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Transcript: Thursday, April 21, 2005, 11 a.m. ET

Goss's Garage

Goss' Garage

Pat Goss
Automotive repair expert
Thursday, April 21, 2005; 11:00 AM

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.


Potomac, Md.: Hello Pat:

My mother drives a 1999 Chevy Prism with about 8,000 miles on it (she purchsed it new and is the sole owner). She drives the car exclusively short distances at speeds rarely above 40-45 mph. When would you advise replacing the timing belt on this car? Her dealer's service advisor said it should be based strictly on mileage. Would you advise replacing the timing belt any sooner than the recommended 60,000 mile interval (which this car may never approach!), based on age-related deterioration of the material the belt is made from?

Thank you

Pat Goss: Strictly on mileage is absurd. Timing belts are repalced on --- whichever comes first the recommended mileage or four years (generic) five years (Honda). This car is seriously overdue.


Arlington, Va.: Pat,

Do you find this scenario sucpicious? I went to a mechanic and he said I need the following, new plugs, cap, rotar, wires, rear brake shoes, fuel filter, timing belt (and other stuff you typcially change when doing the timing belt), oh and a new headlight b/c the lens was cracked.

My good friend who is a whiz at cars did everything except the timing belt and timing related items. I went back to the original mechanic to do the timing belt. Now all of a sudden he says I need the following: -both outer cv joint boots are deeply cracking and they recommend repacking them for $525
-both rear trailing arms bushings deeply cracking and they recommend replacing them for $440.

I feel as if he was annoyed that I didn't have them do that work so suddenly they are trying to find ways to get money out of me. What do you think?

Pat Goss: Time for a second opinion.


Fairfax, Va.: Hello Pat,

Like you (I think) I have a '93 Escort. This vehicle (5 sp, 1.9l) has about 125K miles on it. At idle speed it misses and surges, almost dying before speeding back up. At highway speeds (over 50 mph) in 5th gear it seems ok for a few minutes then begins to miss/buck and loose power. If I drop back to 4th gear and mash the gas it speeds back up and seems ok for a while. Three trips to various shops have resulted in new catalytic converter, O2 sensor, PCV valve, plugs, wires, coils, fuel and air filters, to the tune of several hundred dollars. None of these really helped the problem. Since this car is not worth anything to speak of, I am inclined to get rid of it unless you have any words of wisdom re what to check at this point. Thanks so much.

Pat Goss: Testing would be a good solution. Guessing usually makes for big bills and little results. That ius unless the shops found the problems through testing and did not make any claims about results other than these parts were needed before further testing. However, it certainly doesn't sound that way otherwise you wouldn't be going to multiple shops.


Bowie, Md.: I hit a pothole last week, and even though the car still drives fine/straight, there's a slight "rum-rum" sound when I hit speeds above 65. Could it be the alignment or tire balance out of whack?

Pat Goss: Not Likely but possible. I would be much more suspicious of a damaged tire or wheel bearing. It should be checked immediately as it could be dangerous.


Crystal City, Va.: Hey Pat, love your chats. I've got an issue with my '02 RSX Type S. A few years ago I was rear ended which required replacing my exhaust from the cat back (bent b-pipe and muffler). I had it replaced with a quality aftermarket piece but since then I have noticed that sometimes when I drive in heavy rain or over a large puddle the exhaust gets very loud with a heavy bass note until I clear it out by tapping the throttle until it's all clear. This usually takes less than a minute or so although I've never actually checked for water coming out of the exhaust. I get no accompanying power loss and only this annoyingly loud noise. I have not been able to duplicate the sound with a hose or by any other means and have had the exhaust checked which did not yield any problems. Thanks for your time.

Pat Goss: We hear complaints like this about some aftermarket exhaust parts on some Hondas. The only answer I have come up with is to change to a different brand. Either that or put up with the annoyance which is what most peop;e do. That's also what I would do!


