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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Sorry for the delay, this discussion will start momentarily.
I have a VW Passat that's been getting terrible gas mileage for the last 2 months (usually about 12-14 mpg, and that's with premium gas). No check-engine light has come on, and I had a shop read the computer and there were no active error codes. Everything seems to be working fine, although there doesn't seem to be much of a turbo boost anymore. Do you have any idea what I should check? Thank you.
Pat Goss: Whenever you have a noticeable decrease in fuel economy begin by checking the thermostat. A cold running engine can cost two to ten miles per gallon.
Lincoln Park, D.C.:
I'm having problems finding out what is wrong with my Honda Civic. It overheats in traffic, but temperature goes down very quick when we start moving again. First, I had hoses replaced/timing adjusted, and then a new thermostat put in. None of that seemed to help.
The car loses some coolant, but not much. It is fine in highway driving.
What could be going on?
Pat Goss: Check the cooling fan and all the cooling fan control devices. Usually when a car overheats in traffic it's because there isn't enough air movement. When it's moving the air passing over the radiator keeps the engine cool.
When I was a child, our dog accidentally drank some ethylene glycol antifreeze that leaked from our car onto the garage floor. The result was kidney failure, and sadly, the animal had to be put down.
My wife and I just got a new dog, and we heard that a company named Sierra makes a propylene glycol engine coolant that is supposed to be much less toxic for animals in the event that the dog drinks an undetected puddle of engine coolant of the garage floor.
I have found a GM technical service bulletin that states: "It is our conclusion that propylene glycol engine coolants will perform adequately under most vehicle operating conditions" and that "propylene glycol engine coolant may be used in GM vehicles and will not affect the warranty coverage."
I have a 2003 Toyota Corolla. Any thoughts on whether this stuff will work ok on my car?
What are the performance differences (if any) between Toyota-brand antifreeze and Sierra-brand antifreeze?
Thanks for your input, and happy holidays!
Pat Goss: There should be no adverse affects from using the propylene product in your car but --- remember that all coolants will probably be to some extent toxic after use.
Several months ago we purchased a used 2004 Chrysler Pacifica with 6K miles on the odometer. While we generally love the car, the gas mileage is just miserable. Average fuel economy after 5K miles of mixed highway and local driving is just around 14.8 mpg, but we seem to be getting around 13 mpg in our regular daily travel between home, school and work.
Does this sound reasonable? If not, can you suggest possible causes for such poor mileage? The dealer's service manager just writes this off as price you pay for the 3.5L V6, but that doesn't really seem like much of an answer.
Pat Goss: Yes it does. Large vehicle --- heavy vehicle --- not particularly aerodynamic --- all wheel drive. Usually these factors add up to a thirsty vehicle.
My old Neon has dim headlights. How hard is it to replace them, or would it be better to get supplemental running lights like so many vehicles have now?
Pat Goss: Replacing the bulbs is very easy. Twist counterclockwise one-quarter turn and out they come. That is if it the bulbs that are at fault. If it is discoloration of the lamp lens then try polishing them with a convertible top rear window polish.
I have a 2002 Mazda Protege5 which I really don't get to drive much. I walk to work and shopping and only use the car for long trips home to see my out-of-town relatives. I probably put about 3000 miles/year on it. What are the maintenance steps I should really make sure I do in order not to run into problems with this type of usage?
Pat Goss: Use a regular TIME or MILEAGE maintenance chart and perform service based on time rather than miles.
I'm debating...a GMC Sierra 5.3L, 6.0L or Duramax. Can you tell me the pros and cons? Z71 ext cab or crew for car seat room?
Pat Goss: All are good engines. For most people the diesel will not pay for itself but if you simply like diesels it is a great one. The crew cab will certainly give the most room.
Falls Church, Va.:
Now that winter is here, do you recommend using dry gas on a regular basis? Should this be with every full tank of gas, or just once a month? I noticed that Advance Auto Parts carries two types: isopropyl and methyl alcohol. Is one of these better than the other? I plan on buying a case to make sure that I have some in each car.
Pat Goss: I do NOT recommend using dry gas only in the winter. It should be used once every month winter and summer. of the two types the only one that is really beneficial is the Isopropyl.
I just had my car serviced, no problems, but two things bother me. One, my heat smells "exhaust-like." I solve this by using the option to recycle the air within the car. This is a new development, though.
Secondly, it's a four year old car. But when I accelerate under 40 mph, it makes a repetitive clacking noise. Higher pitched than a strong acceleration and a less smooth noise than that. Usually dies down after two miles. Is it just age and warming up? It's new with the cold weather.
