Transcript: Thursday, December 22, 2005, 11 a.m. ET

Goss's Garage

Pat Goss
Automotive repair expert
Thursday, December 22, 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.

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Philadelphia, Penn.: Is there a glass treatment or wiper blade treatment to eliminate the annoying "chattering" of wiper blades?

Thanks.

Pat Goss: I use Rain X windshield washer solvent year round. Because it has Rain X in the mixture whenever the wipers start to chatter you simply hit the washer button for a couple seconds and the noise goes away. I love it!

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Anonymous: What would make a piston go through the engine? Would it be from not having any oil in it?

Pat Goss: That's certainly one reason. No oil means the engine goes away and it usually does it violently.

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Columbia, Md.: The brakes on my Infiniti squeal as I come to a stop. Does this indicate a problem?

Pat Goss: Until the brakes are checked it doesn't mean anything except the brakes need to be checked. Whenever there is ANY change in the way brakes feel or sound they need to be checked immediately.

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Washington, D.C.: Happy holidays to all.

I was asked by a woman in a shopping center for help with her van when she couldn't turn the key in the ignition switch. I couldn't help. The driver's manual said it should turn after inserting the key. I believe it was a Chrysler van that she had, and I believe the van was in park. Can you suggest any reason this would occur, and what could I have done, if anything, to correct it?

Pat Goss: It is usually caused by turning the ignition off with the wheels turned. When the engine stops the power assist goes away. If the wheels are turned when this happens the force of the tires (the rubber is twisted due to being turned) is applied to the steering lock mechanism. This causes the key to bind and usually impossible to turn. The fix is first to never shut the engine off in any car with the wheels turned. Two is to apply strong pressure (STRONG) to the steering wheel in the direction the wheels are turned while attempting to operate the key. This almost always works.

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Adelphi, Md.: I have had my front brake pad and rotors replaced twice this year, yet I still hear that grinding sound when I press my brakes, also when I press my brake, my steering wheel vibrants. Can you tell me what the mechanic is missing?

Pat Goss: Yes! What's missing is a full knowledge of how to do a MODERN brake job. The shudder in the steering wheel usually means the brake rotors are warped and that can happen immediately if the wheel lug nuts are not torqued using a torque wrench. The noise can be the result of many things including pad quality, rotor preparation, not greasing the caliper slides and mounting pins, failure to use pad c treatment chemicals, etc., etc.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Pat. I own a '04 F-150 that I drive, tops -- 20 miles per week. I commute on the subway, so it never leaves the parking space. I put maybe a couple thousand miles on it a year. I know this sound funny, but is there any special maintenance that needs to be done on a vehicle that -- doesn't -- get much driving? I am religious about following the owner's manual maintenance schedule-but should I worry that I don't drive it enough? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Not so much special maintenance as special times. All maintenance on a lightly used vehicle should be done based on time rather than mileage. Time is the enemy and if you wait for the miles to accumulate before performing preventive maintenance you will more than likely regret it.

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Falls Church, Va.: How much should a timing belt replacement on a 1998 Mazda 626 really cost? $800 seems a bit much for one belt and a few pulleys.

Pat Goss: Timing belt, water pump, fresh coolant, possibly seals on the crankshaft and camshaft, plus idler and tensioner pulleys should cost between $800 and $1,200 depending on car, miles and engine.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Pat. I have a '99 Cougar with a hole in the antifreeze container. When I put antifreeze in it, it just drains out. I was told it's expensive to get this replaced because major machinery needs to be moved around to get to it. What do you think?

Pat Goss: I suspect this is not the anti-freeze container but rather a gasket or seal and if that is the case yes it would be expensive. If it is just the container it should be under $100 parts and labor.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Pat,

My brother is 19. In February he will have completed a year of training at UTI (where he finished top of his class) and four months of specialized training at Volvo in Chicago (where he is also top of his class). Though Volvo guarantees placement somewhere after graduation, over Thanksgiving he met with a few Volvo dealerships in the area to see about securing a job before he is done with school. I was shocked to see that he was offered jobs that paid only $14 an hour. Do you feel he was low-balled by these dealerships? Is there room for negotiations? I know nothing about cars or garages ... just a big sister trying to get a little more info. Thoughts?