Chantilly, Va.: I have a 2001 Honda 750 Nighthawk. Last year I changed the oil and put Mobil 1 in it. Is that type of lubricant safe to use in this vehicle?

Pat Goss: That depends! If you used Mobil 1 motorcycle oil it's fine. If you used Mobil 1 for passenger cars it may not be good for the clutches.


Chantilly, Va.: Hi Pat,

What is your opinion of the 2005 Infiniti FX45? Is it worth the extra money over the FX35?

Pat Goss: Only if it is worth it to you. For me it wouldn't be but that is purely subjective.


Arlington, Va.: Mr. Goss,

I recently got my timing belt in my '95 Civic EX changed and right after I left, I noticed some louder than usual clicking when I accelerated hard/long. I brought it back, and they said it was either because I use cheap gas and there is buildup, or because I used after market sparkplugs. Seems suspicious, since there was no clicking for a week after new plugs had been put in. Plus, the sound never appeared until AFTER they changed my timing belt. Suggestions?

Pat Goss: Get someone to recheck the installation of the timeing belt and the condition of the belt tensioner. This could be impending disaster.


Northern Va.: Thanks for having this forum!

Question: For the periodic service check-ups (36,000, etc.) is it more important to do it by mileage or by time elapsed? I have a 2001 Ford Focus SE, now 34,500 (don't drive near as often now) but I a got a reminder for the 36,000 mile service. So, should I go now or wait until it rolls 36,000?

Thanks in advance.

Pat Goss: Service should be performed based on time or mileage whichever comes first. Actually if you don't drive much or drive short distances and low speed it is much harder on the car than high speed and lots of miles. Have the service performed.


Annandale, Va.: Hi Pat,

I have what I believe is a minor problem, albeit and unusual one, and therefore I do not know how difficult it will be to fix. In my '98 Mountaineer, the lever, which adjusts the incline of the backrest in the front driver's side seat, broke off. The metal part where it connects to the seat is the part which broke, not the plastic handle and it is now occupying space in my glove compartment. Is this an easy fix? What should I expect to pay to have this replaced (ballpark)? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Easy is a relative thing. In comparison to replacing an engine, it's extremely easy. If you don't have mechanical experience it will be either a royal pain or impossible.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I have a '90 Camry with 75,000 miles on it. Whne I took it in for service, they said that the CV Boots were cracked and it would be $500 to replace them. (This was at a dealership.) Can most service stations do this work, and about how much would it be to replace them?

Pat Goss: They should be due. This is a routine service that virtually any repair shop would be capable of doing.


Woodbridge, Virginia: I have a 1998 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 extended cab. I need to replace my oxygen sensors. Do I need to put some kind of sealant on when I replace them?

Pat Goss: Replace them so soon? Oh well, it's your call. No sealant just the appropriate anti seize compound.


Glen Burnie, Md.: Good morning Pat!

I have 1998 Cadillac the owners manual says I should change the transmission fluid at 100,000 miles ... I've heard friends say that you have suggested that the owner's manuals on this issue are wrong also it does not suggest a flush and fill just a change. In the same direction it reccomends not using fuel injection cleaner. I am trying to get better gas mileage and wonder what I should do?

Pat Goss: Owner's manuals typically base service recommendations on a 100,000 mile expected vehicle life. If that's what you are looking for, follow it to the tee. My recommendations are based on a 250,000 usable life. You have to choose.


Leonardtown, Md.: Hello Mr. Goss. I just bought my first car -- a 1991 BMW 3251 convertible. I put a new top on it and I really want to do everything possible to keep the rear plastic window clear. I have only had it a few months and have put the top down only a few times for fear of damaging the window. I want to enjoy my convertible and keep the window clear as well. I went to Auto Zone and bought the standard stuff (only stuff they had) to get rid of scratches in the plastic but it does not work very well at all and was a waste of $10. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated. I enjoy your chats very much. Thanks a million. Also, do you have any advice on what I should keep an eye out for on a BMW of this age?

