A car-buyer’s plea: Tips for a 5-passenger SUV

Q. I am looking for your suggestions on a five-passenger SUV. I would like something that is roomy inside, handles well on the road, returns good mileage and is safe. I also hope not to spend more than $28,000. There are so many choices these days and would like to narrow my search if possible. The one vehicle I’m trying to stay away from is a Jeep, it is too trucky for me.

A. You are correct that there are plenty of choices, but one that to me comes to the top of the list is the Hyundai Sante Fe. It has a great warranty; standard stability control; and a quiet, comfortable ride; and it did well in crash tests. For 2013, the Sante Fe is available as both five- (Sport model) and seven-passenger models. The Ford Edge is also worth looking at; it seats five and is an all-around good performer. Although a bit on the smaller side, the Subaru Forester is always a good choice, comfortable, dependable, and redesigned with a more contemporary style.


Q. I have a 1996 Volvo 850 wagon and have discovered the trip odometer stays frozen at 000 and the odometer is stuck 352321. I am also having a hard time turning the radio on after replacing the battery. A co-worker with has same model has the same problem. Is there a quick and simple fix I could do myself?

A. One possible problem is with the vehicle speed sensor; this sensor relays the information to the speedometer and odometer. Of course, it could be a faulty speedometer or wiring problem. The radio features anti-theft circuitry. If the radio is removed from the vehicle or if the battery power is disconnected, a special code must be entered to enable operation of the set. You should have a radio code card. If not, you will need to go back to the dealer to retrieve the code.

Q. What is your opinion on the 2013 Nissan Altima? I have seen one that interests me and it looks like a good deal. I had a previous Altima and thought it was OK but not great.

A. The newest Altima continues to grow and mature. The current 3.5-liter V-6 engine is a great performer and while in my possession returned a respectable average of 31 miles per gallon. A four-cylinder engine will deliver nearly 38 mpg. The ride is comfortable, handling is quite good, and the front seat comfort is improved over previous models. I never considered the Altima a contender in the very competitive mid-sized sedan category, but after some time in the latest Altima I’ve changed my mind.


Q. I have an older Lexus that I brought in for a 60,000-mile check yesterday. At 39,000, I was told that the brakes were 36 and 46 percent worn, respectively. At 48,000, the brakes were 49 and 51 percent worn. At 59,000 miles, I was told the rear brakes were more than 95 percent worn and I needed new pads and rotors! How can they get so worn in such a short time? I’ve never had a car that I could just replace brake pads- it always ends up being a major repair even though I’m religious about bringing my vehicles in for regular service. Is this a scam on the part of the dealerships? Is it even worth having regular service, or should I just wait until things fall apart?

A. I certainly believe in regular and preventative maintenance; it is my opinion that it pays off in the long run. Regarding the brake wear issue, certainly a good technician can look and give a “guesstimate’’ of remaining brake life. I personally find it a little hard to believe that any repair shop could be this precise in determining brake wear. Whenever in doubt, get a second opinion.

Q. I have a 1997 Ford Mustang and the air conditioning will not blow out of the dash vents. When I turn it on, the air only blows out of the defroster. Do you know what I need to do to fix it and how much it will cost?

A. The heater air-conditioner system uses a series of vacuum controls to operate the duct system. For safety reasons, the defroster setting works if there is a vacuum loss. Since the defroster is working the problem is a loss of vacuum. The problem could be as simple as a vacuum line leak.

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