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THE CAR DOCTOR

Reader update: More tire pressure tips

Plus: Splitting speed bumps, wet power steering belt

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / January 5, 2009

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Several readers wanted to add some additional information to go along with last week's question on the tire pressure monitoring system for the 2008 Honda Accord. John from New Hampshire summarized it the best:

Regarding the recent answer you gave to the owner of the 2008 Accord with TPMS: unlike other manufacturers, all of Honda's TPMS systems are essentially the same. There are different sensors in the wheels, depending on whether the wheel is steel or aluminum. The shape is different but not the radio technology used.

If you use wheels without active sensors, then the computer will think one or more tires is low on pressure. It will engage the traction control system (VSA) and attempt to apply the brakes to compensate. You cannot turn off the VSA when the TPMS system thinks a tire(s) is low. Don't just pull the fuse either; there are other important systems on the same circuit.

Instead of having a different set of rims (summer vs. winter), I'd just have the tires remounted on the same rims every 6 months. That way, you don't have to re-sync the sensors. There are many Honda related web forums that have this information. I use www.hondasuv.com and www.crvownersclub.com.

Q. I have a 2006 Ford Explorer with 40,000 miles on it. Do I need to change or flush the transmission fluid? I don't think the manual recommends changing it until the car logs more than 100,000 miles.

A. Ford doesn't have a specific interval to replace the transmission fluid on the Ford Explorer. In fact, Ford doesn't even have a dipstick to check the fluid level. Unless you routinely tow a heavy trailer, or spend a lot of time off road, the fluid shouldn't need changing. If you use your truck in heavy-duty applications, then I would change the fluid every 30,000 miles.

Q. I have what may seem like a silly question. My wife insists that my habit of splitting a speed bump, during which one side of the car goes over the bump while the other hits the smooth trough in between the bumps, will somehow harm the car. I tell her that's silly, but she won't listen, so I am looking for a definitive answer.

A. Your wife may be concerned about the possible side-to-side stress on the car's suspension when the vehicle is not evenly going over the speed bump. The purpose of a speed bump is to slow traffic. If you are going over the speed bump slowly you won't do any damage, whether you use one wheel or two. On the other hand, if you are splitting the speed bump to go over it at a faster speed, then, potentially, the suspension could bottom out. If you do this often enough over a long period of time, there could be a problem.

Q. We have a 2007 Chrysler Town and Country minivan that has a problem when it's really wet. The first flaw is mostly an annoyance. If you drive through a puddle, apparently the belts slip and you get a lovely squealing sound for a bit.

The second problem is of greater concern. Occasionally when you drive through a deep puddle, the power steering will effectively cut out completely to the point where it feels as if the wheel is locked in whatever direction it's headed.

I had a 1984 Pontiac Grand Prix that did the same thing, but it was infrequent enough (and the car was a "beater") that I never got it checked. We're planning to go to the dealer in the next week or two and bring up this issue, but I wanted to ask if there's a likely cause for this so that I know what to expect.

A. Both problems are likely connected. The power steering belt is getting wet enough that it is slipping, causing the noise, and then producing the loss of the power steering. In years past, when Chrysler vehicles had this problem, it was solved by adding a plastic shield near the belt. I haven't heard of this fix for your model. At this point, I would have the dealer check/replace the belt and properly tighten it. Chrysler has a specific procedure to check the belt tension.

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