Pat Goss: Buy a professional polish and keep in mind that you won't get rid of the scratches by wiping it on and wiping it off. It has to be buffed which may take a hard half hour of rubbing. Also, you can prevent scratches by putting a clean towel or diaper between the folds in the window. It's a little bit of a nuisance but it keeps the plastic from rubbing against itself. What should you keep your eye on? everything.


Knoxville, Tenn: Pat, thanks for the chat and taking these questions. I have a 2004 BMW 325Ci that I bought new. It's coming up on 5000 miles. My dealer says not to change the oil until it reaches 15,000 miles because its a closed system and uses synthetic oil. I just don't feel right waiting that long -- in past cars, I've always changed the oil by 5000 miles. Is the dealer right? Thanks

Pat Goss: If you're using the new Mobil oil, designed for 15,000 mile service (your car did not come with that), it might be okay. My car has a similar recommendation and I change my mobil 1 synthetic at 5-6000 miles.


Wilkes-Barre, Penn.: My son has an '05 Toyota Tundra V-8. He had to add about a quart of oil between oil changes. The Toyota dealer says that's not unusual. Huh?

Pat Goss: Actually a couple of quarts wouldn't be unusual on a 3,000 mile oil change. Even more on a 5,000 mile oil change. Especially on a new vehicle.


Washington, D.C.: RE: New Mobil products

Pat, I saw an add for Mobil 1, 5000, & 7500 mile (presumably) synthetic motor oils. This is news to me. I presently use Mobil 1 full synthetic in my camry solara and change it every 3000 - 5000 miles

If I switch to these new Mobil products, is it wise to abide by the (advertised) recomended mileage? Finally, do these new oils differ substnatially from the 'regular' Mobil 1 to justify the switch? Thanks, great work, Pat.

Pat Goss: First, only the 15,000 mile Mobil 1 product is full synthetic. The 5,000 is conventional oil. The 7500 is synthetic blend. These oils are not designed to extend oil changes but rather to meet extended oil change intervals recommended by some manufacturers.


Falls Church, Va.: General question -- can a mixture of synthetic and not synthetic oil be used in a car (e.g., if the oil level is a little low and I have synth) and top it off with non-synth?

Pat Goss: Absolutely. Lots of people make there own synthetic blend by mixing half conventional and half full synthetic. Why, I don't know. But it works.


Lancaster, Penn.: My 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee transmission seem to slip whe I first head out on the road when it warms up it is fine.
This used to only happen in winter, but is continuing this spring. I was told it could just be a cold tranny?
What should I look for?

Pat Goss: What you should have down (past tense, a long time ago was not to guess but to have somebody actually check the transmission. This would involve fluid condition, but more specifically a line pressure test. To see if the transmission is capable of producing proper hydraulic pressure when it's cold. If there is a problem it's most likely much too late now.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Pat, I have a 1996 Ford Explorer Sport that is making a creaking/squeaking sound in its front end. It often happens when you let up or apply the brake, and it gets worse on bumpy roads. What should I tell the mechanics to look for when I bring it in? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Check the sway bar frame bushings they may need lubrication this is an extremely minor job, but make sure anti-seize not grease is used.


Arlington, Va.: I was told recently, after extensive engine work on
my 1998 Passat (lots of sludge ... apparently a
problem in these cars ... VW's issue, not mine!), to
only use synthetic oil when getting an oil change.
Can you explain the relative merits of synthetic oil?

Pat Goss: Synthetic oil significantly reduces friction therefore significantly increases engine life. It also is much more resistant to breaking down and forming sludge (your problem). Further is much better both stress and heat. I have used nothing but Mobil 1 synthetic in my cars since it was first introduced many years ago.


D.C.: Hi Pat! Thanks for taking my question. I have an '01 VW with the VR6 engine. Right around 1100 rpm, the engine shakes a bit. It's always at the same rpm and seems to be worse when the car's cold than when it's warmed up. My car-savvy friend said it's not a big deal and all 6 cylinder engines are inherently unbalanced, which could be causing the rough running. Is this possible?

