Car Guides

Will a dead key fob leave me stranded?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader with concerns about keyless-entry cars.

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Q. I am considering a new car with push button start and keyless entry. What does AAA do if the battery in a keyless-entry car dies while you’re on the road and locked out?

A. The key-fob contains a hidden key that in most cases slides out of the key fob. The key is then used to open the locked car. In nearly every car there is at least one door lock (it may be hidden under some trim on the door handle. Once inside, depending on the car, there is a spot to hold the key-fob while pushing the start button. Even a key-fob with a nearly dead battery has enough energy to communicate with the car to get the engine started. 

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Q. Our mechanic is suggesting that we change the timing belt/chain on our 2013 VW Beetle Fender edition. The reason is that the engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, and it is an inherent problem that the timing belt/chain breaks or comes off and destroys the engine. The mileage on the car is 107,000, and I intend to drive it for a few more years. The mechanic also says that the rear main seal is leaking and should be replaced. Should we do this work as well or just use an additive to possibly correct the problem? The mechanic said an additive could cause more of a leak. It’s approximately $1,400 to change the rear main seal. Are you aware whether VW has any sort of recall regarding this issue?

A. In certain Volkswagen models with this engine, the timing chain failed early. There was a class action lawsuit, and from what I have read for certain qualified vehicles, warranties on timing chains and timing chain tensioners have been extended by Volkswagen to 10 years or 100,000 miles. This leads me to believe that the timing chain typically fails earlier in the life of the engine, and that perhaps you are one of the lucky ones. Regarding the rear main oil leak, it will not get any better by itself, but it may not get any worse. So, perhaps in the case of the oil leak, watchful waiting makes the most sense. Regarding additives that stop leaks, I am generally not a fan, but I haven’t seen any that cause harm. Some readers have told me of success using “high-mileage” oil that has additives to stop or slow leaks. Perhaps try that oil on your vehicle’s next oil change. 

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Q. I’m in the market for an SUV, however I find that most of the SUV’S are all-wheel drive, which I don’t feel I need. I only travel 4,000 miles per year and don’t drive in the snow. Besides traction on slippery roads, why do I need a vehicle with AWD? Is it standard on most SUV’S?

A. All-wheel drive offers better traction in all driving conditions, but even all-wheel-drive, as good as it is, can’t change the law of physics. Here in the Northeast, most sport utility vehicles are all-wheel drive. In Southern states that isn’t always the case. The other issue is that if you order an SUV in front-wheel drive, when it comes time to trade it in, it will have less value than a comparable AWD. Depending on your budget, the Kia Soul (FWD-only vehicle) has the utility of an SUV. If you want to move upscale, a Volvo wagon is always a good choice.  

Q. I have a 2006 Ford Mustang GT.  The headlight lenses/covers (which are plastic and part of the headlights) are very fuzzy and cloudy. I have tried the headlight cleaners in the auto store to no avail. I have also tried scrub pads I read about online, but still not good. Any suggestions on what to do? New headlights are $400 each.  

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A. At 15 years old, the plastic may have deteriorated to a point where they cannot be polished back to satisfactory performance. Although the factory headlamp assemblies are $400 each, you could try an aftermarket replacement. I have seen CAPA (Certified Auto Parts Association) approved replacement headlight assemblies, including the bulb, for $80 each online. The new light will improve the headlight performance as well as the appearance of the car. 

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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