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THE CAR DOCTOR

Best all-wheel drive sedans for winter

Plus: Upgrading to premium audio, fuel pump failure

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / December 11, 2008

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Q. I will be in the market for a relatively new used car in a year or two, and since I live in New England, I was looking at all-wheel drive options for luxury/near-luxury sedans to deal with the snow. I have my eye on the Infiniti G37x sedans for 2009, but what do you think are the best all-wheel drive options for this class of automobile? Am I misguided in limiting my options to all-wheel drive (I really like the Hyundai Genesis)? Can a rear-wheel drive perform as good a all-wheel drive in snowy/wintry weather?

A. Rear-wheel drive vehicles equipped with snow tires will perform quite well, although in my experience not as well as all-wheel-drive. I have driven both Infiniti G and M models with all-wheel drive and found them to be very capable and stable. You might also take a look at the Acura RL and TL. Both use Honda/Acura's SH-AWD (super handling all-wheel drive) system that does remarkably well in poor weather conditions.

Q. Is it worth an extra $1,200 to upgrade a Nissan Altima's sound system to the Bose? I currently have it in the car I am trading in and with the sunroof and other hard surfaces, I don't know if I am kidding myself when I think I can appreciate the difference. I am hardly an audiophile; what do you think?

A. As someone who considers himself tone deaf, I never thought I could appreciate the difference between high quality systems such as those from Bose, Infinity, or Mark Levinson. But a funny thing happened listening to a CD one day; I did notice the difference! Bose, and I'm sure other audio manufacturers, look at car sound systems as much easier to design than one in a home.

Nothing in the car changes – other than the number of passengers. At home you buy a sound system and then try to figure out where to place the speakers. Since each house is different, home audio systems become a compromise. Bose designs around the car with the idea of finding the best speaker placement and knowing you can't move them. In my opinion, if you love music and have the extra money, spend the $1,200.

Q. I have a 1990 Toyota pickup. There is water in the oil and oil in the radiator. Based on your experience, would this be caused by a blown head gasket, cracked head, or cracked block? Is there a way to tell? What do you think about "stop-leak" products for head gaskets, cylinder-heads and engine-blocks?

A. When you see water in the oil, it could be a faulty head-gasket, cracked cylinder head, or cracked block. The most common problem with the Toyota 22R engine would be a leaking head-gasket, although the only true way to tell is to pull off the head and have it tested. As for stop-leak products, in general they tend to overpromise and perform less than adequate.

Q. I have a 2005 Honda CR-V with 39,000 miles. Recently there is a rattling in the rear of the car when I emerge from a parking spot. This only happens when driving under 5 m.p.h. when turning the steering wheel. I had the differential and rear brakes checked and everything looks fine. Any ideas?

A. The most common problem is related to the rear differential fluid. Try changing the rear differential fluid to Honda's dual-pump fluid. This usually solves the noise problem.

Q. My Dodge Ram 1500 with a six-cylinder engine won't start. This began right after it ran out of gas. I filled the tank, drove the truck for a while, and found it wouldn't restart. I don't hear the fuel pump and there isn't any fuel smell. I wanted to change the fuel filter but couldn't find it. Where is the fuel filter and do you think the pump is bad?

A. You should hear the pump coming on, even for a second or two. It is possible the filter is clogged, but here is the problem: The filter is part of the fuel pump module. This makes for an expensive repair since you need to remove the fuel tank. Before I would pull the tank down, I would want to make sure the pump is getting power.

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