Pat Goss: Certainly possible. That is unless it's a new problem. If it didn't have it and does now then something is wrong. That something is usually a glitch in a sensor or the computer affecting fuel delivery.


Norristown, Penn.: Driving question:

I have a car with a manual transmission, and I frequently pull the car out of gear and coast when I can. I figure this is saving a little gas. Is there a downside to this other then the delay if I need to suddenly accelerate?

Pat Goss: Clutch in? Not a problem. Transmission in neutral, big safety issue. By holding the clutch to the floor, keeping the transmission in the gear that's appropriate for driving conditions and speed is safe and gives the same benefits.


Washington, D.C.: Thank you for your chat and your radio show, Mr. Goss. I have a 2001 Mercury Mountaineer 5.0L and I'm moving to North Dakota this summer. What should I do to prepare the vehicle for what will be very cold winters? Also, I've been told to look into a plug-in battery blanket and block heater. Would you recommend these, and which type of block heater should I get? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Use the Ford accessory block heater. Which will do a very good job. The battery blanket or warming pad is also an excellent idea. Finally a change to synthetic oil will make the engine crank easier and therefore start better.


Ashburn, Va.: Hi!

We have a 2001 Mercury Sable. When we purchased it (used) it would shake at around 55 mph. We returned it to have the tires balanced. Now it shakes at 65-75 mph. It is fairly uncomfortable. Interestingly enough, when I used to own a Ford Taurus (late-90's version) it used to do the same thing. We plan on taking it back in but I can't imagine it has to have the tires balanced again. Any other ideas?

Pat Goss: You're concentrating on tire balancing and not enough on road force variation. Usually these problems can be corrected by a good technician using a Hunter GSP9700 Road Force Balancer.


Louisville, Kentucky: Pat,

All of these timing belt questions have me worried. I have an '02 Neon with 65,000 miles. I think I'm due. Your thought? Also, cost?

Pat Goss: It's an '02 so it only 3 not 4 years yet. Look in your owner's manual, it's probably a 90,000 mile belt. So replace it at the owner's manual mileage or 4 years whatever happens first.


Baltimore, Md.: Pat, how are you?

I have a 1992 MB 190E 2.3 with about 90K on it. I smell oil/gas whenever I turn on the car's heat/vent system.

What do you think the problem(s) might be?


Pat Goss: Begin with checking the fuel injector orings and seals. Common problem.


Fairfax, Va.: Can you elaborate on the safety downside to coasting in neutral on a manual transmission? I do this, too, especially on long gradual downslopes -- just kick the car out of gear and let the clutch all the way out and coast. What's the problem?

Pat Goss: It's real simple, you have to expect the unexpected. With the average accident being over and done with in less than 1 or up to 3 seconds when something goes wrong you aren't prepared you don't have the ability to take evasive action.


Laurel, Md.: My car ('98 Ford Contour) seems to run fine, but the "check engine" light keeps turning on. My mechanic is baffled; in the past he has replaced a CO2 sensor and both 'O2 sensors, that kept the light from coming on for a month or so. But nowadays when I take it to him he says the computer reports an error only "in memory."

Any ideas? Are Ford dealers especially skilled at this problem?

Pat Goss: If somebody did indeed sell you a CO2 sensor, you've been flim-flammed. 'Taint no such critter. Ideas, a good shop independent or dealer that fully understands computer systems and computer testing. Keeping in mind that codes don't tell which is wrong but only what is being affected by what is wrong.


NYC: Our family is growing and we're considering buying a used minivan. The difference between $15K for a 2003 vs. $30K+ for 2005 is just too hard to argue with. But I am concerned about getting a "good" used car. We don't have a mechanic that we know and trust. Would any shop be willing to do an inspection for us? Are there any particular things that we should look for? Thanks much!;

Pat Goss: Many shops are not capable. Do not have the training. Do not understand prepurchase inspections. Therefore you should be looking for a shop that is experienced, that has pre-printed forms, and trained technicians. Everything on the car should be looked at. You would gain considerable security by purchasing a factory certified preowned vehicle. Make sure it is factory and not dealer backed.


