THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
THE CAR DOCTOR

Simultaneous accelerator, brake failure hard to believe

Plus: Tough fix for poor Volvo hatch design

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / March 29, 2010

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Q. I noticed you posted a message on your website looking for comments about the acceleration issue with Toyota products; what did you hear?

A. I received several e-mails from owners of Toyota products, some with mechanical, rather than electronic accelerators who claimed to have a problem with the accelerator. I also received comments from owners of other cars including a owner of a Volvo who hit a building, due to what they thought was an accelerator problem. The jury is still out, but in my mind I believe that driver error may play a part in this story.

I find it hard to believe that the electronic accelerator and the mechanical brakes fail at the same time. Recently I have made a point with every vehicle that I have driven to perform some non-scientific testing. This is the scenario: at 50 miles per hour with the accelerator to the floor, I try to stop the vehicle. Every car that I have tested has been able to stop in what I would describe as a reasonable distance, Toyota models included.

Q. I’m hoping you can shed come light on a problem with my Volvo wagon. About six weeks ago, the trunk/hatch stopped opening. The car was not involved in an accident or otherwise bumped. There is no exterior lock on the trunk and no interior release lever. We have checked the fuses. The dealership says the only way to open it is a dramatic (and expensive) removal of the rear bumper and then the entire hatch.

They provided this diagnosis without examining the car. I took the car to a local garage and the mechanic said that his research indicated that there is a covered exterior lock, where the outside release handle is on the trunk. He showed me a circular indentation which he believes can be punched out to expose the manual lock. He was hesitant to punch it out, in case he was wrong. Do you know if there as an exterior trunk lock that could be exposed and used with a key to open the trunk?

A. It doesn't look like there is a good answer. Some technicians have had some success with this scenario. On the passenger side of the license plate lighting area, you will find an area to drill for a key system. It may be a lightly scribed circle area just to the right of the light bulb cover. Once you drill a hole, you may be able to manipulate a homemade wire hook to trip the lock.

Since this procedure involves potentially damaging the car I would try to find someone who has done this before. I also spoke with Wally at WCS Automotive, a Volvo specialist in Rockland. He prefers to carefully pry the rear panel off and replace any broken clips rather than drill holes in a customer’s car. Wally has run into this before and found this to be the best solution to this otherwise poor design.

Q. My 1997 Saab 9000 has 109,000 miles on it. Very recently, its seven year old battery went dead. AAA came and jump-started the car. The battery was dead but the charging system was working fine. It was suggested that I replace the battery. I had a new NAPA battery installed. Within 48 hours of installing this new battery, it went dead. Please note that the dashboard lights have been flickering on and off. I would appreciate your thoughts on resolving this problem.

A. I would start with a complete check of the charging system. This test should also include a performance test of your new battery. If the charging system and battery test okay, then the system needs to be checked for a parasitic drain. The term parasitic battery draw refers to the electrical devices that continue to draw excessive current from the battery when the ignition is switched off. There are any number of items in this car that could cause this type of drain. One possibility is the ignition switch’s inability to remain in the “off” position. This could also be the source of the flickering dashboard lights.  

Q. My 2007 Hyundai Elantra is sometimes difficult to get out of park. It acts just like I didn’t step on the brake, even though I did. What do you think could be wrong?

A. Your Hyundai and many others have defective stop light switches. The park interlock system works with the brake light switch. Even though you are stepping on the brake, unless the switch signals the interlock module, you won’t be able to shift out of park.

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