Why did a car’s heater system stop working?

Q. I have a 2007 Honda Element. The heat suddenly stopped working about a month and a half ago. I only drive the car once or twice per week and it had been working fine the previous week. The heater was blowing cold air and wouldn’t heat up at all. After a few days of driving the car, I took it to a mechanic. He lifted the hood and checked everything but didn’t see anything “mechanically wrong’’ (his words) with it. Strangely, when he closed the hood the heat worked and has not stopped again! I have a couple of road trips planned and fear that the heat may go again. The mechanic suggested that I bring it to a Honda dealership since it must be an electrical issue. Do you agree?


A. The heater system uses a cable operated heater control valve and a power temperature air blending door. The heater valve is a quick check and is easily verified if it works or not. The blend door control is a little trickier to check. It is possible the blend was simply stuck and the bang of closing the hood allowed it to move and work. The problem you face know is that it is very hard to fix something that is working properly.

Q. I bought 2006 Chevrolet Malibu in Florida in 2009 and after three years the car is now in Massachusetts. While is Florida occasionally after the first start of the day when I restart it will sometimes sound like a machine gun and doesn’t start. The next try is the same rat-a-tat-tat sound and it usually starts up with a slightly crank. I took it to the mechanic and he checked wiring and electrical system and it seemed fine but battery was weak so I just replaced it. I’m still having the issue with starting it up after a short drive but not every time. Do you think the car will need a starter? If I need new starter how much should I expect to pay and would you advise replacing starter now based on the problem?


A. Judging by your description the starter drive gear is either worn or not properly meshing with the engine’s ring gear/flywheel. I would start with replacing the starter and inspecting the ring gear. If the starter needs replacement it will take about an hour to replace. The cost of the part varies depending where it is purchased. The factory part can cost up to $450 with aftermarket remanufactured starter about half that price. The longer the starter grinds the more likely it could damage the engine’s flywheel/ring gear. If the ring gear is damaged, the labor cost to replace it will take about seven hours.

Q. I own a 1991 Pontiac 6000 with a 3.1 liter six cylinder engine and the car only has 84,000 original miles on it. I still have the original window sticker and it says the fuel economy should be 19 miles per gallon in the city and 30 miles per gallon on the highway. I don’t have any problem with the 19 or so miles per gallon around town but the best I can do out on the highway is 24 miles per gallon. I’ve already spent a chunk of money and am not sure I want to continue, any thoughts on this?

A. In the last 23 years the method for calculating fuel economy has changed. With the changes you can expect about a 10 percent reduction in the original EPA mileage estimate. In addition as a car gets older it is not the usual to see some reduction in fuel economy. That said since your vehicle’s city economy is pretty good I would suspect that the transmission may not be going into overdrive or torque convertor lock-up. Many of this model GM vehicle had torque convertor issues. The quick fix was just to unplug the electrical connection for the torque convertor. The result was the engine would run at a higher RPM on the highway which would use more fuel.


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