Washington, D.C.: I am the original owner of a 1993 BMW 325Ci. I recently had to replace the airbag because the "SRS" light came on. The mechanic tried replacing the "horn ring" first, but that did not help. The cost was astronomical, especially given that the airbag is of dubious use to me (I always wear a seat belt and I am on the small side, which I hear can make the airbag a danger to me). Why would an airbag need replacement? Needless to say, it's never been used. Thanks.

Pat Goss: Highly, highly, highly extremely unbelievably unusual. The typical problem is the clockspring beneath the air bag.


Arlington, Va.: Pat, what's your opinion on the orbital polishers? Is it safe enough for the layperson to use without causing the dreaded swirl marks?


Pat Goss: Random orbital low speed polishers are completely safe (given a little common sense) and very easy to use.


Offbeat question....: Pat, greetings from Clarksburg, Md., and thanks for taking the time to help out.

I've got an F150 ... and I want to pull out some shrubs and a dying evergreen (15'). Will I endanger my suspension or alignment or anything if I were to hook up a chain to the truck's front hooks and yank out each condemned plant one by one?


Pat Goss: If you use the factory toe hooks there should be no problem at all to the vehicle. But I hope these are small, because if they have a substantial root system, you'd need a Caterpillar to do it.


Alexandria, Va.: Lots of synthetic oil talk today. So when is the best time to make the switch? Are there time/milage/car condition restrictions to take into consideration before using synthetic oil?

Pat Goss: Any time for the first oil change (3-5,000 miles for most cars) to the last oil change of the cars life, makes no difference.


RE: Coasting in neutral: I've heard you say that an idling car produces four times more pollutants (or does that apply to cold engines only). So if you coast in neutral, are you saving gas but polluting the environment more?

Pat Goss: Idling and pollution that I was talking about, applies to cold engines. Coasting in neutral does not increase emissions. Coasting in gear can increase emissions.


Mobile, Ala.: Dear Pat,
I have a '05 Sierra with the 6.0L H.O. engine. Any fuel intake cleaning suggestions? I've got just over 7K miles and with 87 octane it shimmies. I'm not sure if it's unclean valves, but I'd like to know for certain. Thanks.

Pat Goss: 7,000 miles would be awfully low to have performance affecting carbon buildup. The first recommended application of professional products like BG44k occurs at 7500 miles, that's usually only to keep things under control. I think you may have some other problem that would suggest a trip to the dealer.


Clutch question: But I've heard lore that keeping the clutch pedal depressed for a long time is bad for the transmission. True or old-wives' tale?

Pat Goss: Old wives tale. Keeping the clutch pedal depressed adds wear to the clutch release bearing, that's bad. But when the clutch pedal is in the up position the input shaft to the transmission, the input bearing in the front of the transmission and various bearings inside the transmission will always be turning and wearing. This is not true when the transmission is in gear but the clutch pedal is held to the floor. It's a trade-off, more wear on the cheap part (release bearing) or more wear on the expensive stuff (transmission bearings etc.).


Manassas, Va.: Hi Pat ... great show.

I've got an '03 Chevy Venture minivan with 36K miles on it. I took it to the dealer who recently replaced the front brake shoes and both rotors on the front after a grinding sound on one side turned into a vibration which became much worse. The dealer said the problem was not covered under warranty.

Questions: Is it necessary to replace both rotors at once if just one side is ground down? And when it comes to brakes, is there anything usually covered under a GM factor warranty?

Thanks for the great work!

