Pat Goss has worked on cars for more than 40 years. He owns a car repair company that bears his name, has authored numerous books on auto maintenance, and makes weekly appearances on Motorweek, a PBS television program.
He visits right here once a month to answer questions about fixing your car.
The transcript follows below.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Thanks for doing these chats. They are always so informative.
My question relates to an automatic transmission's shifting. From time to time and with no regularity, my BMW X5 will sometimes shift to the next lowest gear. This happens only as I am decelerating and only with 2nd gear. The result is a rougher shift than the normally seamless ones the automatic transmission delivers. What might this be?
Pat Goss: This is usually due to a glitch in the algorithm for shift control inside the computer. There are certain situations a driver can create that literally confuse the computer. I'd have it checked and if no problem is found ask your dealer if reprogramming is advisable.
Alexandria, Va.: I recently bought a new Honda Accord and there was a seminar at the dealer for new owners where one of the things they mentioned was that we should get the filter changed there because the genuine Honda oil filter was better for the car than a generic oil filter. How important is it that I use a 'Honda' oil filter vs. one that a non-dealer would use?
Pat Goss: High quality is high quality no matter what name appears on the product. The key is high quality. Which can be hard to determine with the vast number of choices available. Do your homework, if you know a particular filter brand is good, that's fine. If you can't get documentation, use the Honda filter.
Arlington, Va.: Hi! I have a 2000 Yukon XL with about 70,000 miles. Lately I have noticed the engine running quite roughly when I am low on gas - even before the fuel light comes on. Could this be a sign of a fuel pump problem? Would you recommend I have it checked and replaced preemptively? I was thinking of calling around to compare prices. Thanks for your help!
Pat Goss: Have the technician check fuel pressure and volume during an episode. If the fuel pressure is low or the volume is low, then check the fuel pump components in the tank. Notice that I said components or related items, because the fuel pump doesn't know full from empty. However, hoses and pick up parts frequently fail allowing the pump to ingest air.
Manassas, Va.: Hi Pat,
I have a '97 Honda Civic EX. I keep up all maintenance on it. When starting it up in the morning and maybe for about a mile, it makes a sound like a card next to the spokes of a bicycle wheel, especially when you accelerate slowly. As the car warms up a bit, it goes away. Of course it goes away before I can get it to the mechanic. I've had the mechanic look at it, says they can't find anything wrong.
What do you think is making that sound? I'll be off line when you read this, so sorry I can't give you any more info.
Pat Goss: There's a simple answer to this. You leave the car overnight. Sounds like you may have a bad cv joint. It should be checked tomorrow morning.
Waldorf, Md.: Hi Pat. I have a 2003 Toyota Highlander. Just yesterday, the yellow check engine light came on. I removed the gas cap and replaced it, and that didn't turn the light off. What else can I check before bringing the car in for service? What usually causes this light to turn on?
Pat Goss: First, tightening the gas cap if that was the problem might not immediately cause the light to go out. It often takes hours to days for the computer to recognize a repair has been made. As to other things to check; vacuum hoses will be about the extent unless you have test equipment. There is no single problem that USUALLY causes the light to turn on.
Alexandria, Va.: I have a 1993 Nissan Sentra with 127K miles on it. It has a new battery and a relatively new alternator. However recently, once in a while, the car refuses to start -- not even crank. Lights and accessories still work. No warning lights indicating a problem. Then if I wait a while, it starts up like normal. Should I have the solenoid and/or starter checked out?
Pat Goss: Because new doesn't always mean good you start by checking the battery, then the alternator, then battery cables and connections, then park/neutral switch, then ignition switch and if everything passes suspect a bad starter or starter solenoid.
Fairfax, Va.: Hi Pat, I have a 2002 Ford Taurus with 38,000 miles on it and will be at the end of its 3-year warranty time period at the end of this month. Last month the car's electric window broke and the window will no longer roll down. My question is since the car is within the 3-year warranty period and is only 2,000 miles over the mileage warranty do you think the dealership can give me some goodwill to fix the window?
Pat Goss: Can the dealership give you goodwill. Of course they can. Should they, why? You entered into an agreement. You agreed to 36,000-mile warranty. Will they, depends. If you take your car back for things other than warranty work, it's almost guaranteed they will.
Washington, D.C.: I just bought a used Passat (2001, 54K miles) that my mechanic told me is missing a plastic plate that runs along the underbelly of the car. The dealer said that was a largely cosmetic piece that most Passat owners typically remove. Is that true? Is it worth replacing?
