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.
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I have a 2003 Honda Odyssey. Each time the van approaches 50 mph, the engine begins to vibrate noticeably and it becomes much louder. This goes away at about 55 mph after feeling something engage (?) and neither the vibration nor the loudness is experienced upon deceleration. A mechanic friend suggested a posisble torque converter problem and the Honda dealer has repeatedly diiagnosed the problem as either "nothing" or a "problem with the tires". I know the warranty on the transmission and torque converter is extended to 7 years/100,000 miles. What do you suggest? Thank you, Rich
Pat Goss: I suggest another dealer. Sounds like a torque converter clutch problem.
I know little to nothing about cars. I have a '98 Ford Escort, which has been running very well with little problem. Only the brakes have needed an update. With my job in walking distance now, the car in underground parking, and oil check-ups every three to four months, what would be the life expectancy of an Escort in good condition? And secondly, what should I start looking for, as far as any problem signs from normal wear and tear on an '98 Escort? Thank you for the help.
Pat Goss: Among other things it's due for a timing belt. Other than that the car is quite reliable, just keep up with preventive maintenance and it should last a long time.
Charlotte, North Carolina:
What product do you recommend to protect the rubber around doors and windows?
Pat Goss: Silicone spray.
I have a '94 Pontiac Grand Prix and seem to be having a problem, I think, with my alternator. Usually at night and/or in rain, when my car is using more juice (e.g. wipers, headlights) one ore more of the following lights usually comes on: service engine soon, ABS or the brake light, in no certain order. Usually the next day, one or more of these lights turns off intermittently. I assume that maybe the alternator that was put in as a replacement was the wrong one. My battery light has not come on, but it has come on in the past when a different alternator has gone bad. That's what makes me think I just have a weak alternator, not a broken one. The car also seems more sluggish when I am using more juice. Thoughts?
Thanks for taking my submission.
Pat Goss: Test the replacement alternator. I don't think it's the wrong one, I think it may be defective.
Chevy Chase, Md.:
Do you know of a company or service that will come with you to inspect a used car before buying? I am considering buying a used car from a private seller and want to make sure I'm not buying anything with hidden damage.
Pat Goss: No. Not anyone that would be worth paying money to. There are lots of individuals that profess to do this. Most of them couldn't find the spare tire with instructions on the key. Your best bet is to take the car to a qualified shop to have it inspected. What could be done outside on the ground is incredibly limited anyway.
I have a 1996 Honda Civic with 130K miles. The clutch is original, and while I haven't noticed any problems, would it be a good idea to replace it soon? If so, what would be a reasonable amount to pay for this replacement?
Pat Goss: Why fix what isn't broken? It may have a long time to go.
Pat, I've got a 2000 Saab convertible that's been parked outside most of its life. Should I be using Scotchgard or something similar on the canvas top? Thanks.
Pat Goss: No. If you want to protect the top, find a marine canvas fabrication company. Marine canvas is very similar and there are products to re-water-proof.
I want to buy a used 2000 Ford Taurus. Any major problem with this car? How do you rate this car?
Thanks for your comment!
Pat Goss: If it's a good car it should be pleasant and reliable. It it's a bad one, you'll hate it. The difference between good and bad, is the previous owner. Did they maintain it? Did they abuse it? No matter how reliable a car is when it's new, all the stastics go out the window as a used car. The quality of the used car is solely dependent on it's condition when you buy it. Don't buy it unless it has a complete service history and is checked by a qualified technician. Also by a carfax report.
Question on Winter Prep: Pat, what's the best way to ensure that your car is ready for winter? I've done oil changes and tire rotations all year and would like to be certain that my car is really primed for bad weather. Thanks.
Pat Goss: Coolant should be checked, not just for color but for ph and reserve alkalinity as well as freeze protection. If the hoses and belts are four years or 60,000 miles old. They need to be replaced. If the brake fluid is more than two years old, the brakes need to be flushed. If the transmission fluid is more than two years old, it needs to be flushed. The same with the power steering. The battery and alternator should be tested. And the car should have a general checkover under the hood and under the vehicle.