Pat Goss: Low-balled? What does he bring to the table? he has no real experience. He has no real training. In the outside world that would be a reasonably good starting point. yeah I know the schools tell tales of enormous salaries but that does not usually happen unless the person has experience. Besides the hourly rate is not nearly as important as his ability to produce work. Most shops pay on hours completed which is then converted to an adjusted hourly wage. If he's good he can easily convert the $14 an hour into $35 or more simply by producing more work relative to book allowed hours.

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Springfield, Va.: How do I reduce/get rid of road noise on my '97 Corolla? I have had the car for over four years and noticed it getting louder gradually. Thanks.

Pat Goss: Check tire wear. This is especially important if you don't rotate the tires at least every 7,500 miles. You're looking for uneven wear from one tread to another around the tire. Not abnormal wear across the tire. If no problems are found check wheel and axle bearings.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi Pat. It's winter, how long should you warm-up the car on cold mornings and does it depend on the make of the car? Thanks.

Pat Goss: Unless are there are extenuating circumstances like lots of ice or snow to defrost, warm up time should be approximately one minute and then drive gently until the car reaches normal operating temperature.

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Reston, Va.: I own a 2000 Lexus ES300 with a little over 90,000 miles. Over a month ago, the brake light came on and stayed on (the break was not activated). Late last week, the engine light and track light came on. At that point, I took the car to a shop to run a check. They told me that they could not read what the problem was, however, the timing belt needed to be replaced, so I had it done. When leaving the shop, I noticed that the brake, engine, track lights were not on. I took the car to the Lexus dealer who could not find anything wrong with the car.

Why do you think the lights were coming on? Was it related to the timing belt? Thanks.

Pat Goss: I expect the lights were coming on because there was a problem. I expect the lights will come back on as soon as the computer determines that problem stills exists, maybe a few days maybe a few weeks.

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Washington, D.C.: Happy Holidays! My owner's manual does not specify whether the engine oil should be checked when the engine is cold or hot. I have been checking it when the engine is cold. In you opinion, in the absence of any guidance in the owner's manual, would you check it cold, hot or does it matter at all? Thanks.

Pat Goss: Normally oil is checked cold or hot. In most cases there will be an allowable range on the dipstick. So cold engine oil levels will be lower than hot engine oil levels. Check oil hot the engine must be shut off and allowed to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Goss,

I have an '89 Camry with 244,000 miles. The brake, charge and lights "idiot lights" have been coming on while cruising down the road. They stay on anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. When they come on, the heater blower slows down and, at night, the headlights and dashboard lights dim slightly. The repair manual states loose drive belt, blown fuse, faulty IC regulator or alternator as possible causes. The car starts and runs fine.

Your opinion would be much appreciated. Thanks very much.

Pat Goss: Check the alternator.

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Windshield glare: Please help! I have a five and a half year old Saab, 40,000 miles, and the windshield is starting to get really bad as far as tiny scratches go. I use Rain-X so that water beads up nicely, but the glare during twilight and on the highway at night is getting bad. Is there anything I can do to fill in the scratches? What should I do to prevent this in my next car?

Pat Goss: Nothing other than a new windshield. Extremely common problem. It's usually caused by road debris. One thing that will help when you get a new windshield is to allow more distance between you and the car ahead of you.

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Burke, Va.: What causes -- and how do you prevent -- an electric shock when getting out of a car in the winter? Sounds like a silly question, but I just got a new Camry -- and I'm really getting zapped. Haven't noticed it as much in other cars.

Thanks.

Pat Goss: The normal cure is to spray the carpeting and, if it has cloth seats, the seats with static guard.

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Rockville, Md.:

I have an '91 Mazda Protege that I bought here and took to Texas for six years. When I returned I was driving on 370 for about five miles each way at speed and when I had my emissions test in '03 it passed with some of the best scores ever -- better than when I was here in 92, but I was driving fast every day.

Last year I moved to an apartment and now drive only once a week or so. I took it in to be tested in the fall and just barely passed. I drove from Rockville to Gaithersburg and it warmed up, then waited a half hour or so for the test.

Should I get a tune up before my next emissions test. The last was at 40,000 miles (now 86,000 miles) and I got platinum plugs and all.

What should I do to get ready for my next emissions test? Or should I take my chances and get work if it flunks?

Pat Goss: Other than basic preventive maintenance. Fresh oil change, pcv system service, and things like that. Don't try to second guess emissions, you could spend a ton of money and still fail. Wait until it fails, the failure numbers are also diagnostic numbers.

