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THE CAR DOCTOR

Keep the change? Not when it's under your car

Plus: VW Jetta TDI versus Ford Fusion Hybrid

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / April 20, 2010

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Q. A large jar of coins tipped over in the backseat of my 2003 Acura MDX. Many of them fell through holes in the floor and now slide around the very bottom of the car body. When I asked the dealership to remove them, they said it would be a very expensive proposition, since they would have to remove the seats, the carpet, and the floor in order to reach them. Can you think of any other solutions?

A. I’m amazed that the coins would make it that far. Before I spent hundreds of dollars to remove the seat and carpet, I would look in all the nooks and crannies where the coins could hide. If they are still sliding around and you can’t find them, your only choice, other than putting up with the noise, is to remove the carpet and retrieve the coins.

Q. How would you compare the VW Jetta TDI to the Ford Fusion Hybrid, and which one would you recommend to a 78 year old? Here are my thoughts regarding the two cars. Diesel fuel runs about 20 cents more than regular unleaded gasoline, but the maintenance of a diesel should be substantially lower than a conventional engine. What do you think?

A. The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is far superior to previous diesel models. It is fun to drive, gets great fuel economy, and has a pleasantly upscale interior. The Fusion offers more room, feels a bit more substantial, and is the fuel economy champ around town, delivering 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 miles per gallon on the highway. The Jetta promises 42 miles per gallon on the highway and 30 miles per gallon around town. The Fusion Hybrid has a base price about $3,000 more than the Jetta, a factor for consideration. Both cars have low overall maintenance numbers. I would look for the car the best suits your driving and one that is comfortable. As much as I liked the Jetta, if most of my driving were around town, I would choose the Fusion.

Q. What do you think of a head gasket sealer called Blue Devil? I have a Cadillac with leaking head gaskets and, considering the age and condition of the car, can’t see spending thousands on repairs.

A. I recently had a reader try the Blue Devil product and so far the head gasket leak has been repaired. Just so you are aware, this is not just a “pour-in” product. You need to drain the cooling system, remove the thermostat, and add the product. Once the leak is sealed, you again drain and flush the cooling system, replace the thermostat, and add coolant. This is an ideal DIY’er project and, with the money back guarantee, you have nothing to lose but your own labor.

Q. Until about two months ago, when my 1998 Toyota Avalon was tuned up and the timing belt was changed, my car, with 116,000 miles, ran like a dream. Since then, I get big clouds of blue smoke when I first start it in the morning, and it’s using a quart of oil every two weeks. My mechanic, whom I trust and have used for 20 years, stated it can’t be related to any of this recent work. He changed the PCV valve for free, just in case. He believes it’s the valve seals. I’ve read a lot about the Toyota sludge issue, and have it at the local Toyota dealer for a look. It seems too coincidental and 116K seems too soon for leaky seals. What is your opinion?

A. I’m not a big believer in coincidence either, but there is some likelihood that the timing belt or tune-up caused the oil consumption issue, although I would always suggest checking the old work. At this point, I would have the technician perform a cylinder leak-down test. If those results are fine, then replace the valve seals.

Q. I have a 2001 Saab 9-5 with a defroster problem. Air will only blow out the dash vents, even if I put on the floor or windshield vents. My A/C compressor works fine but I am not getting cold air. My mechanic can’t figure out the problem, and due to past problems, I am reluctant to take it to the dealership. Any suggestions?

A. There are several air flaps that control air flow. In some Saab models one of the bushings that holds a flap is known to bind and break. A technician using a manufacturer-dedicated scan-tool should be able to diagnose the problem.

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