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THE CAR DOCTOR

Mechanic can't finish a repair? Join the club

Plus: Mildewed new Honda, trembling Saturn

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

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Q. There was an article in the automotive section a few weeks ago about a man in Lexington who owns a 2000 Toyota Prius and avoids dealers. I need a copy of that article or more info from others. I need a new compressor for the air-conditioner in my 2004 Toyota Prius. The dealer wants $1,550 to fully repair the car; the compressor is $1,000 and the rest is labor. My mechanic can install the compressor and recharge the air conditioning system but can't reprogram the computer after the work is completed.

A. There are many cases that very competent repair shops can’t complete repairs because they don’t have access to specialized information or compatible computer scanners. This is one of the reasons that in Massachusetts there is an effort to pass a Right to Repair bill to allow technicians access to the codes and necessary information to repair all vehicles. Readers, if you have suggestions for a repair shop to fix this reader’s Prius, go to the Car Doctor section of www.boston.com and leave a comment/suggestion.

Q. I am still very interested in the Toyota Prius because of its great mileage, in spite of recent reports of brake problems. Are Toyota dealers still selling them? What kind of warranty or evidence of brake problems should I ask for?

A. Toyota dealers are still selling the Prius and with the various incentives there may be no better time to buy one. Regarding the brake issue, there was never an issue with brake performance. The issue was with brake "feel" and only on bumpy roads. If you like the Prius, there is no reason not to buy it.

Q. I have a 2010 Honda Civic I got it in December of last year, with only 11 miles on the odometer. I now just found out the trunk has been filling with water and into the back seat. Now the car smells like mildew. Do you have any remedy or suggestions?

A. Return to the dealer as soon as possible and have the car tested for a water leak. Any wet carpet should be removed and any padding replaced. If there is mold or mildew in the car, washing it down with a bleach mixture should remedy the stinky situation.

Q. A couple of weeks I called into your radio program to talk about a problem with porous alloy wheels. The tires on this car can lose up to eight pounds of air per week. My thought was to install tubes and you suggested against it for a number of reasons, including heat build-up. You did suggest the product, Slime. I just wanted to let you know that the product worked great. It has been a couple of weeks and the tires are holding air.

A. Slime will work as advertised and works well as a preventative measure to help eliminate most flat tires. Unlike older products, Slime doesn’t affect the balance of the tires and doesn’t use a flammable propellant. Slime should never be used on a flat tire without knowing what caused that tire to lose air. Adding Slime to a tire with a damaged sidewall is extremely dangerous.

Q. How do I check my transmission fluid in a 2004 Ford Explorer?

A. Ford doesn’t use a conventional dipstick on this model vehicle. The procedure involves several specialized tools to check the fluid. The reason for this is to avoid overfilling, as well as improper fluid use by consumers.

Q. Why does my car tremble? I have a Saturn and replaced the spark plugs and wires but still the car trembles at an idle. It seems okay driving down the road. Do you have any suggestions?

A. There are still several possibilities including clogged fuel injectors, but the area I would concentrate on is a vacuum leak. Since the car "drives" well, have the repair shop check for a leaking intake manifold. A slight leak could cause a rough idle but wouldn’t be noticed while underway.

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