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THE CAR DOCTOR

Wagon indecision

Plus: Prius not delivering promised mileage

By John Paul
July 12, 2010

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Q. We are selling or trading in our 1998 Volvo V70 wagon and want to replace it with another wagon with similar cargo space, but not an SUV. We are looking for a change and not interested in another Volvo. We have been looking online at used Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz models between the years of 2005-2007. We need the wagon in part for the cargo space, given all the things we routinely need to haul or pick up. Which of these cars would you suggest, or are we missing something else?

A. Wagons, once a common vehicle of the suburbs, have been replaced by SUVs and minivans, and as you point out there is a limited variety of these vehicles available. Of the three cars you are looking at, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. The Audi with all-wheel-drive is a great winter performer and has the nicest interior. The BMW feels more like a sports sedan, although the cargo space is a bit tighter. The Mercedes-Benz has a solid feel and with 4matic it is a good year-round car. The bottom line is all three vehicles are good choices. When buying a used luxury car, I am most concerned with overall condition and how easy it is to get the car serviced.  

Q. I own a 2006 BMW 530 Sport Wagon with only 15,000 miles on it. In the past year I had the car in for repair for damaged sway bar linkage. In 2009 it was the right side that was damaged; in May 2010 it was the left side that needed repair. The repair order stated that they "repaired/replaced damaged linkage assembly." I asked local mechanics and also in online forums and not one BMW owner has had anything comparable. I am not a "pot hole" seeker and the car is in mint condition. Regular maintenance is always performed on time and the car is under warranty until the end of 2011. Do you think there is something inherently wrong with the car?

A. There is certainly a difference between a damaged and worn out part. If the part was damaged it had to have been damaged by some outside force. Generally sway bar links are replaced as sets, although when a car is under warranty it is not unusual to replace just the part that is worn out at that point in time. My suspicion is the parts which are under the same wear conditions just didn’t wear out exactly at the same time.

Q. The "check engine" light has come on in my 2002 Chevrolet Prism.  I have checked the vehicle owner's manual and believe this may have to do with the emission controls system.  Will this be an expensive repair? 

A. The check engine light is on because there is a fault with the engine management system. The cause of the light could be as simple as a loose gas cap to something more complex and expensive. The best thing to do at this point is bring the car for service where they can "scan" the computer system and read any current fault codes. You can expect to pay about one hour of labor to get a basic diagnostic check. You may also find that some shops and auto-parts stores will offer a complimentary inspection. Generally, this is just reading a code and not actually pinpointing the problem.

Q. I own a 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GT with 38,000 miles. I bought this in 2006 as a new "left over." I have always had suspension noises and have brought it in to various GM dealerships (Pontiac, Cadillac, and Chevy).  The last service was with a Cadillac service department where they replaced the steering shaft, but I am still hearing the clunks, rattles, and squeaks.

A. This has been a common complaint with this model and generally remedied with a replacement of the intermediate steering shaft. In other cases the bearing kit for the steering rack stub shaft needs replacing.

Q. I purchased a 2010 Prius about six months ago. The car is okay, but I’m quite disappointed with the mileage. I was promised 50 miles per gallon and not getting anywhere near close to that mileage. In most cases the car barely gets 38 miles to the gallon. With the combination of brake recalls, Toyota’s bad press, and the poor mileage, I feel like I was lied to. What should I do?

A. The first thing to do is to see if there is actually something wrong with the car and have the brake update completed.  I recently drove a 2010 Prius and averaged 55 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving. The secret to hybrid driving is being "easy" on the gas and then coasting. I have driven hybrids since they first came out and with just a slight modification in driving habits, have been able to meet or beat the EPA estimates. In my opinion the Prius is a great car with plenty of versatility and comfort for four adults. The Prius will never be as fun to drive as a sports car, but it is fun to drive by gas stations.

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