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THE CAR DOCTOR

Used Jaguar or late-model Corvette?

Plus: Cash for Clunkers program, "by the book" oil changes

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / July 16, 2009

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Q. Like one of your previous readers, I am considering buying a 2001 Jaguar XK8. It has 21,000 miles and is in immaculate condition. Purchasing a pre-owned model is the only way I can afford one of these beautiful cars. As you can tell, I love the looks but am hesitant on the reliability of this car. I have read as many good reviews as very bad.

The general reputations of the original Jaguars speak volumes on why not to own them. Can you tell me about the reliability of this model and if it is going to be "high maintenance"? Also, what is the "real" m.p.g. to be expected? I see everything from 15 to 18 m.p.g. in the city listed for this car, but I know that the method of measuring fuel economy has changed since 2001.

I also have a second problem; I have a 2007 Corvette which I love to drive but still has a small loan balance. I'm currently out of work and would like to get rid of a car payment. I don't want to make a big mistake, but want something fun to drive should I make this sacrifice.

A. The overall quality of Jaguar cars have improved over the years, but as with any luxury sports car, repairs and general maintenance can be very expensive. As a general rule regarding fuel economy, deduct 10-15 percent from the old EPA fuel economy number. The Jaguar will never get the fuel economy of your more fuel efficient Corvette. Looking at the numbers, it appears that your Corvette is worth $28,000 to $31,000 and a typical 2001 XK8 is worth $18,000 to $21,000. Selling the Corvette and buying the Jaguar would eliminate your car payment and allow you to put some money in the bank for repairs. You would still have a great car to drive, but since the Corvette is newer, it is going to be more reliable, may still have some warranty coverage, and will consistently return better fuel economy.

Q. I bought a new Honda Odyssey last December, but ended up driving my 10 year-old CR-V most of the time. I only put about 2,500 miles on the Odyssey, but the engine oil had been there for seven months or longer. I don't know how long the dealer had the vehicle before I purchased it. Should I follow the maintenance "minder" on the Odyssey (it advises 50% oil life left) or go ahead and change the oil? By the way, I am very impressed with your knowledge of numerous makes and models of vehicles.

A. Thanks for the kind words. The oil change reminders on some cars actually measure the oil condition using an algebraic logarithm, others just look at mileage. The oil change interval recommended on your Honda is to change the oil every 7,500 miles or at least once per year under normal driving conditions. Honda engines, even under their severe service recommendation, still use the once per year standard. Would it hurt to change the oil now? No. Is it necessary "by the book"? No. But, if this was my Honda, I would change the oil at least twice per year.

Q. I have started to hear that the government will help me buy my next new car. The program is called "Cash for Clunkers". Could this be true?

A. President Obama signed a program into law which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling the "Car Allowance Rebate System" (CARS). This program allows you to buy a more fuel efficient car if you trade in a car that is older and less fuel efficient. This program allows a tax credit of $3,500 to $4,500. Keep in mind that the trade-in vehicle can't be more than 25 years old, you must have owned the vehicle for at least one year, and generally the trade-in needs to get 18 miles per gallon or less. For the latest information and list of conditions, go to www.cars.gov. This program should go into effect by the end of July and run through November 2009.

Q. I have a 2000 Ford Windstar on which the right directional signal, parking and cornering lights do not work. All of the bulbs are working. According to the manual, they are all on one circuit and the fuse is fine. Is there a solution?

A. There is always a solution! Once upon a time, cars were simple and lighting used switches, power, and ground circuits. The only tool necessary was a keen eye and a test light. In the last decade, that has all changed. Although wiring could be a problem, the circuit in the Windstar uses a rear electronic module to trigger the ground circuit of the lights. This part, as well as the lighting, can be checked with a Ford-compatible scan tool.

Q. I have a 2002 Nissan Altima. When I first start the car, I hear the sound of running water which subsides after a few minutes. In addition, the car doesn't always start on my first attempt. If I wait a moment, it will turn over and run fine. Any thoughts?

A. I would start with leaving the car in a repair shop overnight so the technician can hear the noise. If possible, you may even want to meet the technician in the morning when they start the car so you can identify the noise. At the same time, they can hook up some test equipment to measure fuel pressure and test the ignition system to determine if this may be the cause of the "no-start" condition.

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