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Washington, D.C. (Southwest): I desperately want a deeper sounding horn on my 2003 Buick Park Avenue Ultra and want my dealer's repair shop to install a '98 or '99 Cadillac horn on my Ultra. Will this work and are there any risks? Should someone other than my repair shop install my new horn? (I do not want to keep the Buick horn). Thanks.

Pat Goss: Cadillacs usually use three horns instead of two. This is not a difficult conversion, although I doubt a dealer would do it. You may have to have an independent shop do the service repair.

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Washington, D.C.: I recently bought my first car and I'm confused about the maintenance it requires. The recommended service schedule the dealer gives is different than what is explained in the owner's manual. Also, I have a friend who says both of those schedules are a racket and all I really need is an oil change every 3,000 miles with a tire rotation every other oil change. I think the dealer is overcharging and I probably don't need everything they do, so I feel taken advantage of. At the same time, I recognize there are a lot of moving parts in a car and I think I should get more than just oil changes. So what is the minimum maintenance I should keep up with to keep my car working well (and the warranty valid)?

Pat Goss: Not knowing what the dealer is recommending, I can't say right or wrong. However, factory recommended schedules are usually based on a five year, 100,000 mile life expectancy. If that's all you want out of a car, follow the owner's manual and pay the price. If you want real value from the car find a GOOD, UNBIASED service schedule and follow it to the letter.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I have a 93 Nissan Sentra with a rusted out trunk latch. The only way I can open the trunk is to pry it open with a large screwdriver. Can I order new parts and replace the latch myself? I'm fairly handy. Thanks!

Pat Goss: The parts should be readily available. The fix is simple. The adjustment is a little more complicated.

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Bowie, Md.: My 2002 VW Cabrio GLX is back in the shop because the automatic windows are not working. I had it in last week for the same problem and I was told that the fuse needed to be replaced because freezing caused the problem. Well, they broke a few days later again, and I put it back in the shop and after two days there, I have been told that the VW dealership has "no clue" why the windows won't work. At the same time, they are replacing the radio because it was fading in and out. My question to you is two-fold: (1.) Have you heard of this happening in VW cars and a mechanic unable to diagnose the problem? and (2.) My warranty is up in less than 300 miles and I owe less on the car than it is worth. I am thinking of getting rid of it as I have had nothing but problem after problem with it. I also know VWs should run for well over a hundred thousand miles. Would you take the gamble and keep the car without a warranty? Thank you for taking my question.

Pat Goss: The dealer has no clue about a nearly endless problem on VWs in general? Go to www.alldata.com or www.nhtsa.gov and look for technical service bulletins and recalls pertaining to the problem on your car.

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Bowie, Md.: I have a '99 VW Passat V6 with 60,000 miles and I'm already starting to have some problems. Two axle replacements, faulty electronics and brake problems. Should I get rid of it now or hold onto it? Have you had any experience with this car and know of its long-term reliability?

Pat Goss: Volkswagens are usually extremely reliable in the engine and transmission departments. Electronics are another issue altogether. If you keep it prepare for more electronics problems.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Pat. Some time ago, you had said that using gasoline of a higher octane than recommended has some negative result on the engine (carbon build-up?).

I have found a gas station that offers the 91 octane recommended for my car but it is five to ten cents more per gallon than the 93 octane sold at FreeState. I'm trying to figure out if it makes sense to pay more for the 91 or pay less for the 93 and know that every X years, I'll need to have the extra maintenance done that caused by the improper gas.

So, can you tell me how much this maintenance would typically cost for a 2001 BMW 330? Thanks.

Pat Goss: I would use the 93 because your car is a high octane fuel vehicle. The problem with carbon buildup comes from using high octane in an 87 octane engine.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hey Pat! I have a '94 Toyota Corolla DX with 125,000 miles on the motor. For the last two weeks, I've noticed the battery/ignition behaving strangely. Several times when starting the car (especially in the morning, ESP. when its cold) I'll turn the key with no result. Lights, power locks, etc. all work, but no cranking of the engine. If I persist four or five times (key on/key off), the engine jumps to life. As I said, this happens rather infrequently, seemingly with no rhyme or reason. I've never experienced anything like this before ... and I bought the battery six months ago ... HELP!

Pat Goss: Check battery condition, check battery cable connection condition (requires a voltage-drop test). If battery passes and voltage drop on all cables and connections is absolutely zero, test the starter.

