in or out of your car. The problem is, I donít remember how to fix the problem. Can you answer this question again?FULL ENTRY
Q. I purchased an Acura in December 2003 and it has only 57,000 miles on it. At my last service visit to the dealership it was recommended that changing the timing belt would be advisable due to age not mileage. The manual recommends the belt change at 105,000 miles, what do you think of this recommendation and what would the Car Doctor do?FULL ENTRY
Q. I own a 2008 Camry, this past summer the drain hose from the moon-roof and air conditioner condenser both clogged up with debris. Needless to say the water backed up into the car and on the rear floor causing puddles of water. Of course I never noticed the water due to it hiding under the rear mats. It took me over two months to find out where the ďmold smellĒ was coming from. The dealer charged me 300.00 to clear out the hoses and was told this is a scheduled maintenance item that should be done every two years. Well the moldy smell continues and the dealer now wants $3500.00 to replace the carpet and the pad to rid it of mold. Have you ever heard of this situation and have any thoughts to rid the car of mold. Never again will I buy a Camry or any Toyota product after this mess.FULL ENTRY
Q. I purchased a Nissan 350Z and when I received the title I noticed it was a salvage title. I would have never purchased this car if I knew it was a totaled/stolen car. My problem is the check engine light keeps coming on. I have had the EGR valve cleaned and then replaced and the engine de-carbonized twice, but the light still comes on. Now the mechanic decided the computer is a problem, giving false information and turning the light on. He feels that eventually the light will go off since all the problems are repaired. The car runs okay; can you give me additional advice?FULL ENTRY
Q. I recently had to replace a radiator hose on my car. The hose clamps were nearly impossible to reach. What should have taken an hour to replace a leaky hose took just about three hours. I always have done my own maintenance work, but these clamps and the accessibility of the hose certainly have taken the fun out of working on my car. Any suggestions?FULL ENTRY
Q. My wife has a 2005 Prius, until 2008, she got 50+ mpg. Then we moved to Ohio and her mpg dropped to 40 miles per gallon. This year we moved back to Massachusetts the Prius mpg jumped back up to 50 miles per gallon. My 2009 Toyota Sienna has been getting about 22mpg both places. Her driving habits have not changed significantly. What could be causing the difference in her car, but not in mine?FULL ENTRY
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 todayís 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.FULL ENTRY
Q. I own a 2010 Mini Cooper S convertible. It is equipped with a digital speedometer along with a very large analog speed display. I noticed through using my GPS that the speedometer reads 3 MPH greater that the actual speed of the vehicle. I contacted my Mini dealer about this problem. He told me that the speedometer error is within BMW specification. He said the error is due to different wheel size options for this model. I think that this error must affect my onboard computers, mpg readings, trip computers, service notices etc.? Won't my odometer read much higher miles over time effecting resale value?
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Q. I own a 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis with about 115,000 miles. For about the last six months the headlights have been going out when I'm driving. Lately it has increased in frequency. I have checked all the fuses and the headlight switch seems to be functioning. When the headlights go out, the other lights remain on. Would this indicate a short or some other problem?A. The most common problem is the lighting control module. Just to warn you, the part is $500 plus installation. FULL ENTRY
Q. I have a 2010 Subaru Legacy and it has a vibration at highway speeds. The dealer has balanced the tires, but the vibration continues. What could be wrong?A. Subaru has had a few problems with vibration concerns. Some of the issues can be corrected with tire balancing, if performed correctly. The second repair involves replacing some suspension bushings. The bushing replacement should be covered under the basic warranty. FULL ENTRY
Q. I'm the original owner of a 2004 Ford F-150 four-wheel drive truck. Late in 2010 with 70,000 miles I started to get this winning noise from the drive train. I thought it was a universal joint but they checked out fine as did the wheel bearings. I went to YouTube and found other owners with the same problem. Some had brought their trucks to dealers and replaced this and that but didn't seem to fix the problem. Any inside advice on what it might be?
A. The first thing you need to do is determine where the noise is coming from. This model has had two distinct problems. The first is a problem internal to the transmission or if you are lucky a clogged transmission filter may be the problem. The second is with a noisy rear differential. Once you can determine where the noise is coming from then you can determine what needs to be repaired. In just about any case it will be expensive.FULL ENTRY
Q. In Massachusetts, I have heard many commercials on the radio about ďRight to RepairĒ legislation. I have heard some shops say it is needed, others say it isnít necessary, and one commercial that said this information would increase car theft. What is your take on this?
A. AAA supports the Right to Repair legislation both locally and nationally. It is our opinion that this legislation will continue to provide consumers with a choice of where to get their car repaired. In addition to protecting the vehicle manufacturers, the legislation prohibits the release of trade secrets. As for increasing the possibility of car theft, letís face it. If someone wants your car badly enough, they will pick it up and tow it away. Finally, itís your car. Shouldnít you have the right to choose who can repair it?FULL ENTRY
Q. What do you think of the new Chevrolet Camaro convertible? I saw one on the road the other day and was impressed. By the way, have you driven my all-time favorite car, the Nissan GT-R?
