Do I need to replace a 6-year-old battery?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader wondering whether to replace a still-working battery in his 2014 Volkswagen.

The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle Dune.
The 2014 Volkswagen Beetle Dune. –Volkswagen

Q. I have a 2014 Volkswagen Beetle and it’s the best car I have ever owned. I have only replaced the brakes and tires in the past six years. The battery is original. Should I replace it? I had it tested last year, and it was fine. 

A. According to testing we have performed at AAA, the average life of a battery in the northeast is about 54 months. At this point it would be in your best interest to replace the battery before you have a problem this winter, when a battery works the hardest. 

Q. I have some tree sap on my car. Without going to a professional, any suggestions for getting this sticky stuff off without ruining the paint?

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A. I’m a fan of products from Stoner Car Care, and they have something called Tarminator. It cleans off dead bugs, sap, and road tar, and is easy on the paint. I’ve also had good luck with Goo-Gone, which is an adhesive remover. A regular listener to my radio program uses hand sanitizer. He says he uses the type with 70 percent alcohol and lets it sit on the sap until it softens enough to wash away. Most of these products will take off the wax, so a quick application of wax after cleaning off the sap to protect the paint is time well spent. 

Q. I currently own a 2016 BMW 320i and have been constantly having issues with my car lights (mainly my rear brake lights and now my passenger blinker light). I took my car into the dealership last month to have it serviced and they initially fixed the light issue, but a month later the lights were malfunctioning. Do you think there is a short in the wire or is this a common issue with these vehicles? The other problem is an error message that has been popping up on my car’s computer display stating there is a drivetrain issue. As a result, the car occasionally has a hard time starting. I am curious if there is anything I can do to fix this issue.

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A. There have been several issues with lights — a burnt pin connector that affects the rear lights, and a software update for the turn signals. The connector issue looks like it requires a wiring repair and perhaps a new bulb socket. If a complete repair wasn’t performed, then the problem will continue. The drivetrain warning light needs a bit more investigation. A tech will need to scan the car for fault codes and get more details. Generally, if it is a coil issue, you’ll get a flashing check engine light. If you are getting a flashing check engine light, then I would suspect a faulty spark plug or ignition coil. 

Q. I have a 2009 Nissan Versa and it will need brakes. What would the typical cost for front brakes be on this car? 

A. The price can vary based on the quality of the parts and the labor rate in the shop. Labor rates today range from $80 to over $150 per hour. It takes about an hour to change the brake pads, add another 30 minutes or so to install new brake rotors. The factory brake pads run about $86 and the factory brake rotors $109. Aftermarket brake pads can be purchased for as little as $12 and brake rotors for at little as $20 online. It is my experience that when it comes to brake components, you get what you pay for. Some of these bargain-price components will squeak, grab, and the rotors will easily go out of round. You don’t need to buy the most expensive parts, but buy quality parts with a warranty.

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Q. I remember changing radiator hoses and fan belts every couple of years. I have a seven-year-old truck, and everything still looks great. How long do these parts last now, and is there a time that I should just change them? 

A. Some parts in cars today seemingly last forever. Exhaust systems sometimes last longer than the car they are on. Radiator hoses and drive belts are easily lasting 10 years and 100,000 miles, if not longer. As a vehicle ages, it still makes sense to periodically inspect belts for cracks and glazing, and hoses for bulges and soft or hard spots. Replace any rubber parts that look questionable to prevent a breakdown. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to jpaul@aaanortheast.com. Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at northshore1049.com.

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The Car Doctor
Am I being a car snob?
November 12, 2020 | 4:25 PM