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The Car Doctor

Storing your car, carburetor specialists, intermittent starts

By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
June 5, 2008

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Q. My son is being deployed to the Middle East for up to a year, and I will be storing his car. What do I need to do to keep it in good condition while he is gone?

A. The best thing you can do is actually drive the car once a month for about 30 to 45 minutes. Lack of use is in some cases worse for a car than abusing it. If this isn't possible, the following will help. Change the oil and filter. When this service is being performed let the garage know the car will be sitting, and ask the technician to lubricate any rubber bushings with silicone spray. At the same time, lubricate any cables, locks and hinges. Top off all other fluids, including the engine coolant. The coolant should be clean and have the ability to protect the engine to at least 30 degrees below zero. Tire pressure should be checked. Fill the gas tank and add a gas stabilizer: StaBil is one brand. And buy a battery charger that will maintain the battery: Battery Tender and Battery Minder are two choices. These chargers stay plugged in all the time to maintain the battery's overall condition. If this isn't possible, remove the battery, store it out of the weather, and periodically recharge it. Wash and wax the car and consider a car cover - even if it's indoors. On hot days, open the windows slightly to let the car breathe. Put in moisture absorbent packs to eliminate dampness. Finally, if you have critters around, seal up the tail pipe and air intake (aluminum foil or steel wool works well) to prevent nesting. When you son comes home and is ready to drive his car, start it and let it warm up completely. Shift the car through all the gears to exercise the transmission. Take the car for a ride, and drive it as if it were brand new - nice and easy. Have the oil changed again, and perform the normal safety and maintenance checks.

Q. I am having trouble finding a garage around the Medford area that will be able to service my 1965 Falcon convertible. It's in nice shape but it has a manifold or carburetor problem that has stymied the two shops that have looked at it. Do you have any ideas?

A. Carburetor specialists have gone the way of buggy whips. One place to try is a marina. Many boats still use carburetors and the technicians are usually quite good at getting them squared away. Readers, if you have a suggestion for a carburetor specialist in the Boston area, email me at jpaul@aaasne.com.

Q. My mother has a 2000 Nissan Maxima with about 52,000 miles on it. The car often stalls on her and won't restart, and the "check engine" light comes on. She brought it to a Nissan dealership where they put the car on the computer to test it. According to the dealer, the computer read two problems, but couldn't decipher between the two. They told me it was either a $600 part or a part covered under warranty. Since I refused to let my mother pay for a $600 part on a "maybe," Nissan did what they call an "Idle Relearn." The car ran OK until today. When my mother was at the gas station, it stalled again and wouldn't restart. I came to get her, and while we were waiting I started the car. It ran for about five minutes, and then stalled and wouldn't start. It had been sitting for about 10 minutes when AAA came. They were able to start it right up and drive it to the tow truck. Can you help me figure out what's going on? My mother is 84 and I don't want her getting stuck in her car.

A. Intermittent starting and stalling problems can be the most difficult to diagnose. I would return to a qualified repair shop and have them check the computer for codes once again. One possible problem that may have been overlooked is that your Maxima uses a special anti-theft ignition key and switch. Many times this system will act up, and cause a very similar problem to the one your mother's car is having.

Q. My 2005 Buick is a good car, but has a problem. When I am driving at night with the lights on, to the left bottom side of the speedometer there are blue and green blurbs of light that bounce around in the panel next to the speedometer. I know it's not my eyes - only this car has the problem. I have left it with the dealer for several days and they claim there is no problem. It is like I have dancing bugs in the dash, what is your opinion?

A. I would ask the dealer if you can road test the same type of car at night. If the lights are not present, then the light and reflections are a problem with your car. If the lights are present in a different car then it is a characteristic and most likely can't be repaired.

Q. I have seen the Kia Sedona minivan, and really like it. It seems to have all the features I have been looking for in a van at several thousand dollars cheaper than the competition. Add in the great warranty and it seems like a no-brainer. What do you think of this van, and Kia in general?

A. Overall Kia vehicles have been holding up pretty well. Recently I drove the Sedona and found that it rode well, had decent fuel economy and plenty of seating flexibility. My one concern is that recently - at least in my area - many Kia dealers have been closing. Having a vehicle with a great warranty and no place to bring it is certainly a problem.