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THE CAR DOCTOR

Stumped on Isuzu with wild tach, speedometer

Plus: Altima stalling recall

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / April 13, 2010

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Q. I have had a couple of strange things happen to my 2004 Isuzu with 55,000 miles. I started it up on a cold morning recently, and the tachometer read 5,000-7,000 rpm. When driving down the highway, it would go up to 8,000 rpm. After a week or so, it suddenly went back to normal. On a longer trip one day, the speedometer also went crazy, reading 30 miles per hour even when the truck was stopped. To make a long story short, everything is working fine now, but who knows about tomorrow? Any ideas what might be causing these problems?  

A. It is going to be very difficult to diagnose and repair your Isuzu when it is operating correctly. The problem could be related to the wiring, electronic control module, or the instrument cluster. I have done some online research with both Alldata and IATN and found no known problems for this condition. Perhaps one of our readers has a suggestion?

Q. I have a question regarding my daughter’s 2003 Nissan Altima. The engine stalls out sporadically when she accelerates after the car is at a standstill. It never happens while the car is in motion. After the engine stalls, she puts the gear shift in neutral or park and restarts the engine. The engine always starts up again and then she drives off. She took it to a local garage, but they could not recreate the stalling condition. There are no engine malfunction codes to retrieve. She had the shop perform a fuel system service to clean the induction system, fuel rail, throttle plate, throttle body, plenum chamber, and intake valves. Despite this work, it stalled again yesterday. Any suggestions?

A. Nissan did issue a voluntary recall on the vehicle for a problem very similar to yours. In many cases, the crank shaft sensor can lose its signal and cause the car to stall. The fix is to replace the sensor and reprogram the computer. Have the dealer reference NHTSA: 06V-242.

Q. My son will be getting his license soon. We currently own a 2001 Toyota Sienna and a 2005 Camry. We're nervous about him driving the Camry because of all of the sudden acceleration problems in various Toyota models (although we realize that the odds of this happening in our Camry are slim). We are thinking of replacing the Sienna with a new Subaru Outback. We also realize it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have a brand new driver driving a brand new car, but we want him to be driving a car that we feel is very safe. In your opinion, would he be safer driving a new Outback with all of the latest safety features, or is he still better off driving an old Sienna, which does not have side curtain airbags but which is obviously much bigger and heavier than an Outback? If you have any thoughts about this, we’d appreciate hearing them.

A. The Subaru would be, in my opinion, the safest choice. It has the latest in safety technology plus the advantage of all-wheel drive. My next choice would be the Camry; it is a solid and reliable car. The Sienna is a fine minivan but has the oldest technology, is a bit more top heavy, and with all those seats, offers the potential for more driver distractions.

Q. I have a 2000 Ford Ranger with 88,000 miles. When I come to a stop, the brakes start to pulsate as if it is activating the anti-lock brake system. It started four to five months ago on an occasional basis and now it occurs almost every time I come to a stop. It’s not a warped brake rotor issue, and it only happens when coming to a stop (under 10 mph). It occurs in both forward and reverse, certainly mimicking the activation of the anti-lock brake system, since I can feel the brakes rapidly pulsate. Any ideas?

A. The common cause is a faulty vehicle wheel sensor. Over time, the sensors can rust and cause the anti-lock brakes to activate. A technician will generally measure the value of the wheel sensors to determine which one is at fault.

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