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Leesburg, Va.: I have a 2004 Accord with 30,000 miles. I'm pretty good about following the Honda maintenance schedule and changing the oil every 3,500 or so miles. I really want the car to last for years, although with as much as I drive I'll probably be at 120,000 miles within three years. Is there anything else I can do to ensure the car will last?

Pat Goss: Yes. Use a high mileage maintenance schedule rather than the light duty schedule in the owner's manual. If you want a free copy of a generic schedule based on an average vehicle life of 250,000 miles instead of the manufacturers 100,000 miles go to www.goss-garage.com

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Rockville, Md.: Hello Pat. I have a question pertaining to my '00 Ford Ranger 4x4 3.0L. When the temperature drops below freezing my oil pressure gate indicates that it has no pressure. Once the engine warms up for two to three minutes that gauge jumps to it's normal position. Any idea what might be wrong? Thank you.

Pat Goss: What's wrong? Could be minor, a bad oil pressure switch. Could be major, no oil pressure. Oil pressure needs to be checked using a mechanical oil pressure test gauge.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hi Pat,

I'm looking at buying either the 2006 Audi A6 or the 2006 Lexus IS350.

Are there any mechanical or reliability issues that I need to worry about with either model? Also, which do you think has the edge in performance?

Thanks.

Pat Goss: Lexus, Lexus, Lexus, Lexus.

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Annandale, Va.: Hi Pat,

1988 Honda Accord with 180,000 miles on it. Recently, after the car warms up and while waiting at a light, my idle drops to where the car shakes and sputters like it is going to die. It gets slightly worse after I step on the brake. My mechanic cleaned the carburetor, but could find nothing else wrong. Makes me wonder if he really knows his stuff or not. I would think he would perform a check on the o2 sensor and throttle body and also check for vacuum leaks. But, since it is an old car, I thought I would check with you first before returning to the shop. Thanks.

Pat Goss: You confuse me. You mentioned carburetor and throttle body in the same question. Cars don't have both. Which is it?

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Pittsburgh, Penn.: Pat,

Why do some automakers still insist on using drum brakes ? Even with anti-lock brake systems, aren't the drums the weakest link in the system? More prone to locking up due to dirt and such getting into the drum?

My old 1981 Benz had disc all around, as did most Volvos and Saabs of that era. Why are the American car makers so far behind?

Pat Goss: It isn't just domestic makers. It is import and domestic vehicle makers and it has to do with the cost of the car. Hopefully you don't think an entry level Honda or Chevrolet will have the same level of standard equipment as a Benz or Volvo.

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Gainesville, Fla.: RE: The antifreeze container I've fixed those and the windshield washer ones with a sodering iron and a little plastic from a milk jug. If that's where the leak is.

Pat Goss: Yeah, so have we. Usually don't recommend it though. We consider it a temporary repair. But if the person is up for that type of repair, certainly it could be done.

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Bethesda, Md.: Wanted to thank you for an earlier mention of solving erratic fuel gauge by using a Top Tier fuel. Had suffered for months with a "volatile" gauge in my '00 Mercedes and lots of advice from various sources that was worthless. After two fill-ups with a top tier gas, no problem.

Pat Goss: Glad to hear it worked.

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Glenn Dale, Md.: Hey Pat. I've used this stuff called Never-Dull on my car to take out any markings or dirt that soap and water can't seem to take care of. Does this stuff have any negative effects on car paint? I've heard of people observing a cloudy appearance even after trying to buff it out.

Thanks for the help.

Pat Goss: Never tried it. Never tested it. Don't know. Sorry.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Pat. I read once where you were fully against remote starting systems. Still the case? Thanks.

Pat Goss: Yes.

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Rockville, Md.: I replaced a battery about six months ago at 90,000 miles, and since then the battery light blinks faintly when I start the car. I can recognize the light only when it is dark. But it disappears above one rpn. I check the battery with my mechanic and it's OK. My car is a '96 Honda Accord V6. What's the problem and what should I do?

Pat Goss: Test the condition of the alternator. Specifically of the brushes in the alternator.

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Greenbelt, Md.: I bought myself one of those tiny satellite radio things, and now I can't figure out how to install it in my 1996 Pontiac Sunfire. The antenna is this little thing that sits on top of the roof (via a magnet) and has a small cord running to the radio. How do I get the cord from the outside of the car to the inside without jamming up my doors or windows or creating a leak that will flood the inside of my car when it rains? Thanks in advance!

