Auto Q&A: Grounding jumper cable can prevent sparking an explosion

"Why not connect to the negative terminal on the dead battery?"

Grounding the negative cable on the car being jumped can prevent dangerous sparking.
Grounding the negative cable on the car being jumped can prevent dangerous sparking. –Dreamstime/TNS

Q: I have a question about jump-starting a dead battery. One expert told me not to connect the negative cable to terminal on the dead battery but rather to connect it to a grounding point. Yet, when our 2016 Subaru Impreza had a dead battery, the mechanic did connect the negative cable to the negative terminal on the dead battery. The car started fine, and we’ve had no more battery problems since then.

Why not connect to the negative terminal on the dead battery? Are both ways OK? What problems might occur?

— R.V., Bethlehem, Pa.

A: Both ways work equally well. However, there is the risk of a spark when connecting the cables, and if there is any hydrogen gas leaking from the battery, there may be an explosion. I saw it happen in a shop where I worked. The mechanic was taken to the hospital. Luckily, his injuries were minor.

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Q: I, like S.A. of Coral Gables, coast to red lights. I see no reason to engage in racing to a red light. When I am approaching a traffic signal, I look in my rearview mirror to see if there are any vehicles that could hit me. If someone is signaling for a turn, I either change lanes, if possible, or adjust my speed to allow the other vehicle to exit to the turning lane.

We all must remember that driving is a communal experience in which all travelers are attempting to reach their destinations safely. Like dancing on a crowded dance floor, driving requires cooperation and communication to achieve that goal without bumping into others.

— R.L., Woodridge, Ill.

A: I heard from numerous readers, many of whom were, shall we say, a bit more aggressive drivers. We also heard from numerous drivers who agree with your theory and I could not have said it better. Thank you.

Q: Do you know of a reliable source (online or in print) for a new vehicle’s invoice price? Consumer Guide used to publish a periodical featuring this information (including the invoice price for specific options on the vehicle), but I haven’t been able to find it in recent years.

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— B.B., Morrison, Ill.

A: A good place to start is the NADA. Select a car, add trim level then click to see the invoice price and MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail prices). Another is cars.com, where you can find many of the MSRP listed by body type. For instance, if you are interested in a new sedan, go to Cars.com  and you will find just about anything from Acura to Volvo. The site does not, however, show all the optional prices at a glance.

Q: I am wondering how to care for the weather stripping on the doors, hoods, trunks, and hatchbacks of my automobiles. It seems like the Internet advises the use of silicone spray.

R.L., Chicago

A: Silicone spray works well, but I don’t like the way overspray gets all over. I have always used a thin shmear of silicone grease and it seems to work well. Gold Eagle’s 303 brand offers liquid silicone in a bottle with a built-in applicator sponge, kind of like those found on liquid shoe polish. I have not tried it, but it sounds like a good idea. Treat all weather strip and gaskets.

Incidentally, treating the weather strip prevents the ice lock that keeps your doors from opening when the weather turns from wet to freezing overnight.

Auto Q&A: Don’t put off fixing cooling system leak

By Brad Bergholdt, Tribune News Service

Q: I’ve noticed some spots on the driveway beneath my car that I believe are antifreeze (orange). I have an intense schedule right now that will make it difficult to have the car serviced. Is it acceptable to add a container of stop-leak to fix the problem?

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–Melissa B.

A: Melissa, I have doubts this will help, and the consequences of possibly overheating the engine are ugly. Before driving further, can you please check or get the coolant level checked, and top off as necessary? Removing the radiator or expansion tank cap is absolutely dangerous unless the engine is cold, as the warm/hot coolant will be under pressure and can cause serious burns if it suddenly escapes.

If coolant is needed to bring the radiator and/or expansion tank or overflow bottle to the correct level, tap water will do for a quick fix, until the system is inspected and repaired (coolant will likely be renewed upon repair). Even if the leakage rate is slight (a few drips here and there) I’d seek service as soon as possible.

There are many reasons a cooling system may leak. Hoses can develop cracks or splits, a hose clamp may be loose or improperly seated, a gasket between mating engine components may be failing, the radiator or heater core may be leaking, or the water pump seal may be leaking. Stop leak products are sketchy at best, and would likely only be helpful in the case of a tiny radiator or heater core leak, and the fix often doesn’t last very long. I’d hesitate also adding anything that could possibly contribute to passage clogging.

It’s impossible to tell you what to expect for a repair. A leaky hose would be your best-case scenario; a leaking heater core or corroded engine component (occurs due to lack of cooling system service/coolant replacement) would likely be the worst.

Promise me you’ll move on this as soon as possible. The consequences of an overheated engine can be major and unpredictable.

Q: I’m trying to teach my daughter, a new driver, the best ways to drive efficiently so as to produce the least emissions. Do you have suggestions?

–Val T.

A: Reducing emissions and maximizing fuel economy go hand in hand. Maintaining correct tire pressure, performing appropriate vehicle maintenance, and practicing efficient driving habits can go a long way to improve operating efficiency. Today’s cars and trucks are pretty good about letting you know of performance faults via the Onboard Diagnostics II system’s check engine/service engine soon light. Virtually all faults or conditions that might result in increased exhaust emissions (and reduced engine efficiency as a side benefit) will result in an illuminated light and a stored diagnostic trouble code.

When it comes to driving habits, minimizing the quantity of cold starts via trip consolidation is huge, as emissions are much higher then. Anticipating slowdowns ahead and easing up early on the throttle, rather than braking, saves fuel. Brakes convert kinetic energy to heat, which is about as wasteful a process as one can get!

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