My girlfriend recently had the exhaust system
replaced on her 2000 VW Cabrio. She inquired at
several shops for an estimate. Almost all the shops
were in the $700-$800 range except one. The
exception was $200-$300 cheaper. Why could this
be?? She went ahead and got it done at the cheaper
shop but she swears it's louder than it used to be.
She's taken it back several times to see if there is a
leak and they say there is not. Did they use cheaper
materials that could cause the exhaust to be louder
than the factory exhaust? Thanks!
Pat Goss: Duuuuuh! Ya, get what you pay for. Of course, they skimp on the baffles inside the muffler. Of course, it doesn't have double wall pipes, etc., etc., etc.
Do you have a preferred cleaning/treatment product to recommend to maintain a car's leather seats?
Pat Goss: Meguiar's and Lexol both are great products for cleaning and protecting.
'98 Subaru Forester 167k miles: The 5sp manual gearbox was rebuilt last year by dealer. With about 25k on the rebuild, gearbox started sounding like the synchronizers or bearings were 'buzzing or clicking'. Replaced the gear oil w/ Mobil 1 gear oil - only very fine metal on the plug. With an additional 20k on the trans, the sound has not changed. Mileage, shifting and performance of the car is the same as before the sound started.
As I use the car to drive 600 miles back-n-forth between Maryland and New Jersey each week, I'd appreciate an educated guess as to longevity of the gearbox and/or any suggestion that might help the trans last another year.
Pat Goss: As to longevity --- my crystal ball is out for a tune-up so I can't say. However, you have done what can be done to prolong it's life, synthetic is a great idea.
This question isn't about my car. How do I get oil spots out of my concrete garage floor? Thanks!
Pat Goss: Concrete floor cleaner. Most auto parts stores will have it available.
My 1996 Saturn SL 1 has 144,000 miles on it and it's running great (knock on wood). What things can I do maintenance-wise to squeeze 200,000 out of it?
Pat Goss: Keep all the fluids flushed. And all time or mileage based services performed.
2000 Volvo S-80. 138K miles...13K since May 2003. First owner, my mom, is a realtor and did a lot of driving. My driving is 10-15 miles per day round trip to work on side roads between Wheaton and Bethesda with a few short trips on highway.
My question is fuel related. The owner's manual, which is recommended reading, states: "Volvo engines are designed for optimum performance on unleaded premium gasoline with an octane rating AKI of 91, or above. AKI (Anti Knock Index) is an average of the Research Octain Number, RON and the Motor Octain Number, MON. (RON + MON / 2). The minimum octane requirement is AKI 87 (RON 91). Should I use Premium or can I get by with a lower octane? I know you have stated not to use a higher octane than is recommended, but I have not heard you mention anything about using a lower octane than recommended. The car does not appear to knock when 87 octane is used.
Thanks in advance for your knowledge on this subject.
Pat Goss: Never use higher than recommended octane. And NEVER use lower than recommended octane. Higher than recommended can lead to a dirtier engine. It only happens over a long period of time. Lower than recommended octane can in extreme situations destroy the engine.
What is your opinion/experience with the "Certified Pre-Owned" inspection program offered for used cars by certain manufacturers?
Do they really inspect the cars thoroughly, or is it more of a marketing gimmick?
Are some better than others? Which?
Pat Goss: I think for the most part certified pre-owned CPO cars are an excellent choice. Not only are most of these programs by the vehicle manufacturer, you get an extended warranty to back the program. This applies only to manufacturer certified programs. Some individual dealers run their own programs, which might be good or ---- ?? The manufacturer are closely monitored because the manufacturer is backing the warranty. If the dealer isn't doing the job there will be too many warranty claims and the dealer could be booted out of the program. Couldn't tell you which ones are best.