A. I recently
drove the Camaro and the convertible version does away with all the blind spots
that I found with the hard top. The Camaro coupe, as stylish as it is, has
terrible sight lines and difficult blind spots. With the top down, the Camaro
is a true pleasure to drive. Unlike some cars that become convertibles, which
can suffer from shake and shimmy, this convertible still handles well. Add in
the SS trim with the V-8 engine and this is a modern day muscle car.
Regarding the GT-R, it looks interesting, but I have no idea about its capabilities. Since the car debuted in 2008, Nissan has never sent one to the press fleet here in New England.FULL ENTRY
Q. I just finished reading
your column about recycled motor oil. Iím a shade tree mechanic, and Iíve never
considered using anything other than new lubes in my cars. You indicated that
you use synthetic oil in your cars. When I first changed the oil in my Miata, I
put in Pennzoil synthetic 5W-20. Iíve heard many opinions as to how many miles I
should go between changes. One mechanic said that ďmotor oil is motor oil and
should be changed after no more than 3,000 miles, even if itís synthetic.Ē I
decided that was too often and change oil and filter after 5,000 miles. Is this
too often with synthetic oil?
A. Both cars in my family have recommended oil change intervals of 7,500 miles, and I try to never exceed this mileage even when using synthetic oil. I continue to check the oil every 1,000 miles, and change it every 7,500 miles. Regarding recycled oil, I have never used it, at least not yet. The concept of recycled oil is not new; the military has been using it for years. Recently, Valvoline introduced 50 percent recycled oil that meets and exceeds all industry standards. If this proves to be a success, Iím sure other oil companies will follow.FULL ENTRY
Q. Iím looking at purchasing a 2002 Toyota Prius with only
50,000 miles on it. I know the owners
and I know they seldom used it. I do not
know what their maintenance practices were.
I understand what time alone can do to a car; my concern is with the hybrid
battery. Are you aware of what condition
the battery might be in considering its age and infrequent use? I know battery replacement for a Toyota Prius at a
dealership is costly.
A. The typical life of a hybrid car battery is about 10 years, and many last nearly the life of the car. Just like a cordless tool, as long as the hybrid battery is not abused and the charging system operates properly the battery should have a few more years left in it. Toyota in the last few years reduced the price of its replacement battery pack and there are several sites on the internet that offer low cost solutions to replacing the battery in a Prius. With the recent jump in gas prices, this used Prius may be a good choice.FULL ENTRY
Q. If my 2003 Ford Taurus sits for three or four days, it wonít start. If I get a jump start, it fires right up. My battery and starter were fine and everything else tested okay. Could it be a sensor or fuel pump?
A. If the car starts with a jump and the battery is fully charged, I would look for an electrical problem. On some Ford vehicles the battery ground cable has been known to cause intermittent no-start problems. A technician with a volt meter will perform a "voltage-dropĒ test to determine the cause of your carís intermittent no-start problem.FULL ENTRY
Q. I have a 2000 Mitsubishi Montero with a six-cylinder
engine and automatic transmission. A few months ago the vehicle would start to
buck when going up a hill. From previous experience, this usually
indicated the spark plugs needed to be replaced. My mechanic replaced the plugs,
but the bucking continued. His next solution was to flush the transmission and
replace the fluid. After changing the
transmission fluid the problem seems to be resolved. Could you
explain how dirty transmission fluid would cause this type of problem?
A. Nearly every automatic transmission has a lock-up torque converter (fluid coupling). The torque converter will lock up at speeds of about 15-40 miles per hour. As the torque converter begins to fail, or the transmission fluid breaks down, the fluid will tend to overheat. Replacing the fluid replenishes the various friction modifiers and restores normal transmission operation. Depending on the condition of the transmission, this may only be a temporary repair.FULL ENTRY
Q. As cars and engine sizes seem to be getting smaller, trailer towing capacities would seem likely to suffer. Yet, when driving in France a decade ago I was struck by the size of the RVs being pulled by relatively small cars. I see the same phenomena watching the Tour de France on TV, looking at the RVs that spectators have gotten up to the mountain stage areas. Are all of these Frenchmen grossly ignoring manufacturers' trailer recommendations?†
A. Tow limits are set by the specific vehicle manufacturer, but it is not just the tow rating that a driver should be aware of. The second number is the gross combination weight rating. This takes into account both the vehicle being towed as well as the tow vehicle. Most vehicle manufacturers calculate this rating by adding the vehicle weight, passenger weight, cargo capacity, and the trailer weight. The towing ability of a vehicle is determined not just by engine power, but suspension, vehicle structure, and braking ability. A vehicle with a powerful engine towing a heavy trailer would be extremely dangerous if the vehicle's brakes were insufficient to stop the combined weight of the trailer and vehicle. Regarding the French towing oversized vehicles with small cars, perhaps it is their "que sera sera" attitude?FULL ENTRY
Q. I have noticed that many cars on the road have their headlights out. This is a safety problem since you donít know if this is a motorcycle or something else coming toward you. Why is this?
