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THE CAR DOCTOR

Animal fat-based 5W-30 is a green oil choice

Plus: What to do with a salvage title, sitting vehicle in Vegas

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / March 23, 2009

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Q. I try to do the right thing for both my car and the environment. I change the oil in my two vehicles at least twice per year. Whenever I have the oil changed I can't help to think about oil – both the new oil that is used everyday and all the oil that needs to be recycled. When is someone going to come out with a non-petroleum based oil that is environmentally friendly?

A. You are right to be concerned about the proper use of petroleum products. Even with retailers taking back used oil, it doesn't always get disposed of properly. One quart of oil can contaminate 250,000 gallons of ground water. There may be some relief. A company call Green Earth Technologies (www.getg.com) has developed environmentally friendly biodegradable 5W-30 oil that meets the American Petroleum Institute's "SM" rating. If the oil lives up to the company's claims of "save the earth and sacrifice nothing," it could be one answer.

Q. I have a 2004 Honda Accord with a salvaged title, which in hindsight was a dumb choice. The biggest problem is I needed a new catalytic converter after only 50,000 miles. I know typically that catalytic converters should last 150,000 miles or more. Since the car has a salvage title, there is no warranty. My question is should I sell the car or keep it? I don't want to put any more money into this vehicle!

A. Buying a car with a salvage title can be a gamble. This is especially true if the car was involved in a flood and the electrical system got wet. Selling the car may also be a challenge since a potential buyer doesn't know what to expect from a car that was declared a total loss. This in itself may rule out many possible buyers. At this point I would be tempted to have a complete inspection performed on the car to see what future repairs may be necessary. You may find that once the catalytic converter is replaced, it may solve the majority of the car's problems.

Q. My wife and I will be driving our 1999 Ford Escort wagon across the country to Las Vegas from Canton, Mass. We have a condominium there which we visit twice a year and would like to keep the car there on a permanent basis. My question is how do we go about keeping the tires from going flat in our absence? Also, would the brakes rust up from only being used on average about maybe two months out of the year? The car now has 110,000 miles on it.

A. Tires will lose air from just sitting. There are a couple of things you could try. There is a tire sealant called "Slime" (www.slime.com). This sealant will help prevent air loss, especially around the rims. You could also try having the tires filled with nitrogen. The molecules in nitrogen are larger than oxygen molecules that make up conventional air and tend not to leak as much.

The surfaces of the brake drums and rotors could build up with a light coating of rust, but it should wear off once you drive the car. As routine maintenance, once you return to Nevada it would be a good idea to have the car inspected. This inspection should include an oil change, check of other vital fluids, and at that time the technician can take a look at the brakes. One final tip: since your Escort is 10 years old and has more than 100,000 miles on it, have a thorough check-up before you embark on your trip.

Q. What would cause high oil pressure and the oil filter seal to blow in a 2000 Chevy with a 4.3 liter V-6 engine? What will I need to do to fix it?

A. The oil pressure is regulated by a relief valve inside the oil pump. If the relief valve becomes stuck, the oil pressure will skyrocket and the oil will look for the path of least resistance. In most cases, the path of least resistance is the oil filter. Replacing the oil pump requires removing the engine oil pan. Depending on the vehicle, you could be looking up to six hours labor plus the cost of the pump.

Q. My Toyota manual does not specify changing the automatic transmission fluid, brake fluid, or antifreeze, until at least 100,000 miles. However, mechanics I have spoken to advise changing these fluids every 30,000 miles. What is your take on this?

A. Many vehicle manufacturers don't have specific intervals to change some of the important fluids in their vehicles. In general, the fluids are okay until they get dirty or contaminated and then they need to be changed. That said, it will not hurt to change the fluids every 30,000 miles.

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