I have a '91 Jeep Wrangler. About a year ago, it would not start intermittently, no gas at the fuel rail so my mechanic replaced the fuel pump. I got it back and once again it would not start intermittently, no pressure at the fuel pump. I would take it to the mechanic and it would start everytime. I finally left it with him for a month and he replaced a part that he said was defective. I don't have the name of the part but he said it was for a '92 Comanchee and asked if someone had worked on it before, I said no. Now it is once again not starting intermittently and am at a loss as to go back to the same mechanic, a different mechanic, or get rid of the Jeep.
Thanks for taking my question.
Pat Goss: First, is it lacking fuel pressure due to no fuel pump operation or is it lacking fuel pressure due to an internal fuel system leak. To determine which the next time it refuses to start turn the key off and back to the run position (without engaging the starter) 5 or 6 times. This will prime the fuel system and if the Jeep starts you have an internal leak in the system not a fuel pump failure. If it still doesn't start check fuel pump wiring including ground and the fuel pump relay.
I have a '96 Audi A4 Quattro. The check engine light came on a couple of days ago and today it just went out. Should I worry about it? Also, one shop says that I need a right front wheel because it is bent. Another shop says I need a boot, cup, etc. for suspension defects. What should I do?
Pat Goss: You should not worry about the check engine light.
You should worry about the wheel and the boot.
Glen Burnie, Maryland:
I have 1998 Cadillac Seville SLS somtimes when I hit a bump or rut at a moderate rate of speed my service stabilization system and check ABS indicator comes on. I've taken it to the dealer and they can find any problems. Any suggestions?
Pat Goss: You may have to seek the services of an independent shop. Dealers frequently only look for codes to determine the cause of a problem like yours. Some dealers and some independent shops will run test procedures often referred to as pinpoint testing to attempt to find the answer.
Ann Arbor, Michigan:
When I rotate my tires, the wheel and tire assembly is, of course, balanced. In order to create a dynamic vs. static balance, the shop places weights on the exterior of the wheels, which looks horrible, not to mention marks the wheels. Other than opting for the less desirable static balance or having the tires removed from and then re-mounted to the wheels each time the tires are rotated, are there any other options for achieving a dynamic balance without affixing exterior wheel weights?
Pat Goss: Absolutely --- Of course --- But not at the shop you're using. With the popularity of high dollar wheels there are machines that give an excellent dynamic balance and even have the ability to hide the inside weights behind wheel spokes. That way you can't even look through the wheel and see the inner weights. The very best machine in my opinion(and what I own and use in my shop) is the Hunter GSP9700 Road Force Balancer. It is absolutely amazing.
What happens if you run your car with a broken exhaust? I have an 86 Toyota- don't want to put more money into it- I'd like to drive it till spring.
Pat Goss: The most serious consequence is illness or death to the passengers.
My car vibrates and makes a rattle noise at the same rpm, but not the same speed, and usually when the engine under stress like going uphill. A friend suggested a broken motor mount. I haven't done anything assuming it is just age (120K and 8 years) and not serious. Thoughts?
Pat Goss: Check for loose heatshields on the exhaust system.
I have a 2000 Subaru Outback with automatic transmission and 90,000 miles on it. The transmission fail to engage in first gear when it is cold. What can I do?
Pat Goss: If the transmission has not been routinely flushed and the fluid still looks like new, flushing (including a new filter) might help. If the fluid is discolored or smells burned probably burnt offerings would be your best bet.
I own a 1990 Jeep Cherokee Limited, w/4 L straight 6 cylinder engine. I've had all the brake pads replaced, but it is like I don't have much power braking system. Which would you replace....the vaccum pump or the master cylinder or both? Is there a way to check each one instead of guessing? I have plenty of pedal but not alot of braking assistance from my power brake booster. Thanks, Mark
Pat Goss: I wouldn't replace either until they have been tested. Test don't guess.
I have a 93 Lexus ES300 with an overheating problem. The temperature goes into the red within 30 minutes of driving. The thermostat, radiator, coolant have all been checked and the system pressure tested. Is there anything else to be checked?
Pat Goss: In view of the fact that nothing has been checked at this point. There's all kinds of things to check. Waterpump, hoses, radiator cap, radiator, head gaskets,etc., etc.
