Cars

I need advice on making improvements to my 16-year-old car

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader whose 2005 Toyota has brake and headlight issues.

The Associated Press

Q. I own a 2005 Toyota Corolla that I inherited, and it is the most boring, but also the best car I’ve ever owned. The rear brakes are drum brakes and I have to periodically have rust blown out of the rear brakes as they make a distinct noise when I slow down and stop. Since the brake drums are very rusty, I was wondering if I could replace the rear brake drums without replacing the brake shoes, as the shoes are fairly new. Also, the headlights on the car are not as bright as I would like. I’ve replaced the halogen bulbs with original equipment bulbs and cleaned some of the haze off of the headlight assembly with little improvement. I was wondering if there is an aftermarket bulb that you could recommend that would improve the efficiency of the headlights. 

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A. I prefer to match new drums with new brake shoes. Using new brake drums and old brake shoes (or vice versa) can cause brake squeal. One option is having the current brake drums resurfaced to clean up any accumulating rust. Regarding headlight bulbs, some people have added LED replacement bulbs as an alternative. The issue is that these bulbs are not Department of Transportation compliant. You could add a brighter DOT compliant bulb (Sylvania Silver Star Plus is one). These brighter bulbs add light but are designed not to offend oncoming drivers. The one downside is a shorter lifespan. Where a typical headlight bulb might have a usual life of four to five years, performance bulbs might only last two years. You might also consider replacing the entire headlight assembly with a quality aftermarket product. The lenses will be crystal clear and provide better light than the reconditioned lenses. 

Q. I have two general questions. First, can E3 brand spark plugs be used with an aftermarket electronic MSD ignition system? Second,  is a power steering oil cooler beneficial for an older car?  

A. Holley (parent company of MSD Ignitions) recommends using regular spark plugs with their MSD ignition rather than specialty hotter plugs. Based on what I have seen this means stay away from platinum and multi-electrode spark plugs like E3. I would use traditional copper plugs and maybe gap them a little fat and, after running them for a while, check the plug condition. Some people will run a slightly cooler plug to somewhat offset the hotter spark. As for adding an aftermarket power steering oil cooler, unless you are auto crossing a car and really exercising the power steering system, I don’t see the need.  

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Q. I took my new-to-me 1958 Buick to a car show recently, and it generally runs quite well. The guys in the local car club that ran the show suggested that I should switch the ignition system to an electronic style and the generator to an alternator. What is your take on this?

A. With a solid-state ignition system, you never have to worry about points wearing off or burning out, and the ignition spark is generally stronger and provides quicker starts. The problem with generators is they don’t do a good job at charging the battery at idle. Replacing the generator with a simple-to-install General Motors alternator with a built-in voltage regulator would solve any possible charging problems. That being said, cars performed just fine for nearly a century with this old technology, and if it is working well you could certainly keep using it. 

Q. My 2011 Mercedes Benz GLK 350 needs a power steering hose replaced. The repair looks easy enough, but my question is about power steering fluid. The owner’s manual states the Dexron III is acceptable fluid to use. My question is can I use Dexron IV, V or Vl? My other question is how long do sealed containers of oil last? 

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A. When I looked up the specification for power steering fluid in the databases that I use, I did get conflicting information. One database stated to use only Mercedes Benz fluid and didn’t show an equivalent. When I looked it up, another agreed with the Mercedes owner’s manual and it did state that Dexron III was compatible. According to AC Delco who markets Dexron fluids, they state that Dexron Vl is backwards compatible with previous DEXRON automatic transmission fluids and can be used as a replacement for older vehicles. Regarding shelf life of oil, the last time I had someone from an oil company on my radio program I asked that question and he said five years is the number they use. I don’t believe the oil goes bad (although the additives could settle out). It’s more of a case of newer vehicles needing newer formulated products.

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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