Car Guides

Auto Q&A: The proper way to jump a car, revisited

Don't listen to that self-proclaimed family "expert."

Ground the negative (black) cable by connecting it to the frame of the recipient car away from the battery, or you'll risk an explosion. Lisa F. Young/Dreamstime/TNS

Q: I appreciated your caution on connecting the negative to a grounding point when using jumper cables. A self-proclaimed family “expert” stated it is safe to connect it to the battery as long as you do the negative first. Can you comment on this theory please? Would that be safe, or not?

–A.K., Chicago

A: Often, self-proclaimed experts have been awarded the title by dummies. Here is the proper way to do a jumpstart:

  1. Connect the positive (red) cable to the donor car.
  2. Connect the positive (red) cable to the recipient car.
  3. Connect the negative (black) cable to the recipient car away from the battery.
  4. Connect the negative (black) cable to the donor car away from the battery.

Connecting both clamps to the battery risks a spark and explosion from any hydrogen gas coming from the battery. That’s not safe.

Q: A few decades ago, maybe less, you would hear of people dying of carbon monoxide inhalation as a result of sitting in closed cars in winter with the engine running. Is this still a problem? What about sitting in closed cars with the A/C running?

–N.T., Walnutport, Pa.

A: Sitting inside the car while the engine is running is not unsafe. But sitting in an enclosed area like a garage is dangerous. With the advent of push button start/stop making key removal unnecessary, forgetful drivers are leaving their cars running. Since most cars are also very quiet, that clue is also fading away. We have CO detectors in our house. You should, too.

Q: During my last oil change at the dealer the service rep said I needed to have my brake fluid flushed on my 2013 Camry. They claim this is required every 30,000 miles to avoid rust in the line. I never heard of this on any car I’ve owned, and I am 76 years old. Is this legit or another way to nickel-and-dime me? Cost is over $125 each time.

–B.S., Ingleside, Ill.

A: Although changing the brake fluid periodically is a fine prophylactic measure, it is not mandated by most carmakers — especially every 30,000 miles. There are test strips available to test for residual copper in the brake fluid which would indicate that it is time to change.


Q: My car’s check engine light came on with a code P2097 diagnosis. The code was cleared but it was suggested that I may be a “digital driver” and that there is no fix for this concern. After being told what a “digital driver” was, there is in no way, shape or form, am I that type of driver. A week later and the same scenario again. They clear the code and tell me to keep bringing it in whenever it comes back on. My question is, what do you think of this “digital driver” nonsense?

–B.N., Chicago

A: According to the Urban Dictionary, “A car driver who resists the analog world, proving a curve is a sequence of straight lines, and that incessant acceleration mixed with braking approximates a smooth highway speed. Most often found by locating the guy with car-sick passengers. ‘That drive back from the bar with Leo nearly made me hurl — he’s such a digital driver! Nearly killed the hula girl on the dash.’ ” Basically, it is somebody who is constantly tapping the gas and brake. I know such a person.

Auto Q&A: Too much oil in crankcase not a good thing

Using a dipstick to check a car’s oil level.

By Brad Bergholdt, Tribune News Service

Q: I recently had my oil changed. After looking around under the hood occasionally as you have recommended, I discovered the oil level is about three-quarters of an inch above the full mark on the dipstick. Could this be normal or should I return the car for correction? Can this cause a problem?


–Peter L.

A: This should be rectified. An overfilled crankcase may result in the crankshaft striking the oil, possibly enough so to whip the oil into a froth. Frothy oil results in a loss of vital oil pressure and can result in serious engine damage. Increased crankcase pressure may also occur, which could push oil past seals, causing leaks. Seal damage isn’t likely, but who needs the mess?

If you haven’t noticed frothing on the dipstick or oil spots, you should be OK. But have this fixed, as a precaution.

Q: I just had a check engine light happen. My son checked it with his little tool and phone and said its a P0440 code. How serious is this? Can I still drive back and forth to work until I can get it fixed?


A: It sounds like your son is using an Elm327 interface device ($10-20) or similar in conjunction with his phone and a downloaded app such as Torque Pro. This can be a simple and inexpensive way to look at certain engine operating functions along with diagnostic codes. Cheaper interface devices can be buggy.

Your P0440 DTC (diagnostic trouble code) indicates a fault in the EVAP (evaporative emissions control system), likely causing a fuel vapor leak to the atmosphere. The EVAP system gathers and holds fuel tank and fuel system vapors, storing them in a charcoal canister until it’s a good time to purge them (they are drawn into the engine for consumption). An EVAP system leak will pose no problems for vehicle operation but should be fixed when you can for environmental reasons and to be able to pass an emissions inspection.


A loose or faulty fuel filler cap is a common cause of this code. Try removing the cap, inspect the rubber seal for problems, and securely reinstall it. Depending on fuel level and driving trip characteristics, it can take several days or more for the OBD-II system to repeatedly run the EVAP system monitor (test) and see three successful trips before turning off the light. Your son’s app may provide a code clearing function, which would be immediate. Other P0440 causes can be challenging to locate, such as a faulty purge or vent valve, leaking canister, hose or tank filler neck. Diagnosing such a fault is a pro level repair.

UPDATE ON STRUTS: In a recent column on strut replacement, I pretty much pooh-poohed the idea of replacing struts at home. Reader Bob G. politely reminded me that Quick Struts can make this a moderately easy DIY job (a wheel alignment check afterward is still recommended).

Yikes! I had a gray moment. Quick Struts are complete replacement struts, also including the coil spring and upper mount, and cost perhaps only 25-40 percent more than an identical bare strut. Renewing the complete assembly also makes sense on a higher mileage vehicle as possible spring sag and a worn upper mount would no longer be of concern. Strut upper mounts are like a sandwich, connecting the strut to the vehicle body structure. They contain a thick rubber cushion and, on front struts, a bearing to allow steering rotation. Symptoms of a worn strut mount can include clunking, stiff or sloppy steering, and tire wear due to alignment shifting.

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