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THE CAR DOCTOR

High service cost for PT Cruiser

Plus: Horn sounds on its own, squeaky Trailblazer

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / July 3, 2009

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Q. I have a 2007 PT Cruiser Turbo automatic and the dealer quoted a price of $599 for a tune-up. When I asked why so much for a four-cylinder car the service person could not answer me. Am I wrong to think this quote is very high? What do you think of the PT Cruiser?

A. I agree the price seems a bit high for basic maintenance. Ask the dealer to explain what is included in the $599 price and compare those suggested repairs to what is recommended in the vehicle owner's manual. The dealer may be adding in some other repairs that may not be necessary at this time. Although my wife has a PT Cruiser convertible, I never seem to drive it. Recently I did spend a few days in a PT Cruiser in Detroit. The model was a very sharp Dream edition. My two complaints with the car are a wide turning radius and so-so gas mileage. Other than that the car was comfortable, stable, had plenty of room and even in Detroit turned some heads.

Q. I have a 2004 Trailblazer with just under 30,000 miles on it that I bought a few months ago Just recently it started to make a very high-pitched noise, most often when pressing on the brakes, but sometimes I can also hear the squeak when I am driving. It sounds like it makes noise every time the tire rotates. The noise seems to get faster and my speed increases. A friend looked at the car and said the brakes look okay. Any ideas?

A. Cars will make certain noises as they wear. It is possible something was overlooked when your friend checked the brakes. When performing a brake inspection, all four wheels should be removed so the brakes can be closely inspected. The other possibility is one of the universal joints in the drive shaft has started to wear. A worn joint will start as a squeak and then turn into a clunk and vibration.

Q. I have a 1998 Nissan Sentra with 123,000 miles on it. The horn was sounding when taking a tight turn, or would continue sounding when the alarm was set. My mechanic replaced the clock spring and the problem went away for two weeks after which it reoccurred. I took it to another mechanic who said it was a failed clock spring and he replaced it (no problem for two days, and then it started again).

I took it to a third mechanic and he said it is the clock spring. I can see the first one failing but not all three unless there is something that is making the clock spring fail. Is this possible to have three clock springs fail in short order? Is there something else that the mechanics should be looking for?

A. There is a technical service bulletin that describes this problem on some models of the Sentra. There are small springs that are more than likely losing their position between the horn plates. The bulletin is number NTB99-050A and the repair involves replacing the horn springs and insulators.

Q. I was very lucky to find this vehicle at the price that I did in the condition that it is in, so I really don't want to jinx my luck. My concern is there is wear on the outside of the front tires and it pulls to the right and shakes and shimmies when turning right. Could you tell me what that might be wrong and about how much it would cost?

A. You need to start with a thorough inspection of the suspension and steering system. A badly worn wheel bearing, worn ball joint or worn tire could be the cause. You should have this looked at as soon as possible since this is a potential safety issue.

Q. I was driving my classic Datsun 240Z and the temperature gauge went all the way into the red and back to under the halfway mark and kept going back and forth. What would cause this?

A. At this point you need to determine if it is a gauge issue or the car actually overheated. If the car was actually running hot then the thermostat or radiator may be at fault. If the engine temperature was normal the problem could be a faulty temperature sensor or gauge unit.

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