Thanks, Pat -- YOU DA MAN!
Pat Goss: The pans that cover the underside of the engine bay are installed to prevent numerous problems. They keep water away from belts, wiring and other parts that might be damaged by water. They keep salt away from the various electrical components. They keep snow from dislodging belts. They sometimes make the engine run cooler by helping to direct air flow through the radiator rather than around the radiator. Is it worth replacing? Sure would be for me.
Arlington, Va.: I have a 1999 basic Ford Mustang. My service engine soon light (amber) came on. Then it seemed to have burned out (i.e., when I started the car it did not light up). Then it came back on. I got the problem resolved-replaced the air pump problem in the exhaust system. However, since I received the car back (about 2 weeks ago) the light seems to have burned out again. Does this seem right to you? What, besides having the light replaced, should I/could I do? Also, how hard is it to replace the light and what is the approximate cost? Thanks.
Pat Goss: You should have what is called a system function test performed on the vehicle. You may have problems inside the computer or the printed circuit. A function test will determine if this is the case.
Jacksonville, Florida: I can't seem to locate a repair manual for my 2004 Ford Focus with the 2.3 liter engine. I want to do some of my own maintenance, like oil and filters, PCV values and air filters. Oil and air filters I can find ok but I don't know where the PCV valve is located. Can you give me some advice?
Pat Goss: I suggest you go to the source. The source being Helm Publications. They're the folks that supply the manuals for dealerships and repair shops (the real ones). They can be contacted at www.helminc.com
Washington, D.C.: I have a 1996 Saturn with approximately 17,000 miles on it (I don't drive to work and don't use this car for long trips). I'd like to keep this car for as long as possible. Is there anything special in terms of maintenance I need to do for a low-mileage/low-usage car? Thanks.
Pat Goss: Any extremely low mileage car needs service. Unfortunately most owners try to relate service intervals to miles rather than time. You need a service guide based on time or mileage. You need to follow the time intervals on the service guide.
Anytown, USA: Your opinion... non-factory installed remote starters and synthetic oil for a 2005 Toyota Highlander?
Pat Goss: Synthetic oil absolutely, wouldn't use anything but. There's even a new synthetic oil available from Mobil to address manufacturers long service intervals up to 15,000 miles. Why would you want a remote starter? Why would anyone want a remote starter? What a perfectly horrible idea. They often disable the anti-theft system on the vehicle. They always allow people to idle a cold engine for extended periods of time. Long cold idle periods are extremely detrimental to engines; they also only warm the engine not the transmission, differential or other components. They lead to oil dilution, oil contamination, excess acid buildup, and in general shorten an engines life.
Trenton, N.J.: Thanks in advance for any helpful information...
1990 F-250 4x4 351W motor, 5-sp manual trans. About 150k miles on it. Starts and idles and revs normally sitting in the driveway, has a recent tune up. It accelerates okay through the gears until you hit 4th. Almost as soon as you put it into 4th the pedal goes to the floor and all power is gone, and the engine starts to die. As soon as you drop it back to 3rd the power pretty much comes back. This is probably happening at about 35-45mph. The truck has dual tanks and it does this with either tank switched on. I was leaning towards checking for a clogged cat. converter next.
Pat Goss: I doubt that catalytic converter would be the answer, although it is possible. Consider that a catalytic converter that's clogged will affect the engine during periods of high engine rpm. The higher the rpm, the more exhaust is created. Therefore the more exhaust that must pass through the converter. Because rpm's are much higher in the lower gears, logic would suggest that it isn't in the converter. Because the higher gears and lower rpm require more high voltage for the spark plugs. I suggest you start by checking available voltage to the plugs. Pay particular attention to the ignition coil and the ignition coil wire. Extremely common problem on Fords. Also check the ignition switch if no problem is found, remember you need a minimum of 20,000 volts available to the plugs, check fuel pressure and volume.
Arlington, Va.: About to start a family, so my wife is about to upgrade from her '01 Cabrio to some type of SUV. Because I am overly protective I would love to put her in a bigger SUV type like Explorer or Durango, but she wants something a little smaller b/c of her non-existent parallel parking she does out in her job in Reston.
So I was thinking along the lines of an Escape, Liberty, Highlander or some other similar sized SUV. Got any suggestions?
It was hard enough getting her to agree to trade in the Cabrio.