I have a 96 Suzuki Sidekick Sport that goes through rear axle seals about every 30,000 miles. First one side and then the other goes. Is this normal? Is there a fix for it? When it goes the brake shoes rotate and pull the pistons out of the brake cylinders and cause a loss of braking, so it's a real concern. Thanks!
Pat Goss: Check the vent on the differential. Often plugged vents will cause excessive pressure and seal failure.
I guess I need a straight answer. I have a new
VW Passat Wagon. Two weeks old with 2000
miles on it. The brakes have been weird - some
vibration and noise when applied at highway
speed and really poor performance. I took it to the
dealer and they tell me that they measured the
front rotors and the are "shot". The runout
measurement is beyond spec and so they will
replace the rotors.
I thought the obvious questions was "Why?".
They have no answer but just want to replace the
rotors and say all will be fine. When I pushed they
suggested that maybe the rotors had rust on them
from sitting on the lot before purchase. They
wouldn't let me talk to the tech who actually
worked on the car. I think something is fishy. Am I
crazy? How should I proceed? Even if the
braking performance is OK after replacing the
rotors, I would think someone would want to know
why it happened to make sure it doesn't happen
again. Or maybe they have fixed something
cheaply and they aren't telling me about it.
What should I do?
Pat Goss: An EXTREMELY common cause of this is exactly what they are telling you. Rust. A second common cause is improper tightening of the wheel lugs. Part of the pre-delivery inspection is checking lug torque but it is often over-looked.
Fort Washington, Md.:
I have a 1997 Plymouth Voyager (169,000 miles) that has been checked several times for the same problem. Initially it was thought to be a failure in one of the computer modules but the specific module could not be identified. After the last attempt to fix the problem (they cleaned the throttle body) it began acting up within a week. Below is a list of everything I can think of about the peculiar things that have happened:
1. The winshield wipers come on without being activated. This has been going on since shortly after I bought the van in '97. Initially it was only when you used the turn signal to indicate a right turn. That has now progressed to coming on randomly regardless of whether the turn signal is activated.
2. The gauges fail while driving, after turning off the ignition and restarting the engine the gauges work. When the gauges fail, the engine continues to run. If you stop and restart the engine the gauges work (that is if the engine doesn't shutdown on restart).
3. The final and most serious problem is the ignition. When you try to start the van, IF IT STARTS WITHOUT THE GAUGES REGISTERING, it will shutdown after a few seconds. IF THE GAUGES REGISTER, it will continue to run. Repeated attempts to start it after it shutdowns will fail; when it gets to this point it won't start unless you disconnect the battery for at least 12 hours. This doesn't necessarily happen everytime, you can make several trips before the failure occurs. However, disconnecting the battery no longer works as a reset for the computer. The van will not continue to run if the gauges don't register. Right now it cannot be started successfully.
The starting/running problems began after either an alarm system failure or someone trying to illegally enter the engine compartment. I had parked the van on the carport and set the alarm then gone in the house. About 5-10 minutes later the alarm went off and the hood was unlatched. As I had not opened the hood I assume someone had pulled the latch cable from underneath thus activating the alarm. Shortly after this incident the start/run problem began.
If I could get it to run I would bring it into your shop, but that's rather problematic right now.
Pat Goss: Begin by forgetting computers. First order of business is to at least temporarily disconnect the alarm. If does not fix the problem have someone check the ignition switch and wire harness connectors especially the ground connections on each of the affected circuits.
Hello Mr. Goss,
My Acura TSX seems to have a serious problem with condensation on the inside windows every morning. The dealer says this is "normal," but I think it needs to be fixed.
Any suggestions on how to mitigate this problem?
Also, could you recommend a good shop to install a car phone kit? In this day and age, it's much safer to drive with both hands on the wheel....
Pat Goss: Check with Tweeters for the car phone. I've interviewed a couple of their management people and they really seem to know the automotive aftermarket business.
As to the condensation, there may be moisture in the car. If it has ever had a water leak, moisture can collect in the carpeting which will lead to a lot of window fogging.
