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The Car Doctor

Best ad rep car, Neon trunk leak, surging Malibu

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
April 17, 2008

Q. What is the best, most economical car for an advertising sales representative who will be covering Boston and the North Shore?

A. Two cars quickly come to mind. The Honda Fit is small, economical, maneuverable and easy to park. Honda just introduced the latest version of the Fit at the New York Auto Show and it look better than the original. The Toyota Prius, with its hybrid drive train, will be very economical in stop-and-go traffic and offers near mid-sized car interior space. Although diesel fuel is currently more expensive than gasoline latter this year we may see a new crop of high mileage clean diesels available for sale in Massachusetts.

Q. I am interested in buying a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee which has 35,400 miles on it. This happens to be in the price range I can afford. What are your thoughts on this model? I would greatly appreciate your opinion on whether this is a mechanically sound year for this model Jeep and is there anything in your experience that I should take into consideration before I purchase it?

A. Like almost any vehicle much of what will happen with the vehicle is dependant on how it was treated when it was new. The engines have generally been quite reliable. The transmissions on the other hand have had their share of problems. Other areas to look at are problems with the suspension system and the heating and air conditioning. Prior to purchasing the vehicle, have it inspected by a quality repair shop.

Q. My 1994 Toyota Corolla has 202,000 miles on it. Recently I drove with two other people who have the same exact car and theirs seems much more powerful and gets better fuel economy. I heard I can do something with the ignition system that will help give the car more pickup. What can I do to help this problem?

A. Your 13-year-old Toyota may just be suffering from old age. It is entirely possible that the engine compression has suffered over the years and just can't make the power it once did. Additionally there are several other possibilities. The catalytic converter/exhaust could be partially blocked or the timing could be out of adjustment

Q. I have a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee that vents the heater and air conditioning through the defroster duct only. What is wrong?

A. The heater-duct system in your Jeep is controlled by a system of vacuum doors.

It is possible that one of the door motors has failed. The system could have developed a vacuum leak or the control switch is faulty. For safety purposes, with most vehicles the heater will default to the defroster position if there is a problem.

Q. My 2000 Chevrolet Malibu with a 3.1 V-6 engine is surging at 35 to 55 miles an hour. I have had the car tuned up and the transmission serviced but it didn't help. Do you have any ideas?

A. Have the repair shop check the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve. If the valve is opening early it will cause a surge at these speeds. The other possibility is the torque-converter clutch. If the torque-converter clutch is locking and unlocking this would also cause the surge.

Q. My Dodge Neon has a water leak in the trunk. I have checked the seal and the window. What should I do before the trunk rusts out?

A. One area to look is the rear tail light assembly. If the seals around the fasteners that hold the light assembly in place are cracked, water can leak into the trunk. Using a garden hose flood only the light assembly with water and see if the trunk gets wet. If it does you have found your problem.

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