Pat Goss: Beats me. Most such units either use a magnetic antenna that attaches to the trunk of the car (the cord runs under the edge of the trunk and through the inside of the car) or the have a self contained antenna. As far as running it through the door, that can be done. It usually doesn't leak but over time the antenna wire will suffer.

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Laurel, Md.: Another transmission fluid question. I have a '92 Ford Taurus my father drove -- 40,000 miles and never had a tranny fluid change. What is your advice?

Pat Goss: I recommend checking the condition of the fluid. If it still looks new and smells new, flush the transmission. Note that I said flush, not a partial change.

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Fairfax, Va.: Pat,

Hear about the incident at HBL? Seems the mechanic tried to jump start the Mercedes-Benz McLaren, which has a carbon fiber frame.

This was despite the warning label under the hood that says not to jump start the vehicle under any conditions.

Pat Goss: Didn't hear about it.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I have a VW Passat with an anti-lock brake system. Occasionally (but becoming more frequent) the yellow "ABS" light and the red "brake" light come on the dashboard and stay on for a little while before going off. I had my regular mechanic check it out and he said he couldn't find anything wrong with the brakes themselves so it was probably a sensor problem but he didn't have the ability to check the VW computer. I've called around and I can't find any regular brake place that can read VW's ABS codes. Is this common in the industry? I've had bad experiences with the dealerships in my area (lots of unnecessary work recommended) and I would hate to have to pay $75 bucks to them just to find out what's wrong.

Pat Goss: Information or the lack thereof is an extremely hot topic within the auto repair industry. It's common, the shop might not have VW software. I also have to tell you, free service is usually worth what you pay for it. The people that know, and the people that have the equipment, do not give their knowledge and the use of their equipment away free. $75 is extremely fair.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm in the same situation as the driver of the low-mileage F-150. I understand that I'm supposed to use time, not mileage, for the maintenance schedule, but what I am supposed to do about replacing the car's tires? The current set of tires I have are about 10 years old, and the tread is still good (they've been driven for about 20,000 miles). Should I replace them and when? Thanks.

Pat Goss: Most reliable tire information sources consider five years to be the normal safe life expectancy for a tire. Certainly in some cases they could be used longer, but that would require they only be used at low speeds and for short distances. After five years they would not be considered safe for highway use at high way speeds, for longer distances or to carry loads.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: '98 Caddie STS -- transmission repair cost $3,200. Is this typical for this car or I can look forward to more repair cost? Or dump it?

Pat Goss: It's not unusual especially if the transmission has not been flushed on a regular basis. Still cheaper than buying a new one.

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Richmond, Va.: I appreciate your advice.

I have a 1996 Saturn SL1 with a 170,000 miles. Basically, it's a good running car. I have to put in a quart or oil every 1,000 to 2,000 miles. Also, I have noticed the gas mileage has slipped a little. Are these warning signs? Time to get rid of the car?

Pat Goss: Sounds like it's in great shape. With a 170,000 miles it has no value to speak of, why not drive it into the ground and then donate it.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Pat. Enjoy your chats.

What are the symptoms of a failing water pump?

Pat Goss: Rumbling noises, coolant leakage, looseness in the water pump bearings.

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Pittsburgh, Penn.: Happy holiday to you and all the chatters.

I do have a question.

I will be leaving my car in my garage for about two months. Is there anything I should do, prior to, and during its incarceration to protect it? Would having someone start it periodically help?

Pat Goss: Don't have anyone start it. Unless they can take it out and drive it for 45 minutes. The best thing to do is to treat the fuel with a fuel stabilizer(full tank), run the car for 10-15 minutes to circulate the treated fuel through the entire system. Buy a battery maintainer (not a trickle charger), connect it to the battery and all will be find. Longer periods of time would require more.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have 1999 Acura 3.2 TL (82,000 miles, 2,000 of which are out of warranty). The catalytic converter was recently found to be failing gradually. After poking around a bit, it seems this problem afflicts Acuras in this age/mileage range quite a bit, and Honda has been extending "good will" warranties to help cover the cost.

Have you seen this problem much? If so, what kind of coverage has the manufacturer been giving?

Pat Goss: We see it from time to time. What I have not seen, is any help.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I have a 1995 Honda Civic and a 1995 Pontiac Trans Am. Which would be easier to learn how to maintain? Why? Thanks!