Pat Goss: The smell probably indicates that you need the a/c and heat duct work cleaned. The clacking noise has nothing to do with old age, heck, the car isn't even old. It should be checked immediately as in yesterday.
I've got a 2000 Suburban that occasionally stalls when moving at idle speed (like when pulling into a parking space). The voltage gauge drops significantly (~9-10 V), then the rpms drop and the engine cuts out. The engine starts right back up when I turn the ignition.
It tends to happen more frequently when the car is first started up, but it is intermittent; it may not happen for a week, then happen five times in a day.
It seems like it's the battery/alternator not supplying enough power to keep the engine running. Any suggestions?
Pat Goss: I think the slow engine speed is causing the low voltage, not the other way around. Check the idle air control and the throttle body for accumulated gum and varnish. Clean as necessary.
I am interested in importing a car into the Unites States. Do you have any idea of how to find out if a 1998 Volkswagen Sharan HDI (Diesel) that I currently would be able to pass U.S. emission and safety/crash standards?
Pat Goss: Virtually impossible. In the 80's there were all kinds of vehicles being imported into the U.S., they were call grey market cars. Due to significant differences between European spec vehicles and U.S. spec vehicles this practice has been all but banned. The vehicle would need complete emissions modifications, the lamps would all need to be replaced, probably all the glass would require replacement, all U.S. spec safety equipment would need to be added, etc.
My son has offered me his 2002 Ford Taurus SE company car when it comes off lease this month. It has been maintained according to the Ford schedule. It has 78,000 miles on it.
Do you think this would be a reliable car that could go another 70,000 miles?
Pat Goss: It's possible, but not likely. Most manufacturers preventive maintenance schedules are based on a life expectancy of 100,000 miles. For a hundred and fifty thousand mile vehicle you usually need more strict maintenance.
Part 2 GMC. Any maintenance advantages with the 5.3L/6.0L vs. duramax for everyday use?
Pat Goss: The 5.3 will be the most economical. The 6.0 will have the same preventive maintenance but will BE SIGNIFICANTLY MORE THIRSTY and the duramax will be the most costly in preventive maintenance.
Hacienda Heights, Calif.:
My 1993 Lexus ES 300 once in awhile vibrates when idling, or even when running. I could feel the engine was not running smoothly. I had it checked when at one time the check engine light came on, but the mechanic didn't see anything. He checked the spark plugs and they are still ok. Another mechanic asked me to use the premium instead of the regular that I have been using on it. What could be the problem?
Pat Goss: It won't be solved by using premium fuel. Actually that could make things worse. You need somebody with modern equipment to measure voltage requirements in the ignition system and to check emissions. Not from the standpoint of passing an emissions test, but from an engine performance perspective. We frequently find vehicles running too lean; their emissions are too low.
What do you think about the Infiniti G35(x)?
Pat Goss: Great car.
Capitol Hill, D.C.:
Regarding a thermostat causing poor mileage, I have a '94 Infiniti J30 that is also getting poor mileage and, when the car is cold, I get a "whirring" sound when accelerating out of first gear. I had my fan belt changed about a year ago and that seemed to eliminate the noise, but I can't believe the belt is gone again? Thanks.
Pat Goss: There's more under a hood than a belt. Like belt tensioner, belt idler pulley, alternator, water pump, power steering pump etc. All need to be checked.
How many miles on a used car is acceptable if you want to get at least another 50,000 miles out of it? I can only afford around $2000 for a car, so if I'm looking at something of a reputable brand that's 10-12 years old, how many miles is too many to make it not worth my while to have a mechanic check it out?
Pat Goss: There is no such thing. Mileage is not an indicator of condition. Service history and general condition are much more important than miles. Buying miles without regard to condition can be very costly.
Thank you for taking my question about the Passat. The thermostat was replaced by the shop that checked the error codes, with no noticeable effect. The engine does seem to warm up normally and operates at the regular point on the temperature gauge. Can you suggest anything else to check? Thank you.
Pat Goss: Check fuel pressure. Check mass airflow sensor. Check coolant temperature sensor. Check air inlet temperature sensor. Check oxygen sensors (not the most probable). And use an engine analyzer to test the entire ignition system.
Volvo offers a number of engines for each of their cars. Is there one you recommend over another?
Pat Goss: Not really. They're all moderately good.
Lake Ridge, Va.:
A dealer told me to use "consistently high-quality gas" in my 2004 Subaru Forester to avoid a pinging problem.
