Car Guides

Do I need a trailer to haul materials with my SUV?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader who is considering a trailer for his work projects.

A row of unsold 2020 Kicks SUVs sit at a Nissan dealership in Highlands Ranch, Colo. AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

Q. I have a small SUV and do projects around the house. I’m considering a trailer because I sometimes need to carry sheetrock or plywood. I don’t really want to buy a pick-up truck because the SUV — although hardly new — runs great. What do you think? 

A. Certainly, a five-by-eight open trailer could work. Even an enclosed cargo trailer is a possibility and could be used for storage. The problem with trailers is they also require maintenance, as well as a place to keep them. I made a trailer once and it ended up being used so infrequently the wheel bearings seized up. Years ago, someone gave me this suggestion. As long as what you are carrying is not too heavy, the roof makes a great place to carry items. Use an egg crate-style mattress pad on the roof. This will protect the paint and cushion and hold what you are carrying. Use ratchet-style straps run around the objects and roof. Tighten everything up, close the doors, and off you go. This has worked for me for years. 

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Q. I have a 2014 Honda CR-V and sometimes the hatch won’t unlatch. This only happens when it is cold outside (inconvenient for me and difficult for a shop to check). Do you have any idea what the problem is? 

A. Once you have checked the switch and wiring, a common problem is the latch. The latch/actuator combination costs about $70 and it takes about an hour to install. 

Q. My car is due for state inspection soon and the horn doesn’t work. The car is an older Toyota Corolla, and I don’t want to put too much money into it. Can I wire a horn button to the dash and would that pass the inspection? I have checked the horn and fuse and they look fine. 

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A. The problem is most likely a faulty ground circuit to the horn. The horn uses the airbag clock spring as a ground. Generally, when this happens the airbag warning light will also flash intermittently or flash multiple times when the car is started. The ground circuit can be tested by grounding the wire just before the clock-spring and see if the horn works. Although you could wire a horn button I suspect you will have — or already have — an airbag issue, and replacing the clock-spring would be the correct repair. Plan to spend about $500 to get the problem solved. 

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Q. I have a Subaru Legacy and the release for the trunk doesn’t work. I can open it with the key but it is handy to open the trunk from the inside of the car. I have looked at it and know the cable is broken. Is there an easy way to fix this or does the cable need replacement? Can I do it myself? 

A. Unless the cable simply jumps off its perch on the button or latch, the cable will need replacing. It isn’t difficult work but does require a certain amount of disassembly of the interior and trunk to “fish” the cable though the car. If the cable moves with the interior lever, it may be that the cable has stretched. You could try adding a couple of rubber grommets to the cable at the latch to take up the slack. If you decide you want to tackle the repair, budget out a half a day and the part can be purchased online for $30-$40. 

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Q. A few years ago, I had a front window replaced due to a crack in the window during the winter. While replacing the glass, the person from the company said he would give me a tip for winter defrosting. He said put it on partial window defrost to be sure the heat on a cold window wouldn’t cause possible cracking. He said it takes a little longer but is safer. Is that correct?

A. I would agree if the heat in the car was instantaneous, but it isn’t. As the engine runs, it warms the water in the heater and the air temperature of the defroster goes from cold to warm to hot, warming the glass slowly. One place I’ve seen something like this happen is at a car wash on a cold day. The car is hot, the windshield is warm, and the car wash water is cold — and the glass has a defect or a tiny chip. The interesting thing about glass is that it has a memory. If there is a small chip or crack and the temperature changes quickly, it could cause that crack or chip to spread. 

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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 northshore1049.com.

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