THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
THE CAR DOCTOR

Hey, I'm not really braking!

Plus: Flushing out crankcase, benefits of leasing

By John Paul
Boston.com Correspondent / October 30, 2008

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Q. My brake light turns on sometimes even though the parking brake is released. I removed the wheels and inspected the brakes to find they are in decent condition. Before I have it looked at by the dealer, I wanted to ask your opinion.

A. The first place to look is the level of the brake fluid. Almost every car has a sensor to monitor the brake fluid level. As the brakes wear, the fluid level will go down. Driving quickly around corners or hard braking or acceleration can just be enough to cause the brake light to illuminate.

Q. My 1997 Hyundai Accent wouldn't start. I had someone jump-start it and it was fine for a couple of days, but the problem reoccurred. I took it in for service and was told that the starter needed to be replaced. When I came to pick up the car after it received the new starter, I was informed that the battery was weak and would need replacing soon. After a few days it wouldn't start again. Is it possible the starter and the battery failed together, or was I was taken advantage of in this case?

A. The general procedure to diagnose a "no-start" is to test the battery first, then the starter, and finally the charging system. Replacing the starter without evaluating the battery could lead to a misdiagnosis of the starter motor.

Q. I have to add water to the overflow tank on my 1999 Chevy Malibu every other day. I replaced the water pump, flushed the radiator and had the intake manifold gaskets replaced. Why should I need to add water to the radiator overflow so frequently? There doesn't appear to be anything leaking, where is the water going?

A. It is possible that a cylinder-head gasket has started to leak. These are usually internal leaks that the coolant burns as part of combustion. Using an exhaust gas analyzer, a technician will look for a hydrocarbon reading in the radiator. If the reading is more than 10 parts per million, it is likely that a cylinder head gasket is leaking.

Q. I was at a Volvo dealership recently and they recommended that I have the engine flushed and a fuel injector service (they said there was build-up around the fuel injector nozzle). The car is a 1996 850 with 89,000 miles and runs well. I owned another car even older than this one and this type of service was never recommended. Is it really needed?

A. Flushing out the crankcase of the engine is a service that most vehicle manufacturers don't recommend. Regarding the fuel injection, it is possible that there is some carbon build-up and performing a fuel injector service can help. To answer your question of whether or not it's a necessity, in my opinion if the car is running smoothly, I wouldn't spend the money.

Q. I drive about 10,000 miles a year (mostly to commute to work). It's time for a new car. Given the mileage I drive, I get confused about purchasing versus leasing. Is leasing a good or better option for low-mileage drivers?

A. You may be one of the best candidates for leasing. Generally leasing is best suited to motorists who drive between 10,000 to 12,000 miles per year, but you still need to do your homework. Most leases have a penalty or fee per mile driven over the contractual amount. As I see it, the major advantage of leasing is the lack of a down payment (or a low down payment), as well as lower monthly payments. Keep in mind that your homework isn't complete until you look at the overall ownership costs of both buying and leasing. Most importantly look at the fine print of any contract.

John Paul is the public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. He can be reached at jpaul@aaasne.com.