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THE CAR DOCTOR

Gifts for new drivers

Plus: Tire chains, hesitant shifting

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / December 18, 2008

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Q. My son just got a new (used) car. Is there one item that you think would be good for a new driver? I was thinking a GPS system.

A. A GPS is certainly a handy item for the directionally impaired (Check out our review of 9 top GPS units). One gift you might want to consider is a trip to an advanced driving school. Among the skills these four-hour classes teach are crash avoidance and skid recovery. Check out In Control at www.wedriveincontrol.com or the Central Mass. Safety Council Skid School at www.centralmasafety.org.

Q. I have a 1999 Dodge Durango with about 98,000 miles. I have noticed lately the transmission has been hesitant shifting and is worse in cold weather. It drives okay but I'm sure it's slowly getting worse. I've searched around online and read something about adjusting the transmission bands when getting it serviced (actually found it in the manual also) but don't know if this would help and don't want to get stuck with a bill for $2,000 if this it could be solved by simple maintenance.

A. Start with basics: Check the fluid level and adjust the rear band to see if there are any transmission codes. Once the basics are checked, check the fluid pressure. It is possible that the pump seals are getting weak and causing low pressure and poor shifting.

Q. Are tire chains legal for use in Massachusetts? I tried e-mailing the RMV, but their response is confusing. A search on their website and the Internet tells me a lot about the rules in other states, but nothing about Massachusetts. I would only use chains during the worst part of a storm or until my local DPW plowed my street. A tire store that I asked thought that chains are always illegal.

A. There is no law regarding the use of tire chains. In my opinion this is because tire chains are not designed for constant use and uncomfortable to drive on. Tire studs are legal in Massachusetts from November until April 30.

Q. My 1998 Acura CL would not start. I replaced the battery assuming that was the problem, but it still will not start. It doesn't turn over; in fact it makes no sound when you try to start it. This is a second car that is not needed every day. Can you give me some ideas what might be wrong with it?

A. I would first check all the connections from the ignition to the starter. If everything looks good, the problem could be with the anti-theft system. The immobilizer (anti-theft) light on the instrument panel should flash a few times when the key is turned in the ignition. If this isn't happening, I would suggest having the anti-theft system checked.

Q. My 1998 Toyota Corolla has a problem with the electrical system. When I try to turn the lights off the parking lights stay on unless I move the turn signal switch into the "bright" position and back. This car also has daytime running head lights which will not come on until I move the turn signal switch into the headlight on-position. What is wrong?

A. I would look at the wiring as well as the daytime running light relay. I have seen these relays do some very odd things, similar to what you describe.

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