A. You are correct that driving with only one headlight is a safety problem and actually a "ticket-able" offense in many states. Years ago I was involved in a car care survey and we found that one of every five cars on the road had a lighting issue. The average life of a headlight is about five years. As the fleet of vehicles on the road gets older, it is not unusual to see more lights out. A good driver should periodically check all the lights in their car. If you notice a bulb is out, replace it with a good-quality part. There are many inferior-quality bulbs available today that cost less but have a short life and provide poor lighting.FULL ENTRY
Q. I'd appreciate your comment on the value, if any, of providing extra winter stability for a front-wheel-drive car by placing weight in the trunk over the rear wheels. My wife likes to have concrete blocks at each side of the trunk of her 2007 Honda Civic because she says the extra weight makes the car feel safer in slippery conditions. A neighbor recently told her that because the car has front-wheel drive the blocks don't help. What's your opinion on this?
A. Adding weight to the rear of a front wheel drive car only diminishes traction to the front drive wheels. In addition the cement block could be a safety hazard in a crash. The best way to improve traction with any car in the winter is to use four winter tires.FULL ENTRY
John Paul, AAA's public affairs and traffic safety manager (a.k.a. the Car Doctor) joins Boston.com today at noon to answer any buying or repair questions you have before the big Presidents' Day sales weekend.
(David Ryan/Globe Staff).
(David Ryan/Globe Staff).
Q. I see a lot of people leaving their windshield wipers pulled up and away from the window in parking lots during snowy and icy weather.† I was always told not to do this.† What is the right answer?†
A. Putting the wipers up and away from the windshield certainly makes it easier to clean the windshield if it snows. It also eliminates the chance of the wipers freezing to the windshield. My concern is that by doing this you are putting stress on the spring that holds the wiper arm against the windshield. I donít do it on my car.FULL ENTRY
Reader feedback: Regarding the question and my answer concerning windshield wiper chatter yielded positive results for many readers. The repair involved cleaning the windshield, the wipers and adjusting the wiper blade to windshield angle. †
Q. Can you tell me the different between four-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive? I sometimes see the terms used interchangeably, but I suspect they are different types of systems. With the snow we have received so far this year I think it is time to buy a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
A. There are actually several types of drive systems but essentially they all describe when engine power is transmitted to the four wheels. Many all-wheel-drive units power either the front or rear wheels most of the time. When those wheels start to slip, engine power is transmitted to the other axle. In traditional four-wheel-drive, the front and rear axles are locked together using a shift lever, button, or switch. These systems are designed for slippery roads or off-road use.
Permanent all-wheel-drive is a 50/50 split of torque between the front and rear wheels. In addition, there are variations of these systems that use a combination of electronic, traction, and brake control systems to improve traction and handling. Keep in mind that while all-wheel-drive will improve traction, it will do little to improve stopping. Many times over the winter I see the driver of an all-wheel-drive vehicle driving too fast for the road conditions only to lose control and get into a crash.†FULL ENTRY
Q. I have a 2007 Honda CR-V with XM radio and a radar detector hard-wired into a spare slot in the fuse box.† Once in a while the radar detector triggers with a laser alert and/or the XM radio jumps to a different channel.† This has happened when I used the rear window washer or when the horn is blown.† What could cause such a strange thing and what should I do to stop it?† It is impossible to replicate since it doesn't happen often.
A. There are at least two technical service bulletins specific to issues with the XM receiver that may be worth looking at. Although the first thing I would do is move the power supply for the radar detector to a different location. In addition, you might want to check the Escort web site. Readers, any suggestions?FULL ENTRY
(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)
(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)
Q. I have an odd question for you. Twice in the last week I have seen two vehicles that look like a cross between a motorcycle and an oversized go-kart. This wasn't a microcar from the 1950s, it was modern-looking. I wasn't able to stop and ask the driver in either case. It was very cool looking. Any ideas?A. There have been a few cars that match your description. If it looked like a fuselage of a fighter-jet it was a Pulse (no longer made). If it was open on the sides it was most likely a T-Rex. The T-Rex is built in Canada and is classified as a motorcycle and you need to wear a helmet to drive it. The T-Rex is very fast, but not cheap. You will need about $50,000 to own one. FULL ENTRY
About Boston Overdrive
|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
|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