Cars

How can I keep my little-used car’s battery from draining?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a battery question from a reader who doesn’t drive his car frequently.

Andreas Gebert/Bloomberg

Q. How can I keep my 2018 Mercedes Benz E400’s battery from draining because I don’t use it frequently? 

A. The best thing you can do is to drive the car for 30 minutes, once a week or so. If that isn’t possible and you park in a garage with an electrical outlet, a battery maintainer (float charger) is an ideal method to keep the battery fully charged. Once installed, it is simply a quick disconnect plug under the hood or through the grill. Deltran Battery Tender and CTEK are quality brands. If you are parking outside, a solar charger may keep the battery charged, depending on how much sunlight the car gets.

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Q. I’m trying to replace a damaged steering column on a 1987 Chevy El Camino. I got one from a 1986 El Camino, but where the transmission linkage hooks up to the column is in a different position. Would you know if they are compatible with each other?

A. Although both parts are discontinued, looking at the exploded view and parts numbers on GMpartsdirect.com, both years use the same internal shafts. So based on this, the steering columns should have some level of interchangeability. The other option is to go with an aftermarket, which is available through several specialty GM parts sites. Going aftermarket gives you the ability to go with a shorter or longer column that may make the car more comfortable to drive.  

Q. Recently I’m experiencing, what I believe, is a tire balance problem. It occurs between 60-70 miles per hour. Above or below that speed I have no problem. It feels like I’m running over a rough roadway with a rumbling sensation. I tried to have a high-speed re-balancing of tires, (not the Road Force Balancer that you have recommended). The tires have 45,000 miles on them and I’m thinking of having all four tires replaced. Is there a service device that would duplicate the tire imbalance sensation at that speed of 60-70 mph?

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A. From your description it sounds like a tire balance issue. It could be a tire, rim, or combination of both. Years back we had on-car high speed balancers that could spin the tires as you were balancing the hub, wheel, and tire. These machines are generally long gone. Although high-speed balancing machines allow for easy and quick balancing, I see mistakes being made with technicians not paying attention to balance weight placement, the wheels themselves, or rust buildup on the wheels/hubs. At 45,000 miles, replacing the tires with an all-weather tire would be money well spent. 

Q. Any opinion on Volvo’s long-term reliability?  We own three in our family and purchased them for their overall safety records. We are a little worried about the cost of maintenance and repairs. Lastly, any suggestions on aftermarket brake rotors?  The rotors on two of the cars have been replaced under warranty twice because they warp slightly and cause brake chatter. 

A. Typically, Volvos are about average or slightly above when it comes to maintenance and reliability – not quite to the level of an Acura or Lexus, but generally a little better than some other luxury and near-luxury brands. Regarding rotors, generally there is nothing better than factory parts, but Bendix, Raybestos, Centric, and Brembo are generally good choices for Volvo. One that is recommended on Volvo forums is DuraGo, which I’m just starting to see more of.  You could try to move up to a drilled rotor, which can offer better cooling. Stay away from high-performance slotted rotors which are good for track cars, but not great for general use. Also, when the wheels are removed for tire rotation or any other work, they should be reinstalled using a torque wrench.

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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 the Car Doctor podcast at johnfpaul.podbean.com.

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