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THE CAR DOCTOR

More ethanol, more problems

Plus: Run-flat tires, aftermarket floor mats

By John Paul
November 6, 2010

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Q. I have two old cars and an old wooden boat and it took two years to get the fuel systems squared away with this ethanol blended gasoline at the pumps. Now I hear that the government has approved 15 percent ethanol. Now what?

A. The EPA has approved gasoline with up to 15 percent ethanol and from stories I have read this gas mixture is posing some major concerns for both vehicle and marine manufacturers. In fact Illinois-based additive maker ValvTect said that E15 will not be sold at ValvTect Certified Marinas any time soon, due to concerns about fiberglass fuel tank damage. It is my understanding that E15 is compatible with vehicles manufactured after 2007 but could cause problems and higher vehicle emissions with vehicles manufactured earlier. More information should be available from the EPA soon.

Q. I have a four-year-old car which had floor mats that were destroyed by the previous owner (looks like they had wet paint on their shoes). I went to the dealership that services the car and to my surprise the replacement mats are not available. I picked up mats at a department store but they slide around and generally feel cheap. Any suggestions?

A. I just ordered a set of floor mats from GG Bailey (www.ggbailey.com). The quality is great and the fit and color is perfect. They also can create custom embroidered mats and monogrammed mats for just about any application. GG Bailey is part of Racemark International, maker of many original equipment mats which could explain why they fit so well.

Q. I own a 2005 Chevy Cobalt with 96,000 miles. I get most of my service and maintenance done at the dealership where I purchased the car. Every time I go in they have something new I should get checked or done. I live on a very strict budget so I almost always say no. What maintenance (other than oil changes) is an absolute must?

A. Your vehicle owner’s manual lists many of the routine maintenance items that need to be performed based on time or mileage. Considering the age and mileage, this shouldn’t be your only source of information. A qualified technician will alert you to repairs that need to be performed that can impact both safety and reliability. They may also tell you there are some repairs that can be deferred to a later date. If you don’t have the owner’s manual, send me an email and I’ll send you the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.

Q.What do you think of the Subaru Forester? I’m looking at both the Forester and the CR-V and leaning towards the Forester. Which car would you buy?

A. The Subaru Forester is a competent vehicle in a tidy package. No one would ever consider the standard engine in the Forester to be a powerhouse but is certainly competent enough. The flat-four cylinder engine, with its low center of gravity combined with its all-wheel-drive system, makes it a hard to beat combination in Northeast winters. Over the years the interior of Subaru vehicles has improved and for 2010 it is now equal or better than its competitors. Would I buy a Subaru? Sure. Would I pick it over the CR-V? No. There is something about the CR-V that just works for me and that is the real answer. Both are great vehicles and you need to buy the one that fits you and your lifestyle.

Q. I’m an AAA member and have used the roadside assistance in the past when I’ve had a flat tire. AAA comes right away, changes the tire, and I’m on my way to my destination. I recently purchased a 2010 BMW 328i that doesn’t have a spare tire! They use run-flat tires. I’m concerned that I’ll be on a highway in the middle of nowhere and if my car gets a flat my only option is to call BMW Roadside Assistance who will tow me to the nearest BMW dealer. Can I buy a new tire and rim, keep it in my trunk, and have AAA change the tire for me if I have a flat?

A. If you have a flat tire, AAA will certainly install a spare tire or tow your car if necessary. Regarding buying a spare tire, the point of run-flat tires is to avoid having to change a flat tire. The run-flat tire has a limited use, but about the same as a space-saver spare. I drive many new cars and spare tires are going the way of ashtrays. More and more I see run-flat tires, portable air compressors, and sealants replacing spare tires. If you think about it, the tires on your car are about the only item that has a spare part.