Car Guides

I need help choosing a small SUV

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader looking for advice in selecting a new vehicle.

The 2020 Subaru Outback XT Onyx Edition. Subaru of America via AP

Q. I’m looking to replace my current vehicle and was thinking about a small SUV. Even in these COVID-19 times, I’m commuting about 90 minutes each way to work and I want something that is practical, decent on gas, and has some of the latest safety innovations. I have looked at the Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, and even the Volvo XC40. They all have features I like and many I don’t. I want comfort and at least a decent amount of engine power balanced with fuel economy and all-wheel-drive. Hoping the Car Doctor can steer me in the right direction. 

A. There are plenty of good choices in vehicles today. The latest Santa-Fe from Hyundai is a good choice as is the Kia Sorento. The Mazda CX-5 handles well, and depending on engine choices can feel quite sporty. One vehicle that I drove recently and enjoyed was the latest Outback from Subaru. The XT version of the Outback comes with a turbo-charged engine and all of the latest safety technology. In addition, it has over eight inches of ground clearance without feeling like you need to step up to get in. If you haven’t checked out this version of the Outback, it is certainly worth a look. 


Q. If you were buying one set of metric sockets for automotive use, would you buy standard or deep-well style? I’ve found the standard height can vary from 0.8″ to 1.2″ while deep seems to be 2.5″ across the brands.  GearWrench’s brand of tools offers a mid-length at 1.8″ that looks like a good compromise. A shallow socket sometimes gives me problems on some bolts and nuts, and I always seem to need an extension.

A. Professionals have several different sets; deep, shallow, impact, swivel, in 6- and 12-point style and a variety of extensions. At the professional level, you can spend hundreds of dollars on one set of quality sockets. If you were to just buy one high quality/professional set, I would probably buy a shallow set with a couple of extensions. In many cases a combination wrench can work when a bolt is too tall for a shallow socket. The other alternative is buying a couple of inexpensive sets such as the Harbor Freight Pittsburg brand or Walmart Hyper-Tough. I needed a few metric ¼ inch drive sockets when I was away from home. I purchased a full set of shallow and deep sockets that came with two extensions, ratchet, and driver handle — all for $16.00. Are they as good as my professional tools at home? No, but at the time they worked out perfectly. 


Q. My car, a seven-year-old Infiniti G37, has only 39,000 miles on it. The other day, we made a left turn onto a straightaway and suddenly, out of nowhere, a deafening sound began and then finally stopped — but not before making us all momentarily deaf. We were totally stunned with this ear-splitting noise. The heater, wipers, and radio were all on. There was a terrible rumbling sound which another passenger said sounded like static and also said it also sounded like a high ringing tone. The car was used the next day, but no noises occurred like the previous day. In all of the cars I’ve driven over the past 20 years, I have never heard a noise like this. What could be wrong with my car? Since that one incident it hasn’t happened again, but it really scared me. What can I tell the mechanic to look for? 


A. If the noise happens again — providing you can do so safely — shut off the car, wait a few seconds, then restart the car. I suspect if you do this, the noise will have gone away. I believe the problem is a short circuit in the car’s sound system. I think the noise you heard was the amplifier blasting white noise at full volume. Your problem will be trying to demonstrate it to the technicians that will need to fix the car. Although I have not seen this problem in an Infiniti before, I have seen it in other models. 


Q. My 2007 Honda Odyssey that I keep in Florida has only 135,000 miles on it and runs great. The only issue is that the air conditioning does not kick in consistently. When it works it blows nice cold air, but other times the air is just warm. I’d hate to get rid of this vehicle — it is so practical for everything from picking people up at the airport to trips to the home store and beach. Any suggestions? Having a car without air conditioning in Florida is not fun. 

A. One issue I have seen in some Honda models is an intermittent failure of the air conditioner clutch. If the system has been checked (including the A/C clutch) for proper operation, and the pressures are found to be within the normal range, then it is time to look at the operational side of the climate control system. Like most vehicles today, the air conditioner and heater work together and air duct controllers mix cool and warm air. What could be happening is the motor for the duct is malfunctioning and allowing too much warm air to mix with the cool air.


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 [email protected]. Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at

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