Which gas brands should I stick with to be in the high-quality range? Should I use premium gas even if my car only requires 87 octane?
Pat Goss: DO NOT USE PREMIUM. There is no benefit to using premium, actually there could be some disadvantages. High quality is any name brand.
Falls Church, Va.:
Mr. Goss, If the gasoline companies are formulating 87,89,& 93 octanes why not make 91 octane since some of the luxury cars requires it.
Thank you for your response.
Pat Goss: Good question. Wish I had an answer. I presume it has to do with marketing volume.
I've been looking at a couple of SUV's and narrowed it down between the BMW X3 and the Volvo XC90.
The trouble is that they're so comparable; I'm having a hard time deciding what to do.
Is there anything (mechanically speaking) that would tip the balance in one's favor?
Pat Goss: Not mechanically, they are both going to be good vehicles. Base your decision on which vehicle you like the best. You can drive yourself crazy trying to analyze all the data.
The ABS light is on most of the time when I drive my 92 Camry. Is this an indication that the anti-lock braking system is not working? If so, can I still safely drive the car? The brakes feel fine and the brake light hasn't come on. My mechanic says not to worry about it, it's probably just a bad connection and even without the anti-lock brakes I can still drive the car safely.
Pat Goss: Federal law requires ABS to be stand-alone and aside from the basic brake system. Although there is no way to ever be 100% sure of the safety issues, you are probably ok.
I have a 2003 Subaru Outback 4cyl with 17K miles. It
has started making a small rattling noise from the
engine bay, but only when accelerating through the
1500-2500rpm range. It doesn't make this noise at
any other rpms or when not accelerating. Any ideas
about what I should be looking for? Any known
problems with Outbacks that I should look out for?
Pat Goss: You should be looking for your nearest dealer. This is probably relative to computer programming.
My 1999 Cadillac Eldorado dash computer reports to "Check Gas Cap." I have replaced the gas cap, and also had the dealer do a pressure and vacuum test of the system. Still the light keeps coming on. Any hints, recommendations or ideas? It is a real nuisance and a bit disconcerting too.
Pat Goss: The dealer quite obviously dropped the ball. Your car has a leak (fumes) in the EVAP system.
New York, N.Y.:
I've always been a huge fan - stylistically - of the Jaguar XJS model. I know how mechanically flawed these cars are/can be. Are there any model years that you know of that are less inclined to be "mechanically challenged?"
Also, I enjoyed listening to you on your weekend radio show on WJFK when I lived in D.C.
Pat Goss: The last generation with the in-line 6 cylinder engine was reasonably good. Ugly taillights though.
I have a 2002 Audi A-6 3.0CVT front drive with 46K miles that has had 2 catalytic converters replaced recently. What causes that? And since I'm coming to the end of my warranty at 50K miles, should I get an extended warranty? It will cost $2,400, and take me to 95K miles?
Pat Goss: Catalytic converters fail because of excess fuel. That is if the converters are internally melting. If they are breaking up it's nothing but low quality. That's a lot of money for your extended warranty but it also isn't the most trouble free car on the road.
I recently bought a Nissan Quest S Mini van. I have a basic question.
Do I need to put 87 or 93 Octane.
In manual they said 87 is good but for better performance they recommended premium. I was wondering how much difference does it make?
Pat Goss: I have yet to meet anyone other than weekend racers who time acceleration to a thousandth of a second that can feel any difference in performance. I think the phrase in the manual probably originates some place deep within the fertile minds of the corporate legal abyss.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I have a '98 Lexus ES 300, with close to 100k miles. I have kept up with the all the scheduled maintenances. Recently, I have noticed the car is idling and hesitating as I am trying to increase the speed.
I have thought about replacing the fuel filter and spark plugs. Also did a BG throttle flush, and added a can of BG 44k to the tank. I also checked the transmission fluid, and it looks like it's ready to for BG transmission fluid flush and replacing the filter.
Am I on the right route Pat, I appreciate your feedback.
Also, what is the proper way of adding the BG 44k, is it adding the can to full tank of gas or to an empty tank first.
Pat Goss: Full or empty makes no difference, as long as you fill it after the 44k is installed. You need to have someone use an engine analyzer to look at the car's ignition system and fuel delivery components then use a scanner to monitor the data stream to and from the computer.
Why is the octane-level so much higher in gas sold in the U.S. than in Europe? Do Europeans just pay extra for no good reason? I think most gas sold there is 95 octane, and premium 98.
Pat Goss: Different rating system, not a different gas. If you rated our gas on the old research scale, our premium would be 101.
