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THE CAR DOCTOR

Voice recognition not there yet

Plus: Bubbly transmission fluid, necessity of all-wheel drive

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / January 20, 2009

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Q. I bought a 2008 Infiniti FX35 a few months ago. I thought Infiniti was a leader in technology, but their Bluetooth/voice recognition system is really very poor. I have spent the time using the voice training module, but still the voice recognition system does not respond accurately at least 50 percent of the time.

I have contacted the dealer and Infiniti, but they are non-responsive other that trying to coax me into a 2009 model. I have had Bluetooth systems in other cars that worked. This is the worst I have experienced and very frustrating. Any thoughts?

A. I have driven many vehicles with voice recognition systems. In my experience these systems recognize my voice less than 50 percent of the time. Even my cell phone which has a voice dial feature responds correctly only about once in five attempts. There are too many variables such as road noise, the vehicle sound system, and even engine noise that can have an effect on how well these systems work. In my opinion, this technology is just not there yet.

Q. I have two cars, a 2008 Honda Accord and 2001 Ford Taurus and am having the same problem with both vehicles. When I park the car and then try to start it, I sometimes have trouble getting the key to turn in the ignition. It is also difficult to turn the steering wheel.

A. The most common cause is shutting the engine off with wheels turned to the left or right. If the wheels are turned, it will put pressure on the steering and consequently on the ignition switch. Shutting the car off with the wheels in a straight position should alleviate this problem.

Q. I wanted to add transmission fluid to my Isuzu Trooper and it didn't seem to have a dip stick. Is this possible and if it is, how do you add fluid?

A. Your Isuzu, like some other vehicles, does not use a transmission dipstick. There is a fill port (referred to as an overfill screw) on the side of the transmission. You add fluid until it starts flow out over the overfill opening.

Q. I was just checking the transmission fluid on my car and noticed the fluid was full of bubbles. What causes this and is it serious?

A. Transmission fluid will get bubbles in it for one of two reasons. If the fluid is overfilled, the transmission gears will whip up the fluid and cause bubbles. If the fluid is under-filled, the transmission pump can draw in air (instead of fluid) and cause bubbles. Over time both conditions can lead to transmission problems.

Q. I am currently in the market for a used car. My price range is $10,000 to $15,000, and I've been looking at pre-owned 2005 and 2006 models. I'm looking for a reliable commuter car that can handle New England weather. I'd prefer a sedan (Subaru Legacy, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Toyota Corolla, and Honda Accord) but I'm open to the idea of a small SUV (Jeep Liberty, Ford Escape, Acura MDX). Is all-wheel drive really much more effective in bad weather than front-wheel drive? Is a small SUV better?

I've been driving a 1992 Toyota Camry for about eight years and, driving carefully, I've never had much trouble in the snow. If all-wheel drive is all that it's cracked up to be, then I'd lean towards the Subaru Legacy or Ford Fusion. If not, then I'd be satisfied with a Corolla, Accord, or Altima for better gas mileage. Any suggestions?

A. It really depends on how and when you drive. A front-wheel drive car can be just fine in most weather and road conditions; snow tires make it better. If you need to be out on the road before the snowplows, all-wheel drive has the advantage of better traction and stability. A Subaru with all-wheel drive certainly would give you additional traction during inclement weather, but as you proved with your previous car, it may not be something you need. Regarding choices, a late-model Corolla would certainly be a good replacement for your ten-year-old Camry.

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