Pat Goss: No you do not have to replace both rotors. Is anything covered under factory warranty, that depends on what your service advisor elects to do for you. Alot of will and won't be covered is at the discretion of the dealership. Because of the problem you had, that you immediately retorque the wheels to factory specifications. Otherwise you'll experience the vibration again.


Falls Church, Va.: Pat:

My wife's 1998 Accord Coupe (LX, 4-cyl, 5-speed) occasionally hesitates to start up during hot weather. Once or twice it has temporarily refused to start. She had her dealer look at it once for this problem, but they couldn't find anything wrong. Is there anything we can do to prevent this from happening?

Pat Goss: Check the main relay. Enormous, no absolutely enormous, problems with them on Hondas.


Wheezing Altima: Hi, I have a 94 Altima with about 175,000 on it. I recently had the muffler replaced, and after I got it back, it starts up okay, but after the chh-chh-Vroom of starting up, it seems to exhale with a little wheezing sound. It's driving okay, but the sound disturbs me. What could it be?

Pat Goss: Well either you have a racoon stuck under the car, or somebody did a sloppy installation. You've got an exhaust leak, take it back, make them fix it.


Washington, D.C.: By coasting with the clutch in, is there any excesive wear risk to other components and how much gas is likely to be saved?

Pat Goss: Already discussed the wear. How much gas is likely to be saved. Nothing you could measure. It's mostly folly. I call it a feel good exercise.


Laurel, Md.: I have an older car with a carburetor. The carburetor is fairly new, probably a rebuilt. The last several years I notice hard starting after the engine is hot. There is a noticable smell of gas around the engine compartment as the engine cools. Could this apparently "hot soak fuel bowl over flowing" problem be attributed to the newer fuels with more alcohol "reformulated gasoline," or do you think there is something wrong with the carburetor? If so what is most likely the problem with the carburetor? Could it be a charcoal canister problem that only shows up after the engine is shut down?

Outside of the hard start problem (long cranking) no other problems.

Pat Goss: It think it's a carburetor problem. Most of the fuel formulations are specifically engineered to prevent perculation.


Rockville, Md.: Hi Pat,

I'm about to buy my first car, and I'd like to learn about basic maintenance and repair issues. For example, how to check and change fluids and other simple things, and also to have some more in-depth knowledge. I'd like to be able to take my car into a shop and know what they're talking about. Is there some class or some resource you can recommend? Thanks.

Pat Goss: I'll be teaching a class like this in the fall at the College of Southern Maryland. Check with Don Haskin, if you're interested, for information.


RE: Fuel injector cleaners: Pat:

I know that you love BG 4400 as a fuel injector cleaner, but there are lots of us do-it-yourselfers that still love to tinker, and we cant' get BG4400 -- it's only available to the professionals like you.

What's the best of the FI cleaners that we "civilians" can get?

Thanks!!! These chats are great.

Pat Goss: The best fuel injector cleaners (that you "civilians" can get is BG44k. It is readily available. Go to www.bgfindashop.com The big advantage of a product like BG44k is it is significantly stronger.


Sterling, Va.: What do you think of stp fuel treatment?

Pat Goss: STP makes fine products. They are designed for do-it-yourself, so there are not as strong as a professional product such as BG44k. All that means is you have to use them more frequently.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Dear Pat,

I have a 1999 Saab 9.5 SE with automatic transmission. Whenever I put the car in gear, especially reverse, it make a revving noise and actually bucks a little. When I step on the accelerator, it goes away almost instantly, but while my foot is on the brake, the noise and movement are very disconcerting. The problem is worse when the car has been sitting for a while. I am hoping it is not the transmission, and know I need to take it in to the shop, but was hoping for a bit of advance warning on what to expect, if possible. Thanks in advance for your advice.

Pat Goss: I think it would an excellent idea to get the vehicle checked as soon as possible. If it is a transmission problem, you could be escalating the cost of the repair at a phenomal rate.


Pat Goss: Thank you so much everybody. I enjoy speaking with you. Look forward to it every month. Until next time, drive gently. Pat


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