I have a 1987 Cadillac Sedan Deville. It has 130,000 miles on it and ran great until about 3 months ago. Now it will just stop while I'm driving. No sputter or anything it just stops. I pull over and wait a while and then it starts up. What might be the problem?
Pat Goss: Check in order: mass airflow sensor, crankshaft position sensor, and ignition module.
Pat, do you have any advice for how to protect your car from being vandalized if you don't have access to a garage? My car's windows have been smashed twice in the last two months while it was parked on 15th Street N.W. at Massachusetts Avenue. Nothing was stolen (there was literally nothing in the car to tempt a potential thief). I own a 2001 Toyota Corolla with a loud alarm system. I have recently purchased a club, but am wondering if there's anything else I can add as additional discouragement. Thanks for your help!!!
Pat Goss: The club is good. Also a pedal lock is very visual and very difficult to defeat. They maybe trying to steal the car, it is very prone to theft.
I am considering buying a used Audi A8 as a sales vehicle. My budget keeps me in the '98-2000 year range. I was wondering if there are any issues, recalls or service recommendations I should be aware of before purchasing such a vehicle? Is the upkeep on this car expensive?
Pat Goss: Do you consider the national debt expensive? Check the vehicle, check the vehicle, check the vehicle, and oh please check the vehicle before purchase. This is wonderful automobile but it can be your worst nightmare if it hasn't received meticulous preventive maintenance and service.
My '91 Accord has been sitting for a month. I started it maybe once but now it won't start. I put in a brand new battery, new plugs, wires, and distributor cap/rotor. But it still won't start. It turns over but there is no spark. We pulled one wire w/ a spark plug attached and placed it on the engine case but could not see/hear spark when cranking. Suggestions?
Also, there seemed to be oil in two of the four chambers where the plugs sit. The car, when it ran, did not burn oil, I'm not sure how the oil got there. When I change the oil I use a funnel to pour it into the engine. Please help! Thanks.
Pat Goss: There are seals at the bottom of the spark tubes in the valve cover, they go bad allowing oil to seep into the chambers around the plugs. It has nothing to do with engine problems or oil burning, it's simply a gasket issue. For the no spark condition, if the camshaft is turning (timing belt isn't broken) check the distributor.
Good morning Pat,
I bought a 2004 Acura TL back in November 2003. I don't drive it much. It has less than 2500 miles. I have not had the oil changed yet because of the low mileage. Should I get it changed because it's been over a year or wait till the car's maintenance computer to tell me to change it? Thank you for taking my question.
Pat Goss: Oh my. Change it, maintenance is based on time or mileage.
RE: ABS & Brakes:
A comment and a question I forgot. On the ABS, (at least on Probes), the ABS system will sometimes fail by activating the pump well short of lockup, thus reducing braking force. The solution to prevent that was to pull the ABS' fuse and disable the pump.
The question: I replaced the rear caliper myself the last time. I bled the system 2x (both times with a hand vacuum pump). The first time the new caliper "flowed" normally. The second time I barely could get it to dribble fluid, although the other 3 calipers flowed OK. What could cause this problem, and how can I fix it?
Pat Goss: Pulling the fuse is nothing more than covering a potentially dangerous situation. Probe ABS systems work like any other ABS System.
As to the dribble of brake fluid, check the ABS pump and the proportioning valve.
I know that this is not a discussion focused on possible new/used car purchases, but I was wondering whether you could offer any advice to me in regards to hybrid cars.
Since there are fewer of them on the road, if they need to go into the shop, is it a much more laborious, expensive or time-consuming situation? Specifically, I am thinking about the Ford Escape (SUV) hybrid. They just started selling them this year. From a maintenance standpoint, would it be smarter for me to wait until more of them have been sold? Thanks.
Pat Goss: The only real issues are from the lack of trained technicians. Maintenance is mostly the same. The warranty should take care of any other issues.
San Diego, Calif.:
I have a 1999 Ford Escort. I am almost positive the transmission is failing. Several months ago I took it, they said the fluid was dirty, it was drained and replaced (not flushed) and the mechanic said he did not see anything wrong. It runs fine 98% of the time. Occasionally it seems like when I am first hitting the gas it takes a couple of seconds to catch (especially when the car has lots of weight in it). What should I do at this point? If the fluid is clean (because it was replaced a few months ago), do I have it flushed at the next time point, even though it was dirty before? Or do I just wait and let it slowly die? Anything else it could be? Thanks!
