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THE CAR DOCTOR

With license plates, it's personal

Plus: Getting creative with pricey repairs

By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / May 7, 2010

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Q. Are there any restrictions on applying new green paint to my license plate which is old and faded?  I hate to get replacement plates because I only have one plate on my car now and am afraid the RMV will require two replacement plates.  I have been warned I can't get a new sticker with the plate in this condition. 

A. As much as you like your single green plate, it will need to be replaced with two license plates if it is in poor condition. If you try to touch up the numbers with green paint you will stopped and possibly ticketed for "altering" a license plate. It is not just the green characters but the reflectivity of the plate as well. The RMV is replacing single green plates at no charge to motorists who would like or need new plates. I understand how you feel – the green plate on my wife’s car is the only license plate she has ever had.

To be prepared, loosen the license plate screws before you go to the Registry and bring screws for the front plate.

Q. We have a 1998 Toyota Camry with 165,000 miles on it. We love the car and haven’t had trouble with it until this past winter when it began to stall. Usually this would occur in traffic. Other times I would have difficulty starting the engine. I have had the oxygen sensor and the fuel filter replaced.  These repairs worked for a while but it began stalling again. The mechanic suggested that it could be that the idle air control motor needs replacement.  They weren't sure if that was the problem, however, and we didn't want to spend $800 and fail to solve the problem. The Camry has not stalled since the weather got warmer. Do you have any suggestions on what it could be?

A. There are three areas to investigate. The first is the ignition coil; many of these coils fail with age and cause a similar symptom. The second is the coolant temperature sensor, and then the idle air control valve. Regarding the estimate on the idle air control valve, it seems a little high.

Q. I bought a new Infiniti QX4 in 2002. Since the beginning, I have been diligent about regular maintenance. The truck has 112,000 miles. The past few years I have been dealing with repairs such as brakes, front and back calipers, exhaust system, and on and on it goes… I am now facing another hefty bill. I have a coolant leak that concerns the rear coolant bypass. I was told by the dealership the coolant bypass is located behind the engine up against the firewall. I was advised that they recently replaced this hose on another QX4 and the only way to access this part was to drop the engine. Twelve hours and $1,800 later they fixed it. 

I am trying to avoid this situation and have called Infiniti’s consumer affairs office. The person I spoke to in that office said they could not help me, as they stand by the dealer.  I have not yet placed a call to the general manager of the dealership, but that is next? I suspect that conversation will end badly! Do you know if this repair can be done another way? It would seem to be a design flaw if that is the only way to repair the rear coolant bypass.

A. The cooling bypass tube is in a very difficult place to repair. Over the years I have seen the design of many vehicles become complex and labor-intensive, for what should be simple repairs.  My favorite example is when I was working as a technician on a Toyota van that required the engine to be removed for a basic tune up. Talking to various Infiniti and Nissan dealers, it takes seven to eight hours to perform this repair. It is my understanding that the transmission needs to be removed. Additional research on some technical websites suggests the repair can be done in as little as two or three hours by removing the engine support, radiator shroud, and lowering the engine for access. Perhaps an independent shop who feels a little creative may provide a more reasonable repair.

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