Pat Goss: Absolute size doesn't necessarily mean absolute safety. You need to check www.nhtsa.gov for safety ratings on the different vehicles. At the same time you'll find a link to the insurance institute where they do offset, higher speed, and side impact crash testing. Because safety is your primary concern I'd base my decision more on that then the name on the body.
Springfield, Va.: Hi Pat,
I just took possession of my mother's 1991 Toyota Corolla that has been driven only 45,000 miles. The car was sitting in the driveway for about 8 months and I had to change the battery and 2 tires that were bad. All the fluid levels were fine. She was very good about regular maintenance. Is there anything in particular that I should do before I start driving it?
Pat Goss: It definitely needs an oil change. If it's been more than a year since the brakes were flushed, that should be a priority. If any of the other fluids are more than two years since they were flushed they should be replaced as well.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Pat!
I have a 2000 Acura Integra which has always used normal oil. I'm thinking of switching to synthetic on a recommendation by my mechanic. Is there any downside other than cost?
Pat Goss: The only downside is cost. Everything else is positive, positive, positive.
Bethesda, Md.: Hi Pat,
I have a 92 Chevy Blazer S10 and was told it needed the idler arm replaced. What exactly does an idler arm do?
Pat Goss: An idler arm supports part of the steering linkage. Steering linkage are those parts that allow you to steer the wheels. The name idler arm comes from the fact that this part does no actual work but rather keeps the linkage in a proper position to perform its work. Idler arms are common failures. If it does indeed need one, you would do well to have it replaced. Quickly. A failed idler arm (total failure) means virtually no ability to steer the vehicle. Oops, doesn't quite cover it.
Alexandria, Va.: Thanks Pat... these chats are great.
I bought a used 2000 Golf GLS 5-door. The windows act a little buggy. When I roll them all the way down, then all the way up, sometimes, it will get halfway up and then roll them all the way back down. Upon a second try to roll them completely up, it will work successfully.
It seems like that might be due to the pinch protection, but hard to say. Dealer could not find the issue and it only does it some of the time, only on some of the windows. An online forum suggested silicone spraying the tracks. What do you think?
Pat Goss: Power windows with one touch up features rely on resistance to there upward motion to prevent injury. If the window tracks are dry or misaligned it will cause the windows to be too hard to move and will trigger the safety mechanism. Silicone spray in the tracks frequently helps.
Washington, D.C.: Hi,
Two of my hubcaps were stolen from my 1991 Toyota Camry while it was parked on the street. Luckily, the other two could not be removed because I had parked so close to the curb.
Where should I shop for hubcaps? Is there a way to reduce the chance that this will happen again?
Pat Goss: Having had this happen on my Ford Escort I have elected to go the penny pincher route. At most auto parts stores you can buy entire sets of aftermarket covers for less money than one original would cost. The cheap ones are made of plastic, they look good but they break if you're in the habit of wanging curbs. And they have zero desirability to the average thief.
RE: Overly protective husband looking for SUV: Size doesn't equal safety. Get a small SUV like a Honda CRV or Subaru Outback with side curtain airbags and traction control. They are proven to save lives in accidents.
Pat Goss: The person's opinion, not mine. If the suggested vehicles do a good job in testing, that's fine. Safety requires more than just side-curtained air bags. Side curtains are wonderful, but look at the whole package.
Bethesda, Md.: Pat,
Hi. '03 Saab 9-5 Aero with 28k miles. Would like to keep it for 10+ years, 200k+. Have been following Saab's maintenance schedule, including the "severe service" oil changes at 5k, with Mobil 1.
My question is about they're recommendations, or lack thereof, for some other services. For instance the manual transmission fluid is supposedly a "lifetime" fill. Also no scheduled power steering fluid replacement, and a very long coolant interval. I'm considering doing transmission flushes every 50k, and power steering and coolant every 2 years. Thoughts? Any other recommendations for this car? It's performed flawlessly so far.
Pat Goss: My sentiments exactly. Remember lifetime frequently is considered to be 100,000 miles. Also, remember no fluid in an automobile lasts forever. And there is no such thing as too much service. 2 years and 24,000 on the power steering and possibly the coolant is good idea. Brakes at not more than 2 years are recommended, fluid flush that is. And 50,000 on the transmission fluid change should be fine. By the way if you would like a copy of Goss' Garage maintenance recommendation sheet, it can be downloaded at www.goss-garage.com
Bethesda, Md.: On our 2002 Mazda MPV, on cold days if we don't let the car warm up for at least a minute the power brakes don't work. Have to use entire body weight to brake for the first several blocks. Is this normal?