Should we use parking brake all the time? Or putting car into parking shift is enough?
Pat Goss: Park is never enough. Always use the parking brake. The proper procedure is apply the parking brake then put the gear selector into park. This will place all the load on the brakes rather than the transmission.
I own a Lexus 1990 ES 250. Lately, I got this problem on my car: After I park my car for around 4 or 5 hrs, I notice the coolant was under neeth my car. I did ask a technican, he told me that the water pump is leaking, I need to change it. Is it right? (The coolant only leaks from somewhere after I park)
Pat Goss: The technician has seen it, I have not. Waterpumps frequently only show leakage after the engine has been shut off. Unfortunately there are several other things that react that way as well.
The transmission on my 1991 Trans Am w/350 engine has started to slip (over rev) under acceleration when starting in the "overdrive" position. If I start out with the gear shift in the "drive" position, it does not slip. So now I start out in drive - then shift to overdrive when at speed. Any ideas on what might be wrong?
Pat Goss: If the car is equipped with a throttle valve cable it is out of adjustment.
I need a "Pat Goss Official Web Site" soon! It would be so wonderful to have all your advice and information on one web site so I can get honest and up-to-date automotive information. Please tell me you either have one or it is in the works?
Keep up the good work,
Pat Goss: We do. www.goss-garage.com
Actually I received a message about 2 hours ago suggesting that our new updated, high tech, better than ever site is about ready.
I have a 1997 Honda Civic hatchback that has the driver's side window come loose several times, and I've had to take it to a garage to fix. Is there anything that can stop this from happening?
Pat Goss: Yes. A proper repair. You probably would be better dealing with a glass shop.
Falls Church, Va.:
Hello Pat. Thanks for reading my question. I try to listen to radio show every chance I get. It is mainly for the car advice and partly for the entertainment from people who call asking you for advice and then becoming almost confrontational when they do not like what you tell them.
I know about using only the octane rating in the car manual for gas engines, but does the same rule apply for diesel engines? For a 2002 VW Golf TDI, the manual says to use any type 2 diesel fuel. I see that the lowest cetane rating at various stations in the area is 40. I have seen a few places that sell 'Supreme Diesel' with cetane ratings ranging from 42 to 47. Is it better, worse, or no different to use the higher cetane diesel fuel for the TDI engine? Thanks again for reading my question.
Pat Goss: Diesels, do not react the same as spark ignition engines. Some diesels will actually perform better on the higher cetane. In diesels I've had over the years I try different brands and different cetanes to see which provides the best economy and performance for the individual vehicle.
Hi Pat, love your radio show. I have a 99 Yukon. It has a coolant leak. Seems to be coming from the back of the engine. First mech I took it to said the intake manifold gasket was leaking. I have a pretty good working knowledge of engines so I examined it myself. Looked at the sot he pointed out and there was a eraser sized drop of coolant coming out. Definitely not what was causing the leak. After seeing that and not being able to see the back of the engine makes me think it may be one of several things: Freeze plug (high doubt), Heater core hose (more along my first thought), or the back of the intake manifold. I did call a few garages as well as the deal about estimates and what the procedure would entail. the number seems to hover around $800 including a coolant and engine flush. one shop said to replace the valve cover gaskets and a Pots metal sensor as well. Am I overlooking something in all of this?
Pat Goss: A leaking intake manifold gasket was a no cost standard part on GM trucks of that vintage. Check the gasket thoroughly, I expect it will be leaking. It usually leaks in the back, the best way to see it is with a technician's mirror and a flexible light.
So what's the recommended octane for older cars that were built to take leaded gasoline? I'm asking because I drive a 1972 Dodge Dart.
Pat Goss: Probably 87! By the old method of rating octane, 87 equals 91 which was more than sufficient. Contrary to popular belief todays octane grades are much higher than they were in the 60's and 70's.
How do those portable units used for starting an automobile with a dead battery work? About 10 years ago my car wouldn't start where it was about 1000 ft. from an auto repair garage. The mechanic lent me one of the units instead of driving his truck over.
