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THE CAR DOCTOR

Switching tires causes pressure monitor headache

Plus: Stuck shift lever, remote starter troubles

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / December 24, 2008

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Q. I just purchased a 2008 Honda Accord and I want to put on snow tires on winter wheels. But here is the problem, my car has a tire pressure monitoring (TPMS) which means I have to buy four TPMS sensors. I have no problem purchasing TPMS sensors for the new winter wheels, but I have a problem having to pay the dealer $100 to reprogram the TPMS each time I swap from summer to winter wheels.

How can I avoid paying hundreds of dollars each time I switch my tires? Is there a consumer product I can buy? If I skip TPMS sensors on the winter tires will there be any Federal Law violations? I understand the whole point of TPMS, but this could potentially hurt folks that already know how to maintain a vehicle properly. What do you suggest?

A. The biggest problem is there is no one TPMS standard, even within the same car lines. The other problem is although there are aftermarket TPMS scan tools, they are not all compatible with all car manufacturers. I spoke with a technician at Bartec (www.bartecusa.com), one of the largest manufacturers of TPMS scan tools, and he said their equipment can perform the relearn procedure.

I also spoke with Barry Steinberg of Direct Tire where they use a Bartec scanner, and he told me that when you buy tires/wheels they will perform the TPMS relearn at no charge. As far as violating federal motor vehicle standards, driving with the TPMS disabled is probably as serious as removing a mattress tag.

Q. I have a problem with my 1994 Oldsmobile 88 with a 3.8 liter engine. There are times I just can't seem to get the shift lever out of park, other times it shifts fine. What is wrong?

A. The problem is most likely related to the transmission interlock. The problem could be a faulty brake light switch. To override the transmission interlock, try shifting from park to drive with the key in the on position (rather than run).

Q. My 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the six-cylinder engine cuts out in the middle of driving, then has trouble starting again. After it sits for a minute or two, the engine starts and I can drive again. Typically a half-hour or more later, it stalls again. What is going on?

A. For an engine to run it needs fuel and ignition; losing one or the other will cause the engine to quit. The most common problem with the six-cylinder Jeeps is a faulty crank shaft sensor.

Q. I enjoy your column and now think I need to get some advice of my own.

I bought a used Mitsubishi Gallant with the four-cylinder engine for my goddaughter last year. The car had one owner and has about 100,000 miles on it. It appeared in good condition, and after purchasing the car we put in new tires, brakes, radiator, alternator, battery and belts.

It ran well for about 15,000 miles but developed a noise from the engine area (sounded like a belt was working harder than it should - sort of a noisy rotational sound at best, but the car ran fine). This is her first car and of course I am concerned about her driving it. Any ideas short of car shopping again?

A. The most common problem is that the balance shaft is out of alignment. Since the problem occurred after the timing belt and balance shaft belt were replaced, it is only reasonable to assume that the balance shaft is the problem.

Q. I bought a Mazda Tribute in February 2006 and had the dealer install a remote starter. I've had to bring the car back seven times for remote starter repairs due to several problems. When I press the button to start the car, the lights (external and dashboard) and internal fan are on, but the engine is not on. I've sent a letter to the dealership and Mazda Corp. Mazda Corp. replied by referring me back to the dealer.

I brought the car back a month ago for repairs and the starter worked for a bit. Since the weather has gotten very cold, it has stopped working. The electrical system turns on but not the engine. I can't guarantee this is what will always happen and my warranty is supposed to end in February. I don't know what to do and I have no faith in the dealership. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

A. I would continue to work with the dealership to get the problem resolved. At this point it seems the dealer would completely replace the remote starter system to get the problem resolved. I wouldn't be too concerned with the warranty, since the problem is ongoing; the dealer should continue to stand behind their work.

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