Pat Goss: They both have pluses and minuses. Some things are easier on the Honda, some things are easier on the Pontiac.

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Washington, D.C.: I have a '94 Honda del Sol that, after sitting idly for a few days, starts very slowly. Turns over slowly, takes a few tries (15+ mins. total) to get her running. I had the starter replaced about two months ago, but the car wouldn't "do" the not-starting thing when I brought it to my mechanic. My money is on needing a new battery because the bad starter drained it. Should I just go get a new battery and see if it solves the problem? Thanks and happy holidays!

Pat Goss: I'd get the battery tested. That's often a free service. I'm not big on just replacing things and hoping.

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Washington, D.C.: For those of us without the time and money to strictly abide by owner's manuals suggested maintenance. What key preventive maintenance, besides regular oil changes, do you recommend?

Pat Goss: If you can't abide by the most lax maintenance there is, about the only thing you can do is set aside money for the big repairs that are unavoidable.

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Washington, D.C.: I have an analog radio in my 1984 car. Do radio tuners wear out or do they fail catastrophically?

Pat Goss: Yes. They wear out or they fail catastrophically.

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Annandale, Va.: Hi Pat,

I own an all-wheel drive '98 Mountaineer, which I think, has a flat spot on a tire or two. The front two tires were replaced two years ago to fix the same issue. It made it better for a while, but the pulsing noise is back. You can slightly hear it at low speeds, around 40 mph it seems to find some sort of harmonic resonance and goes away, and at 75 mph it feels like you are in a massage chair. I thought I read about the Firestone replacement tires having this issue. Or could it be something else altogether?

Pat Goss: I suggest you find a shop that has a Hunter GSP9700 road force balancer and a skilled operator and have the road force variation of your tires checked. Should be under 15 lbs.

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McLean, Va.: Pat,

1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee, V8, quadra-trac, full time four-wheel drive and 63,000 miles. I've noticed that the transfer case lever slower migrates a few inches from the four wheel hi in the direction of the four wheel lo, on its own. I push it back, it moves a few inches. No noticeable change or feel, but it does make an odd, very low, almost vibrating sound. Is this just the linkage that needs to be tightened or adjusted, or could it be more serious. Local shop didn't want to diagnose it. Thanks!

Pat Goss: Check linkage and linkage bushings.

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Arlington, Va.: Turn signal devices: The turn signal indicator on my dash board is obscured by the steering wheel when I adjust my seat position to reach the pedals and sit comfortably. I do not have a tilt option steering wheel so I often depend on the audio signal to remind me that the turn signal is sill on. The current plug-in device located under the dash board has a faint sound. Do auto part stores sell such devices with louder audio signals for particular makes and models or is there a set audio signal loudness for the make and model car to be compatible with the electrical system?

Pat Goss: Depending on year make and model. There are loud signal flashers available. They do not fit all cars. Most parts stores do not stock them, as most people want quieter not louder signals.

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Silver Spring, Md.: On my '99 Accord ,the check engine light came on. It turned out that there was a problem with the EGR valve. Also, the catalytic converter was bad. Could the EGR problem have caused the catalytic converter to go bad? The check engine light was on for over a month before I got them fixed. Thank you.

Pat Goss: Not likely. Depends on the mileage, but like brake shoes and tires, converters wear out.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: You were very helpful with my question last month about my 1990 Camry and hope that you will be again. I got the car about a year and a half ago and it has 77,000 miles on it. I haven't done much more than oil changes and new tires and need to get it on a regular maintenance schedule. Where can I find one that will help lengthen the life of my car?

Pat Goss: www.goss-garage.com

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Montgomery County, Md.: Hi Pat. I have a 1994 Cadillac Sedan DeVille with 59,000 miles on it. The "service ride control" light comes on and it was traced to a sensor not being able to read the right front strut. Since ride quality has not deteriorated should I continue to ignore the warning light? If so, when should I consider replacing the shocks and struts? Thank you.

Pat Goss: Unless this is a Concours, the light should only apply to the rear shocks. It's usually caused by an air leak in one of the rear shock lines.

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Washington, D.C.: Why are you against automatic starters for cars? What is the danger/problem with them? We are thinking of getting my dad one for Christmas for his 2004 F-150.

Thanks!

Pat Goss: Remote starters make the car easier to steal. In many areas, it is against the law to allow an unattended car to run. Because of the inefficiency of an idling engine, wear is increased. You only warming the engine, not the transmission, accessories or the rest of the car, etc., etc.