Pat Goss: They have a gel cell battery inside them.
Everytime it rains, my trunk floods. How can I fix the problem because I took it to the Chevy dealer and they could not find anything wrong? My car is a 2002 Chevrolet Prism. Thanks
Pat Goss: You need to check some of the basics. The most common places for leakage like this are around the taillamp gaskets, and at the quarter panel to filler panel (under the rear window) seams inside the forward edge of the trunk opening.
I have a 2001 Honda Prelude. Lately, as the weather is getting colder, the hand brake light on my dashborad comes on after I step on the "real brake" even though the hand brake is off. This only happens in the morning when the weather is cold. What should I do?
Pat Goss: Check the level of the fluid in the master cylinder. If that's correct check the adjustment of the parking brake lamp switch.
My 1994 Mazda MX3 makes a noise when I turn. Sounds like it is coming from the wheel well - almost like a crunchy rattle. CV joints?
Pat Goss: Sounds like.
I bought a fully loaded 1995 Mazda MX6 LS last year for $4000 with 65K on it, and I never had any problems with it and it drives great, also I don't use it that much ( 8k miles last year). I am faced now with major expenses (new tires, rotors, perhaps brakes, a little body work, and there is a worrying noise from the rear axle). The car looks and feels great. I can sell it for almost the same price i bought it. Should I sell it, get a newer car (I can get the same monthly payment with a newrer car) or invest in it and keep it longer. Thank you!
Pat Goss: Sell it. Sell it. Sell it.
My car's engine does this strange surging while running in park. It's like someone is gently pressing the gas and then backing off. It does this the whole time the engine is idling. What is that?
Pat Goss: Check for a dirty throttle body and a dirty idle air control valve.
I have a 93 Ford Ranger. I have multiple question for this truck.
1- The tranmission doesn't seem to shift correctly when it is cold.
2- The engine runs pretty rough after it is warmed up and I notice that antifreeze push over to the reverse container after it is hot. I have replaced the thermostat and the radia cap. The radia is new.
Thanks in advace for your help.
Pat Goss: If the transmission has not been flushed on a regular basis (2 years/24,000 miles), if the fluid still looks good, flushing might help. If the fluid is discolored or smells burnt, you are probably headed towards transmission failure.
For the coolant have someone use an exhaust gas analyzer over the coolant bottle to check for a bad head gasket.
I took my car in for a front brake pad replacement. The technician suggested a tire rotation and rotor adjustment as well. Anyhow, after I got my car back I began to hear thumping noises while the car is moving and a baseball affect while stepping on the brake slightly. I took the car back three times and they could not figure it out what caused it. Can you please tell me what the problems might be?
Pat Goss: The noise is probably of the tire rotation. I expect you have been less than diligent on regular rotation. This causes the tires to wear unevenly and for the first few hundred miles after rotation you may get some strange noises. If the tires aren't too badly worn, the noise will go away.
My car a 1992 Acura Legend is burning oil. Various mechanics have given me reasons as to why this is happening. One said it could be a gasket another said it could be rings. I even heard it could be an ed block. I can't believe that, because the engine runs very strong. Is there any way you can definitively tell me why the oil is burning?
Pat Goss: Yes if I looked at the car. Without looking at the car I can tell you the most common cause of it on an Acura is bad valve seals.
Chevy Chase, Md.:
Hi Pat, I'm new to your chats, but I hope you can help me. I have a 97 Town & Country with 60k miles. Lately it makes a strange noise (like a cricket) that people tell me could be the belt of the fan. Is that very expensive to repair? I think it also leaks water. Do you think I should get rid of it before it's too late? Last month I had to change the radiator. Maybe it's already too late to sell it. Anyone interested? Thank you.
Pat Goss: Check the belt tensioner and belt idler pulleys, they may actually be under recall.
Pat Goss: As always, thank you. I appreciate your questions, take care. Drive gently, see you next time. Happy Thanksgiving, Pat