AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor, John Paul, provides answers to member questions regarding car maintenance and tips. This month’s topics include emergency brake upkeep, using premium fuel and the Car Doctor’s thoughts on buying a former rental or lease car.
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Q. I was recently driving my Honda Pilot home from the beach and started to feel sleepy and tired. I remember you mentioning carbon monoxide issues with one reader’s car. Is that possible with my Pilot?
A. This comes up periodically this time of year. I think the problem may be an allergic reaction to mold and mildew. Studies show that mold allergies can make people feel tired and lethargic and also a bit hazy. The air conditioner ducts are a perfect place for mold to grow; they are damp, dark and can get warm. But just to rule out the carbon monoxide issue, a portable household carbon monoxide tester can be placed in the car to test for CO. If there isn’t a CO problem change the cabin air filter and have the HVAC system checked and cleaned if necessary.
Q. I have a Ford Ranger pick-up truck and a few months ago it wouldn’t start. I opened the hood and shook all the wires and then the engine started. Now it is acting up again but the wire shaking trick is not working, although it does eventually start. What are your thoughts?
A. The problem is a wiring issue from the battery to the starter. You will need to check the main wiring and all the components in between. Don’t just assume because the wire insulation looks good the wire is okay. Electrical power and ground connections all need to be inspected and tested for voltage drop.
Q. What are your thoughts on buying a former rental or lease car? I have seen cars advertised by all the major rental companies and they look like a good deal but I wonder about the condition.
A. A leased car is always a pretty good deal. These cars generally have one prior owner, have the specified maintenance performed and are sometimes “certified” which adds an extra level of maintenance and warranty. A former rental car can be a good deal too, but keep in mind that not all renters take care of the car while it is in their possession. As a general rule, I would probably stay away from sports and performance cars that were daily rentals; these vehicles may have been abused and in some cases even raced. That being said, over the years I have purchased former rental cars and generally had good luck. As with any used car, it is always a good idea to have “used-car” inspection performed before you purchase the vehicle.
Q. I recently had to call AAA roadside assistance to jumpstart my Prius battery because of leaving my headlights on. I realized this battery is not the most common and may be hard to replace, and was wondering why the hybrid battery can’t be used to start the car.
A. The Prius uses a separate battery to run the computer system but not start the car. Although, as you experienced, when the 12 volt battery fails the car won’t start because the cars electrical system is not getting power. The Hyundai Ioniq, which I recently drove, uses a separate partition with a 12 volt battery in the hybrid battery pack. This essentially provides a permanent method to jumpstart the car. If the 12 volt battery fails there is a button inside the car that boosts the starter battery.
Q. I have a 2017 Ford Focus, my first new car in 20 years. With older cars I have always changed the oil every 3,000 miles and had tune-ups every two years. The owner’s manual states that I should change the oil every 7,500 miles, the spark plugs and coolant at 100,000 miles and the transmission fluid at 150,000 miles Do you think these interval are too long?
A. The days of 3,000 mile oil changes and frequent tune-ups are long gone. But that doesn’t mean the drivers have no obligation to look under the hood and check all the vital fluids. In fact, in some cars you can electronically check the fluids with the car’s on-board computer. My advice is to follow the recommendations in the car’s owner’s manual.
Q. I have a Honda Accord with nearly 230,000 miles on it and it is rusting away around me. My first question is does the car have any value? And what would be a good replacement? I really like the size of my 15 year old Accord and would want something about the same size.
A. Just about any car that starts, steers and stops has some value. I would do some comparison shopping on used car websites and look at cars similar to your Accord and then price the car accordingly. For a replacement car I would look at the Toyota Corolla. It is a nice, competent four-door sedan. For something a little different, I would take a look at the Kia Soul. This is a versatile little wagon with a somewhat funky style that is fun to drive. Finally it is hard to go wrong with a VW Jetta or Golf.
Q. I have only used my emergency brake when parking my car on a major decline and once a year when the car gets inspected. I know the brake is mechanical, is there some sort of maintenance that I should do to prevent the cables from rusting?
A. The best maintenance is using the parking brake once a week or so to prevent sticking. Also when the oil is getting changed ask the shop to apply a little lube on the cables. This should keep the parking brake working properly.
Q. I recently purchased a 2003 Porsche Boxster with only 15,000 miles on it. It has an automatic transmission and I have noticed it starts in second gear. Is something wrong? Why would it do this?
A. This is a very smart transmission in your car. When “drive” is selected, depending on how the vehicle is driven will determine how the transmission performs. This could be economical and comfortable or sporty and aggressive. After a while the car will adapt to your own personal driving style.
Q. I just purchased a 2016 Acura TSX and in the owner’s manual it “recommends” premium fuel, does that mean I need to use premium? Should I use synthetic oil in my new-to-me car?
A. Like many vehicles today there is a recommendation for premium fuel use to maximize engine performance but don’t require it. There are very few vehicles that mandate “only” premium fuel. The engine management system in your car will compensate for lower octane fuel and prevent engine damage. If you want maximum performance use premium, if you want to save 10-20 cents per gallon use 87 octane fuel. Although you car’s engine requires only a quality 0-20W oil, I believe the benefits of synthetic oil outweigh the additional costs compared to conventional oil.
Q. I have an older Jeep that needs some metal work and I’m thinking of doing the work myself. I recently purchased a gasless MIG welder. Do I need to take any precautions when welding on the Jeep to protect the electrical system and the computer?
A. I would keep the welder ground as close as possible to the area that you are welding. In addition I would disconnect the ground cable on the battery. Some people think this is not necessary but I feel it can’t hurt to take a couple of minutes and disconnect the battery just to be safe.