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THE CAR DOCTOR

Few nods for X6

Plus: Clunky shifter, selling "as-is"

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / February 2, 2009

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Q. What do you think of the BMW X6? To me it stands out in the crowd of SUVs and crossovers. I don't know if I would ever buy one, but I like it and could consider it one day.

A. In my opinion the X6 breaks every mold, but it seems to be the answer to a question no one has asked. It is not an SUV, although it sits up plenty high, and BMW has the X5 which is a luxury SUV. It is fast, big and hulking, but doesn't have the manners of a sedan. If you are worried about poor weather, BMW has all-wheel-drive available in both the 3 and 5 Series cars. It handles well but with the huge tires, at least in my recent experience, doesn't do particularly well in the snow. Like all BMWs, the controls, seats and overall fit and finish are quite nice, but overall it is not my taste. In fact, during my road test of both the six- and eight-cylinder models, only one person actually nodded with approval.

Q. I have a 1995 Mercury Grand Marquis. It now has a water pump issue, hence barely any heat; the check engine light is on (suspected problem is the ERG valve); the power locks and power windows no longer work. My question is, at this point, should I unload it in "as-is" condition and start saving for a deposit on a newer car? Another main reason I'd like to sell this car is I would like a vehicle with four-wheel drive. This rear-wheel drive is terrible in the snow!

A. I would start with having someone evaluate the overall condition of the car. Although the car is 14 years old, it may still have some life left. The heat is most likely not a water pump problem and fixing the door locks and windows could be as simple as a broken wire. In Massachusetts you can't sell a car "as-is"; even a private party has to ensure the car is capable of passing the state vehicle inspection. Regarding poor winter traction (no argument AWD is better), adding snow tires should make a substantial improvement. Consider this: almost every police car and taxi are rear-wheel drive and they seem to get around pretty well.

Q. I've got a 2007 Dodge Sprinter Van with 35,000 miles on it. I've had two problems that the dealer can't seem to fix, and I believe it has to do with the weather. The side "slider" door doesn't open when it is very cold out, but opens nicely when it heats up. This happens without snow or ice, and the handle pulls out easily, but doesn't engage anything. It can't be opened from the inside either.

The second is the battery charge lamp on the dash came on about one month ago and then the truck wouldn't start. The dealer replaced the battery at no cost. The following night while working, I arrived at my job to see the same indicator, followed by the same problem. I had it jumped, but it still has happened about 5 more times.

I bought a battery jump-pack, and it hasn't happened since. The dealer suspected a "draw" on the battery, but wouldn't you see some sort of "load" that is creating the draw? This also seemed to happen only during the coldest of nights.

A. Intermittent problems can always be difficult to find. Add temperature changes into the equation and it can be even more difficult to diagnose. According to the information I have it appears that the lock mechanism is completely electronic. The shop could take the door panel off and spray the components with "freeze" spray. This freeze spray is available at electronic stores and works well to chill components for testing. The battery light could be a faulty voltage regulator. The regulator is integral to the alternator and not serviced separately.

Q. I think I have a problem with the all-wheel drive in my 2004 Pontiac Aztek Rally. It seems to make a sound, not in the engine, but when I slow down or while driving. When I put it in neutral and "rev" the engine I don't hear the noise. It feels and sounds like I am in third gear, although I don't think it is. Do you have any suggestions?

A. The problem could be the transmission starting to fail, but there are a couple of non-transmission items to take a look at as well. It's possible that the rear differential fluid is in need of changing – generally the characteristic is a "clunk" around corners. The other possibility is if you have been driving on unpaved or muddy roads, the driveshaft tube gets hung up and will make a weird humming noise. If these items don't apply, the transmission should be checked with a computer scanner to look for fault codes. The faulty codes will help with proper diagnosis.

Q. I have a 1996 Geo Prizm with a manual transmission. Lately the shifter has been reluctant to shift into a gear unless I use quite a bit of muscle. Also, the shifter occasionally makes a loud vibrating/grinding noise. It's pretty alarming when it happens. The clutch seems normal and the fluid is full. Is this going to be an expensive fix?

A. Start with a close inspection of the clutch hydraulics, shifter and linkage. If there is a leaking clutch cylinder or worn bushing, the shifter will bind, grind, and not go into gear. If everything appears to be fine, then the problem could be a worn gear synchronizer in the transmission. If this is the case, the transmission will need to come out of the car to be repaired and could get quite expensive. An alternative might be a used transmission from a salvage yard.

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