Pat Goss: About a minute in warm up is normal and necessary. My earlier comments were with regards to people who like to warm their vehicles for 15 or 20 minutes. Your problem is not normal, and suggests a failure in the power brake booster, power brake booster filter (if equipped), or power brake booster vacuum hoses. It should be checked.
Alexandria, Va.: Pat has a Ford Escort?!?!?!
There's also Hubcap Heaven, junkyards, swap meets, and eBay for hubcaps. I would just take the other two off and leave 'em.
Pat Goss: Sure do. It's a lovely green 1993 Station Wagon. That is now enjoying its 11th year of dutiful service transporting clients to and from their residents' and Metro.
Manassas, Va.: Pat,
On a 2004 Explorer in 4x4 auto mode is it normal to feel vibration from the front tires when turning at low speed on dry roads?
Pat Goss: Possibly as a result of tire style, but it really should be checked. This answer only applies to the auto mode not 4x4 mode.
Alexandria, Va.: My Jeep Cherokee needs to have some of the dash lights replaced. It seems that the entire dash must be removed to do the job. Is this common? What can I expect to pay for this?
Pat Goss: The entire dash does not need to removed. Only the instrument cluster. Takes about an hour.
Huntsville, Ala.: Pat, I hate a dirty engine! Can you tell me what is the best way to clean your engine? Should the engine be hot or cold? Are there items under the hood that need to be protected? Can you suggest a cleaning product that helps the process?
Pat Goss: By a can of environmentally friendly Gunk. And follow the label. It gives you all the proper instructions.
Montague, Mich.: I had a new engine put in my van recently. I noticed at my first oil change that it was twp quarts low on oil. The lube shop told me the intake gasket was leaking. I took it back to the garage that replaced the engine and they replaced the valve seals and intake manifold gasket. Now, at the next oil change it is two quarts low again and it appears as if it's leaking at the intake manifold again. I believe they used the same intake from my old engine on the new engine. The old engine never used oil before. What should I do from here?
Pat Goss: You should find out exactly where the oil is going. If it is indeed leaking that much oil (as opposed to burning it) you should have substantial puddles on the ground every time you park the vehicle. I bet what you are going to find, is the engine is burning oil due to an internal problem that may requirement replacement.
Washington, D.C.: It's seems you're a huge fan on synthetic oil. Why?
Pat Goss: Because it can double, triple, or quadruple the life on an engine.
D.C. (20005): I'm a woman who owns a 1994 Volvo 960 with 117,000 miles on it. I'm totally ignorant when it comes to cars and I always feel that the dealer sees me coming when I bring my car in for regular maintenance. The car is running fine. I get the oil changed at recommended intervals and bring it in once a year for total overall maintenance. Is there a website I can check or a list of regular maintenance items to perform on the car so I feel more informed when I bring the car in?
Thanks. Love your chat.
Pat Goss: As we mentioned a minute ago. You can download the guidelines that we use at www.goss-garage.com
Springfield, Va.: Hi Pat. We have a 2004 Honda Pilot. Love the SUV -- but have one major beef with it and I am wondering if you are aware if this is a common problem to this make/model or if there could be a specific problem. When you let the car warm up (on winter mornings) the exhaust fumes around the vehicle are so intense -- if the truck is parked in our driveway next to our house, you can actually smell it in the house. We have a toddler we have to strap into the car seat so we actually have to shut the vehicle off when we do that. Any thoughts?
Pat Goss: Just one more reason not to allow engines to idle for long periods have time. Warm up is horrible, part of the reason is fuel contamination due to highly inefficient combustion. This is not unusual for lots of different vehicles.
McLean, Va.: Pat,
1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee, V8, 55K miles. Getting noise from rear end, only when moving. Only recently have I started to hear it. Local mechanic says it is bad bearings in rear differential that this is common and quoted me around $1000 for complete overhaul. Jeep still runs fine, but noise is annoying. Does his estimate sound accurate and how much longer do you think I can drive it before I risk further damage? Thanks!
Pat Goss: Price sounds cheap. How long can it go? Maybe a day, maybe ten years, no way to guess. Further damage every mile you drive is causing more damage.
Pat Goss: Thanks everybody. I appreciate it, 'til next month drive gently. See ya, Pat.