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The Car Doctor

Don't buy bigger mirrors, adjust them properly

Plus: Wiping off wax buildup on windshield, antenna

By John Paul
December 21, 2010

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Q. I am looking for a wider/larger rear view mirror that could be installed in my mother’s car to increase her rear visibility. There are many products out there and I was wondering if you are familiar with these and which manufacturers/products you would recommend.

A. I’m not crazy about the idea of adding a larger rear view mirror to most cars. Rather than block some forward visibility with a longer and wider mirror I would try readjusting the mirrors you have. Try this mirror adjustment. Lean to the left so that your head is just touching the side window and adjust the side view mirror so that you can see a good portion of the left side of the car. Adjust the right side mirror by sitting in the center of the car and tilting it so it shows just the edge of the right side of the car. Using this method, the driver should have a much better view to the side and rear of the car.

Q. I have a 2000 Volvo S70 with 131,000 miles. When it rains and I run the wipers, I see a filmy, soapy substance and vertical streaks on my windshield that are impossible to get rid with conventional window cleaner. From the outside the windshield looks dry even when it is wet. The only thing I can think of is a polish/wax from a car wash or maybe tree sap. Do you have any suggestions for cleaning this hard-to-remove stuff off my windshield?

A. From your description, it does sound like a buildup of wax, and alcohol should remove the majority of the wax. Once the windshield looks wax-free then clean it again with a good quality commercial window cleaner. At this point I would also consider replacing the windshield wiper blades.

Q. I own a 2002 Chevy Trailblazer. The heating fan does not work on the first three settings but works on settings four and five. Do you have any ideas on what is the problem?

A. The problem could be a faulty fan switch or wiring, but the most likely cause is a faulty blower motor resistor. The resistor is pricey at about $65 but will take less than one hour to replace.

Q. I have a 2004 Honda Accord four-cylinder which must not have a timing belt as the owner's manual indicates only six-cylinder models have them. So does that mean I have a timing chain which doesn't get replaced until it breaks or wears out? My wife's car is a six-cylinder Lexus RX300 which I believe has a timing belt. Am I correct to think that her timing belt should be replaced along with the water pump every 90,000 miles? Thanks and I enjoy reading your column in Sunday's Globe.

A. You are correct in both cases. Your Honda has a timing chain and the timing chain will last the life of the vehicle. The Lexus has a timing belt and according to the manufacturer needs to be replaced at 90,000 miles. Regarding the water pump, the pump is buried under the timing belt. If you plan on keeping the Lexus for a while or if the pump shows any hint of wear if would make financial sense to replace it with the timing belt.

Q. I just moved to the Berkshires from Boston. I drive a 1998 BMW 323is rear-wheel-drive coupe which is horrible in the snow. I've gotten by in the city, but am concerned about the roads out here. Will snow tires help or should I start truck shopping?

A. Having a rear-wheel-drive sports sedan in an area that gets considerable snow can be a challenge. Before I went shopping for an all-wheel-drive car or truck I would try four winter tires. Winter tires are constructed with compounds that are softer and provide more traction than conventional tires.

Q. I have a 2003 Jaguar and the antenna does not always go all the way up or down. Is this an easy fix?

A. You may find that cleaning the mast of built up wax and other debris may solve the problem. If not, you may have to replace the entire antenna assembly. The part is pricey at slightly more than $360.

Q. I have a teenage son and I’m concerned about how he drives when I’m not in the car. Recently I noticed that the extra quart of oil I keep in the right side of the truck is now sitting in the left hand wheel well. Based on this simple observation I would say he was driving “enthusiastically.” I don’t want to be a spy but would like to do something. Any ideas?

A. There are several devices on the market which can track a car’s performance. One I have looked at recently is from Lemur (www.lemurmonitors.com). One of their units called “SafeDriver” can record maximum speed, distance traveled, and a number of sudden braking actions. The system is simple, downloads wirelessly to a key-fob, and no computer is necessary.

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