THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
THE CAR DOCTOR

An S4 over an M3? Forgetaboutit

Plus: Pulled over for LED light strips

(Audi/BMW)
By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / November 5, 2009

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Q. If you had a choice of a BMW M3 or an Audi S4, which car would your buy and why?

A. The answer to this question is like Donnie Brasco raving why a Cadillac is better than a Lincoln. The reality is, they are both good and that is also the case of the Audi versus the BMW. The Audi is powered by a very smooth and responsive 333 horsepower V-6 engine. The ride is luxury car smooth with very responsive handling. The Audi also has one of the nicest interiors of any car made.

The BMW on the other hand has a crazy 414 horsepower V-8 engine and steering that can be described as telepathic. If we were comparing the S4 to the BMW 335i, in my opinion the S4 would be the winner. But since you asked about the M3, as much as I liked the 2010 S4 and how good a car it is, forgetaboutit. For me it's the BMW M3.

Q. I have a car that I recently rotated the tires and discovered the tires are directional and one was put on wrong. I had the tire turned around and it is noisy as can be. What can I do? Was I put in an unsafe situation?

A. The tire may quiet down over time. Directional tires are designed for improved handling and in theory are quieter. In addition, directional tires do a better job of handling hydroplaning situations. At this point move the tire to the rear of the car; it may be less noticeable. Although it is possible that under just the right circumstances the car may have more of a tendency to hydroplane, general handling and stopping as well as tire life shouldn’t be affected.

Q. I putting my power equipment away in a few weeks. I have heard differing opinions. Should I drain all the gasoline or add a fuel stabilizer? My second question has to do with my old garden tractor. It has a six-volt starting system and even with a new battery doesn’t crank over well. Any suggestions?

A. I have used a fuel stabilizer for years without any problems. It has been my experience that keeping the fuel system full helps eliminate rust and condensation and the stabilizer helps the fuel from becoming stale. One of the reasons that vehicle manufacturers, and I assume, tractor manufacturers switched to 12-volt starting systems is that six-volt systems are very critical of poor electrical connections. If this were my tractor I would disassemble all the electrical connections and thoroughly clean all the surfaces. Even minor corrosion can cause problems.

Q. I have a LED light strip under the tailgate of my pickup and an amber strip on the bottom of my front bumper. Last week on my way home from work at about 1 a.m., I was stopped by the police for after-market lighting without a permit. I received a warning and was told to be careful. I could see if I had purple or blue lights or flashing lights. I see many pickup trucks with the LED light bars under the tailgate. I thought it was up to the inspection station to tell us if these are illegal. I just wanted to add some personality to an otherwise plain truck. Since people may receive them as gifts, are they really illegal?

A. I just received a similar question from a reader who had a truck rejected for a sticker for the same type of lighting arrangement. I spoke with a representative from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, who told me that as long as the lights are DOT/SAE compliant they are legal. Lights that are illegal are strobes, flashing lights, and under-car neon. Check out the Massachusetts RMV website (www.mass.gov/rmv) for more information about vehicle inspections as well as other services that can save you from waiting in line.  

Q. I live in Toronto (where the temperatures often drop below freezing) and I own a used 2002 Saturn sedan. It's been sitting in an unheated garage for about a week and I was wondering if I should turn it on and let the battery warm up/recharge once in a while. If so, how often and for how long should I run it?

A. One of the worst things you can do to a car is let it run once a week or so. This is because the engine never really warms up and the oil becomes contaminated with gasoline and moisture. The best thing you can do is drive the car for 20 to 30 minutes every three weeks or so. This will keep the fluids circulated and will fully heat up the engine oil to remove any contaminants. I would consider a type of battery charger referred to as a “float” charger. These types of charger help maintain the battery performance. One that AAA has tested with great results is the Battery Tender. You might also consider a plug-in engine block heater for added cold weather security.

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