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THE CAR DOCTOR

Best convertible for a big budget? Boston auto show has it

Plus: Nitrogen-filled tires, Jaguar XF

By John Paul
Boston.com Correspondent / December 4, 2008

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Q. I am considering buying a new car. I love convertibles but an absolute requirement is a decent amount of trunk space and a back seat. I don't want to say "money is no object," but I'm not on a budget either. Is there something you can recommend?

A. Certainly a couple of cars you should look at are the Volvo C70 and the Mercedes-Benz CLK. Both offer a solid ride, classic style and prestigious names. Infiniti has just shown the G37 hardtop convertible at the Los Angeles Auto-Show and it looks quite nice. Since you are not quite sure what you want, perhaps the best place to start looking is the Boston auto show. The show is at Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, running through December 7.

Q. I own a new car with a built-in tire pressure monitor system. Recently I sent my son to the gas station to get air in the tires. When he came back the warning light was on the dash indicating a tire pressure problem. I looked at the valve stems and one of them was bent. What happened and is this expensive to correct?

A. In the last few years, many cars use tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). These systems use a radio transmitter mounted on the wheels. As good as on-board tire pressure monitoring is, the sensors can be easily damaged. If your son used a long-handled air nozzle, it is very easy to bend the valve stem. The other way to ruin these systems is using an aerosol flat repair product. The sensor can easily cost $65 for the part and installation.

Q. I was recently at a local dealership getting some warranty work done and they recommended replacing the air in my tires with nitrogen. To me this sounds like a scam to take my money. The dealership wanted $50 for this, what do you think?

A. For more than 100 years we have been filling tires with air. Air contains 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. The benefits of pure nitrogen are that there is almost no moisture and the molecules are bigger than oxygen molecules. Due to these fat molecules, tires will tend to hold their pressure longer. An additional benefit is that unlike conventional air, which varies with temperature, pure nitrogen is less affected by temperature changes. Would I spend $50 for nitrogen? No, but then again, I'm cheap.

Q. I have a 10 year old Jeep Cherokee that from time to time won't start. This seems to happen more frequently in cold weather than hot. The "check engine" light hasn't come on, what should I look at first?

A. The first place to look is at the crankshaft sensor. Over time these sensors will fail to work and although they won't always set a fault code, they will cause an intermittent no-start condition.

Q. I know you drive many different cars and I'm looking for a luxury car. What do you think of the Jaguar XF?

A. I will admit in years past I was never a Jaguar fan, but in recent years that has changed. Recently I spent a week in the supercharged version of the XF. The interior was luxurious; the body styling was attractive but classically subtle. The front seats were comfortable although six footers will find the rear seating a little tight. The supercharged engine was silky smooth with an abundance of power. The handling was great and the ride firm without being too stiff. My only real complaint was with the integrated climate control, navigation and sound system. I found this design was far too distracting to use while driving.

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