AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor, John Paul, provides answers to member questions regarding car maintenance and tips.
To learn more about the Car Doctor and to ask him a question, click here.
Q. I am a fan of Toyota and Honda cars and was wondering why they did not build an all-wheel drive Camry or Honda Accord. I bought a Subaru Legacy and I’m happy with it but I would have preferred a Toyota or Honda sedan rather than the SUVs that both offer.
A. For the most part, vehicle manufacturers build the cars that people want to buy. Many years ago, Toyota built an all-wheel drive “all-track” Camry, which sold in such low numbers that Toyota discontinued it. Some other manufacturers have all-wheel drive sedans, such as Buick, Ford, Audi, BMW, Buick, Mercedes and Volvo. When the time comes, they are all worth a look.
Q. I recently brought my 2015 Volvo XC60 in for two year maintenance as covered under my purchase agreement; however, when I inquired about rotating the tires, I was told this was not covered because Volvo feels it’s not necessary to rotate these tires. I would like to get your opinion. I never heard of not rotating tires.
A. Volvo believes that the tires should be inspected every 10,000 miles and rotated only if they show signs of wear. Studies have always shown that rotating tires on a car will help extend their overall life. If it were my car I would rotate the tires once per year.
Q. I ordered new license plates from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and I was wondering if I can use clear plastic plate covers over the plate to help preserve their appearance. The covers and frames do not obstruct the lettering.
A. I certainly see many license plates with clear covers but according to information from both the Department of Transportation and the RMV there should be no glass or plastic cover over a license plate. Even a clear cover could cut down on the plate reflectivity and could unintentionally distort the plate.
Q. I’ve seen differing opinions and recommendations online for cleaning a car engine and engine compartment. I have a 2005 BMW X5 and some warn against steam cleaning. Some say to use a cleaner and hose it off, and some are against using any water. I’d appreciate your advice.
A. In my opinion using high temperature steam or high-pressure water could lead to problems with today’s sophisticated electronics that are mounted in the engine compartment. A degreaser sprayed on the engine and washed with a garden hose is a safer solution. Keep in mind that any heavy oily grime is going to end up on the ground and in storm drains, which is not exactly great for the environment.
Q. I borrowed my brother-in-law’s 2012 Cadillac Escalade to move my daughter. Somehow the key fob fell out of my pocket and I ran it over. He had a spare key fob so he can still use his vehicle. I called the dealership where he has the car serviced and they told me it would cost about $600 to replace it; $500 for the fob and $100 labor to program it. Is there a cheaper alternative than spending $600?
A. You can certainly buy replacement key fobs online and have the dealer or a professional automotive locksmith program it for you. After a quick check online I found a replacement (not a Cadillac part) key fob for under $100 and it came with programing instructions. Depending on your level of guilt this fob may be a good economic solution and a money saver.
Q. I leased a car and it is about time to turn it in. There are some dents and dings and the car needs four tires. Am I obligated to buy tires and fix the parking lot dents?
A. Generally this information is in the lease agreement that you signed. Some manufacturers provide a card about the size of a typical credit card and if the dent or scratch fits under the card it is considered normal wear and tear. I would review the information you received when you leased the car just to be sure. As an example, I was recently talking with representatives from Mercedes Benz of North America and as a general rule you need to return a leased car with tires that have at least 4/32nds of tread. Regarding tire type, they don’t need to be the same brand as long as they are the same size and specification (speed rating) as the factory tires.
Q. I have a 2007 Chevy Trailblazer SS. The engine started making noise at around 55,000 miles, just after the extended warranty ran out. At that time I had the valve lifters replaced, and later the camshaft. At 75,000 miles the engine failed. The dealer wants $4000 for a rebuilt engine and $3000 for labor. I can no longer drive the car and cannot afford the repairs.
A. Since the truck is 11 years old, I can’t imagine that General Motors would take any responsibility for the uncharacteristically short engine life. At this point you have little other economical choices but to sell the truck as is or put a used engine in it. As a long shot you could try taking Chevrolet to court under the law of warranty of merchantability. In its simplest terms this means that a product (your truck) is expected to work as expected for a reasonable amount of time. If you performed all of the regular maintenance and didn’t abuse the vehicle, it may be worth consulting with an attorney.