Pat Goss: It was a serious mistake to change the fluid without flushing. The reason flushing as become so popular is that there are deposits that form in old transmission fluid that are not soluble in new transmission fluid. Didn't use to be this way, but fluids are different as are vehicles. Therefore, changing fluid when it is dirty can actually lead to problems. Before doing anything else with the transmission, have it evaluated by a competent technician.
Charlotte, North Carolina:
I have a 1993 Dodge Intrepid with 3.3 engine and 103K miles. I'm getting a ticking sound from the engine on the passenger side. It's especially noticeable inside the car. No noise occurs from a cold start, but its constant after running 2-3 minutes. The engine appears to operating OK. Got any ideas?
Pat Goss: Check for an exhaust manifold to cylinder head leak. If no problem, check for rocker arm damage. There are modifications for many of these engines regarding the rocker arms and related parts. DO NOT LET IT GO.
Thanks for taking my questions.
1. I see a remote car starter on sale for $39. This sounds too good to be true. What do you think?
2. I have a car that occasionally just plain doesn't want to run. It can just plain not start or stop going down the highway. Symptoms are that it keeps idling for about 30 seconds, but hitting the accelerator does no good. Then it stops. I'd like to track the problem, and am wondering if you have any ideas about what circumstances I should be logging (e.g., rain, temperature).
Pat Goss: Log all of them, no one knows which one will be the one that leads to the answer.
To good to be true, you're right.
Hi Pat! I have a 2001 Pontiac Sunfire. The windows fog over whenever I'm not using a/c or the defroster, which of course triggers the a/c. As soon as I move from defrost to heat, within just a minute or so the windows start fogging. This makes for cold driving in winter. Someone suggested I should stop breathing. Any more practical suggestions? Thanks much!
Pat Goss: Stop breathing? Hmmm. Doesn't sound practical to me. But then I'm not a Doctor so I don't know all the consequences. Try it for a couple days and let me know. After that, check for dampness under the floor mats. Usually fogging like yours is the result of too much moisture in the car.
I have this 2001 Chrysler Voyager V6 40K miles...
When the weather is cold in the morning (around 30s), it generates a metal-to-metal crashing sound for a few seconds when trying top start, the colder the weather the longer the sound. It is only the first time it's started everyday. After that further
it starts without noises.
I have tried with synthetic oil, but still am having this noise during cold weather.
Other than that the cars works fine.
Any help or guidance you might be able to offer will be greatly appreciated.
Pat Goss: You really need to have it checked. It astounds me when people tell me about loud crashing noises and they go merrily along their way. Noises mean problems. Noises mean problems that get worse not better. If this occurs while the starter is engaged, check for a faulty starter drive gear and clutch and flywheel.
I have a 1985 Corvette that needs a heater core. Are they very hard to put in?
Pat Goss: That depends if it's your first one, it'll be a nightmare. If it's your tenth one, piece of cake.
Pat, I inherited a 1953 Chevy Belair with 89,000 miles on it. The car has a 235 6-cylinder engine with a manual transmission. The car has been in a garage for about 26 years. The body is in excellent shape. Only the bumpers are rusted. I think my grandfather stopped driving the car due to a blown head gasket. What do you think I should do to the engine before trying to drive it?
Pat Goss: Get it started and have it evaluated. It may well be junk.
Is it time to unload/sell?
I have a 91 Chevy Caprice. The air bag warning light cycles flashes like it is suppose to (7 times) than goes out, shortly (about 10 minutes of driving) comes on and goes out than comes back on and stays on.
Is this common for old cars, can I unplug and replug in all connections/clean or is this a loss in pressure do to a tubing leak?
Pat Goss: The airbag light should not flash, it should come on momentarily to test the bulb and then go out and stay out. You have an air bag problem the flashing light is telling you the code. The code will tell the portion of the system that is being affected. It won't tell you what's wrong. Because you are endowed with a lot of misinformation do not touch the system.
I have a 2002 Mitsubishi Galant. When it rains the accelerator doesn't seem to work as well. When I take off from a stop sign or I am going up a hill, the accelerator sticks slightly and makes a noise like my wheels are spinning for about 30 secs. Then it jerks slightly when it does start. We took it to the dealer but they did not fix the problem. In the sunshine or cold weather no problem. Only the rain. Any idea what's going on? The breaks work fine rain or shine. Thanks for your help.
Pat Goss: Do you have good tires? Are your tires properly inflated? It sounds like you're activating the traction control system. This is caused by bad tires, or improperly inflated tires, or a lead foot. Check the tires, if they're good, ease up on the throttle.
Pat Goss: Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Take care, drive gently. Talk to you next year. Wishing you the best, Pat.