News and Reviews

What’s wrong with my Dodge Neon’s brakes?

Q. I have a 2000 Dodge Neon with only 55,000 miles on it.  Recently the red brake light started coming on and the brakes felt mushy.  I checked the brake fluid and discovered that it was low. I filled it with the proper fluid and the brakes feel fine.  But the light is still coming on and there is an electrical burning smell under the hood.  Do you have any idea as to what the problem could be?

A. The red brake warning light will illuminate for two reasons. The first reason is when the parking brake is applied or is not fully released. Try setting the parking brake repeatedly, if the light flickers, then the problem is related to the parking brake warning switch. The second reason is due to a hydraulic failure of the brake system. This could be a leaking brake line, leaking brake caliper, wheel cylinder or faulty master cylinder. The smell could be brake fluid burning on the hot exhaust system. Since you are driving a car that is potentially unsafe, you should have it checked immediately. 


Q. I am changing the spark plugs in my 2007 Toyota RAV4 and am installing NGK iridium plugs. The specified torque is 13 ft/lb (156 in /lb). My question is, do I use a lower torque setting with anti-seize lube on the threads? Since these new plugs stay in the engine so long, I don’t want them to be difficult to remove next time I change them.

A. This is a case of a simple question with a complex answer. The general rule is: whenever a lubricant is applied to a fastener, it will change the torque required, in some cases by up to 25 percent. Your question of anti-seize brings a little science and engineering into the picture. Since the anti-seize is a lubricant it will change the torque needed which is generally referred to as the K factor. The technical support staff at Loctite use the following equation: T (target torque) = K (coefficient of fiction) x D (diameter) x P (desired load) If all this gives you a headache, here is what I have done in the past. Start with a cold engine and clean the cylinder-head threads. When installing most spark plugs, use just a dab of lubricant and reduce the stated torque by a value of 20-25 percent. Just to add a little more confusion to the question, while using AC Delco sparkplugs, they do not recommend using any lubricant on spark plug threads.


Q. I’m having a fair amount of difficulty turning the steering wheel in one direction. What could be the cause of this? A friend of mine has a 2002 Subaru (not sure what model) and this has started happening recently. 

A. Your friend’s Subaru, like most cars today, use rack and pinion power steering with a strut style suspension. The steering can bind in one or both directions due to a faulty power-steering control valve, loose power-steering belt, worn struts, bearing mounts, or other worn suspension and steering components. A good technician will first isolate any power steering problem and then look at the individual steering components.

Q. I rotated the tires on my Honda Accord and now it pulls to the left and the TPMS light came on, although it did go off. The car always drove perfectly until this change. Is it a tire problem, an alignment issue, or something worse?

A. The problem is most likely with your car’s left front tire. This tire condition is known as camberism or conicity. Think of the tire as a cone, depending on the degree of angle, it will make the car lead in one specific direction. If you rotate the left side tires again and the pulling subsides, you have identified the defective tire. The TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) light is on because the tires were moved from their original position. Driving the car for more than a minute or so at speeds above 20 miles per hour allow the individual wheel sensor IDs to be memorized by the car’s computer.


Q. If given the option would you purchase a Jaguar XJ-L or an Audi A8 L? I’m in the market for a large luxurious sedan and would like your opinion.

A. Both cars are very good choices. The latest Jaguar is powerful, rides smoothly and has a luxuriously comfortable interior. When I recently drove the XJ, it turned more heads and received more comments than any vehicle in recent memory. The Audi A8 is equally powerful and handles remarkably for a large sedan. The ride is a bit firm, but in my opinion a reasonable trade-off for great handling. Two minor faults with the Jaguar, the navigation/climate control/sound system is overly complicated and somewhat distracting. Also the rear seat entry and egress is a little awkward due to the stylish but sloping roofline. If it were my $90,000 I would choose the Audi A8.

Q. I live in Massachusetts, what is happening with the Right to Repair issue?

A. As I write this column, the most recent development is, that the Massachusetts Auto Dealers Association is now in favor of the Right to Repair bill. The bill sponsor summarized it in this way, new car dealers can purchase the same repair and diagnostic information for a fair market price that will be entitled to the car owner or independent repairer under the Right to Repair law. 



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