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The Car Doctor

Gas additives, aftermarket parts, bad clutch

By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
June 19, 2008

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Q. I am wondering about a gas-improving additive that I see advertised in many places on the Internet including boston.com. I drive a vehicle with a V-8 engine that doesn't get very good mileage. Do you know anything about this product?

A. I am not familiar with this particular product, but it has been my experience that if it is too good to be true, it is. As a side note I contacted the company in question and asked them to send me some samples to try out. I explained that if this product worked as advertised it would appear here. They declined.

Q. My daughter has a 2006 Passat Value Edition 2.0 Sedan that has just over 20,000 miles, and the clutch needs to be replaced at a cost of $1,300. I did see a recall about the car. The dealer says she abused the clutch and this is why it wore out. She has always driven a shift and says she didn't cause the problem. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

A. There has been a recall about this car, but none that has to do with the clutch. At this point have the dealer perform the repair. Once the repair is completed, have the parts inspected by a Volkswagen representative. They should be able to tell if the clutch wore out due to a defect or abuse. Although with just 20,000 miles, I'm surprised Volkswagen didn't offer some customer "goodwill" to help with the cost of the repair.

Q. I was wondering what the cost of gasoline has to be for alternative fuels - specifically hydrogen - to be cost effective? I haven't seen any articles that say if gas is X amount per gallon, then hydrogen is a viable alternative. Do you have any ideas?

A. In my opinion it is not the cost of gasoline that makes alternative fuels attractive. It is more the cost of production verses the end-cost or profit. Currently, most energy experts agree that it takes more energy to make hydrogen than the energy you get in return. I believe hydrogen is a great alternative fuel, but until we find a method to produce hydrogen as efficiently as gasoline, I think we will continue to wait.

Q. My Blazer wouldn't start last weekend, and the AAA guy pounded on the gas tank while I started it. He told me I was more than likely going to need a fuel pump. I was very appreciative that he tried this trick rather than just towing the truck. I priced out the part from the dealer and they were talking just under $600. I also priced an aftermarket part and I can buy the same part for $300. At half the cost, are aftermarket parts as good as GM Delco parts?

A. In some cases, aftermarket parts are poor copies of the original. My suggestion when using aftermarket parts is to use a name brand such as Carter, Airtex or NAPA. As long as the aftermarket brand meets the original equipment specifications, it should perform just fine.

Q. I have a 2003 Grand Caravan. The lights on the instrument panel and dash do not light. I replaced the dimmer switch, but it still does not work. Any suggestions?

A. Your Caravan, like many vehicles, has computers imbedded into almost every circuit. This includes something as simple as the dash lights. If the dimmer switch was faulty, and there was a fault code stored in the body-control computer, the light won't work until the code is cleared and the computer reset.