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THE CAR DOCTOR

Taking liberty with regular maintenance

Plus: 'Exclusive' oils for auto store chains aren’t different

By John Paul
June 23, 2010

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Q. With the modern cars there seems little to do other than change the oil.  I have a 2003 Ranger pickup and a 2005 Lincoln LS, each with about 60,000 miles.  My question is should I have the injectors cleaned, or just buy an additive in a can?  My other question is when to flush the transmission and radiator; the dealers all have different recommendations. To me it seems as if these maintenance jobs at the dealers are nothing but a way to produce higher profits and don't really do anything for the vehicle.

A. All cars have specific maintenance schedules that need to be followed. The vehicles owner’s manual or technical websites like Alldata that I use have this information.  Most dealerships and repair shops do a great job of recommending maintenance that will keep your vehicle running trouble free for many years, although some will take the scheduled maintenance and add their own suggestions. In some cases these suggestions can be based on known problems that are regional in nature; in other cases it may just be about the money.

Regarding injector cleaning, injectors can sometimes clog over time and cleaning may help, although some manufacturers specifically recommend against it. Transmission and cooling system service can vary as well. Your truck has a recommendation to replace the coolant and transmission fluid every 30,000 miles. The Lincoln has a 100,000 interval for the coolant and a 60,000 mile interval for the transmission fluid. All fluids should be checked on a regular basis and if they show signs of deterioration should be replaced, regardless of the mileage.

Q. I have a 1998 Buick Park Avenue with 130,000 miles on it and am looking for a change. One used car I am looking at is the Hyundai Azera; do you have any thoughts or comments on this car?

A. The Hyundai Azera may in fact remind you of your Buick. Its V-6 engine delivers decent economy and average performance, the interior is comfortable and roomy. On the road the Azera wallows a bit in turns and the suspension tends to pick up every defect in the road and the steering tends to feel a bit over-boosted. That said, the Azera is still a decent car with a good track record for reliability and offers luxury car appointments without spending luxury car money.   

Q. Last month I lost my job and along with my job my company vehicle. My car purchase budget is $3,000, so I am looking at high mileage cars in the 120,000 range. Is there one particular make and model you could recommend that still seems to keep running well even with high miles? 

A. Nearly any car today can run 200,000 miles with just basic maintenance. Honda and Toyota are always a good pick, but don’t rule out General Motors and Ford products. A Ford Taurus or Buick Century that has been well maintained can be a good dependable used car. Prior to buying any used car, have it inspected by a qualified mechanic.

Q. I've been using Mobil 1 synthetic oil exclusively in our vehicles since the 1980s and generally buy the oil at whatever automotive store has it on sale. Recently, I've noticed that the Mobil 1 labels on the containers offered by one of the nation’s largest retailers states "exclusively produced” for this store. Is this product identical to Mobil 1 in sold in containers without their label?  I've heard that some retailers have enough clout to force major vendors to offer exclusive products that may be substandard to those offered in other outlets.

A. Recently I was changing the oil in my cars and purchased oil from a large retailer and noticed that I could buy a five quart container of synthetic oil for the same price as the four quart container at the local auto parts store. As luck would have it, I had Quaker State engineer Jeff Hsu on my radio program and I asked this very question. He said it is the exact same high quality product in a different package. If you want to listen to the program you can find it on http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/7301261.

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