THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
THE CAR DOCTOR

Fuel economy gadget shows money per mile

Plus: Suzuki SX4, hitting brakes with a hammer

The Fuel Economy Adviser plugs in to an OBD port on all 1996 and newer cars. The Fuel Economy Adviser plugs in to an OBD port on all 1996 and newer cars. (Fuel Efficiency Centers)
By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / March 31, 2009

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Q. I was listening to your radio program online (www.wrolradio.com) and heard you interviewing someone from a company that makes a gauge that measures fuel efficiency. Have you had the opportunity to test this unit yet?

A. I recently started to test the Fuel Efficiency Adviser from www.fuelefficiencycenters.com. The hook up is simple: just plug into the under dash computer connector (1996 and newer cars) and enter some basic information about the car. The device measures miles per gallon and calculates the cost of each trip. It is also a full function computer scanner with the ability to read and clear codes, as well as sensor information.

I compared the fuel mileage reading to those received from two different cars I was evaluating and it matched the factory displays almost exactly. I also used it on my own car and found the gauge to match my manually calculated fuel economy. Over the years I have tested many fuel-saving devices and none have worked. My opinion has always been the driver has the most control over fuel economy. With the Fuel Efficiency Adviser, the driver has the ability to see the actual cost of each trip and try to improve the overall economy of their car.

Q. After this winter I am considering buying an all-wheel-drive vehicle. The problem is I'm on a budget. What are advantages or disadvantages of Suzuki's SX4?

A. The Suzuki SX4 provides decent enough performance. It makes good use of space and is pretty comfortable. The ride and handling will never be confused with a sports car, but aren't bad. My biggest complaint is with the fuel economy. It just isn't what I expected from a car of this size. During my road tests of the SX4, I averaged just 21 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The biggest advantage of the Suzuki SX4 is its price; you get all-wheel-drive with an automatic transmission for $17,500. As a side note, for the past several years the New England Motor Press Association, to which I belong, has awarded the SX4 its winter "Yankee Value" award.

Q. I still try to work on my own vehicles and one of my cars, a 1999 Camry, has 85,000 miles on the original rear brakes. I jacked up the car and tried to remove the drums, but they were rusted in place. I even tried to use the threaded holes in the drums to work the drums off, but had no luck. I took the car to a garage and they charged $20 to check the brakes.

To remove the drums, they simply hit them with a big hammer. Once the drums were off, the brake shoes appeared fine. They cleaned up the shoes, adjusted the brakes, and all was fine – I thought! Now when I step on the brakes I get a bit of a vibration. I asked the garage about it and they said the brakes just need to wear in, what do you think?

A. Hitting the brake drums "with a big hammer" distorted the drums. It is possible the drums can be resurfaced and all will be fine. The brakes won't "wear" in. I will say that for $20 you got quite a bargain, even if the drums were slightly damaged. It is entirely possible the garage had no choice based on the rusty condition of the car.

Q. My 2006 Chevy HHR needs a headlight. I have been told the inner wheel well needs to come out of the fender to change the bulb, Is that true?

A. It is true you do need to remove the forward part of the inner fender well to get access to the headlight assembly. It sounds like a bigger job than it really is. The total time required to remove the fender liner and replace the bulb is just under one half hour.

Q. My Nissan Altima has stalled a few times. It is a 2006 and generally it runs great. What do you think the problem could be?

A. If the check engine light is on or has been on, I would start with a diagnostic check. It could be a problem with a part called the crank shaft sensor. If there are no codes present, I would ask the dealer to check if there have been any updates to the electronic control module (computer). Many 2005 and 2006 models were recalled for computer problems.

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