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Columbia, Md.: I purchased a new vehicle from a local dealer and was given customer for life status which means my regular oil changes are free as long as I bring my vehicle back to the dealership. The first time I used this service I noticed the dealership filled the oil past not only the full line but past the maximum indicator. I returned the vehicle and made them remove the excess oil down to the full line. They made me wait almost two hours. I still bring my vehicle in for the free service and they continue to fill past the maximum line. I have complained and wrote letters and they just don't get it. I just bring the vehicle home and remove the excess oil myself. Am I wrong in my understanding that too much oil is harmful?

Pat Goss: Too much oil, can be very harmful. Under certain conditions it could destroy the engine.

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Reston, Va.: Husband has always taken his '99 Acura to the dealership for any issues other than an oil change. Normally have no reason not to trust them but recently after bringing it in for maintenance they say he needs new brakes (front and rear) totaling about $1,000 for work. Granted he's never had brakes serviced/replaced and it is at 60,000 miles (but we haven't heard/noticed any indication that the brakes need serviced).

I think it is extraordinarily high -- like twice as much as it should be. I told him to get estimates (not have it done) before making his mind. He hasn't done that so I'm asking you -- how much ballpark should it really be?

Happy Holidays!

Pat Goss: Could be as little as $120, could be as much as $2000. A thousand dollars on a poorly maintained 60,000 mile '99 Acura is certainly not out of the question. Although it is slightly unusual.

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Hermosa Beach, Calif.: Thanks for taking these questions.

I have a 2000 S-10. Most of the time I love it. Good suburban hauler, etc. However, it has an intermittent "tick" somewhere in the dash that has so far evaded detection. Almost sounds like the emergency flashers, but it isn't them. The truck has after market electrical windows and an Aiwa stereo. Otherwise it's stock. Any suggestions?

Pat Goss: Afraid not, sorry.

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Vienna, Va.: Pat. I have a '92 Toyota Celica. Every time I make a left turn slowly, like parking, I hear a sound but I don't know where its coming from. The sound is like squeaky, but this only happens when I'm turning slow (less than five mph). Thanks.

Pat Goss: Check the sway bar frame bushings for lack of lubricant.

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Falls Church, Va.: It doesn't matter if you check your oil hot or cold -- there are not different makings on the dipstick. The only issue with a hot check is that often oil does not fully drain back to the crankcase so the reading may be deceiving. P.S., Running 93 octane on a motor rated for 87 will not hurt anything and will not produce additional carbon deposits. This is much more a function of the fuels chemical make up (and quality) than the octane rating.

Pat Goss: Gee, I'm glad to know that. Thank you so much.

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Washington, D.C.: Pat,

We hit a curb hard the other day, and the left front tire of our vehicle now has a golf ball-sized bulge in the outer wall. We took it to our mechanic, who said to drive gingerly and not even think about using the Beltway or any other high-speed road.

Must this tire be replaced? Also, would you recommend replacing both front tires? These are original equipment tires with about 35,000 miles on them.

Many thanks!

Pat Goss: Should have been replaced yesterday. Measure the tread depth of the other three tires. If they are 50 percent or more you are probably okay, replacing one tire.

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Chantilly, Va.: I need to replace small light bulbs that make the buttons for heater, air, etc. glow at night, in my '00 Nissan Maxima. Someone at a dealership claims it will take two hours to open the panel covering the bulbs. Can I open this panel myself and install these $30 bulbs without paying $200 to a mechanic.

Pat Goss: Don't know but I can tell you that many Nissans require replacement of the switch due to using LEDs or similar lighting devices rather than bulbs. Actually, if you have the skill, you can certainly do the same work the shop can do.

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Linton, Ind.: I have a 93 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera 3.3 liter engine. The harmonic balancer is bad, when trying to remove it the retaining bolt would not come loose. I thought a lot applying heat but am afraid of damaging the front seal, any suggestions? Thanks.

Pat Goss: Do not apply heat. We often use a large impact wrench to remove stuck crankshaft bolts. Second choice is a large (there's that word again) breaker bar and a flywheel lock to get it loose.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Pat. '96 Ford Probe GT with 130,000 miles (auto transmission). Lately, the car has been vibrating when stopped, as if the transmission doesn't fully release when the car is stopped. I had a transmission flushed performed (by a quick lube place via the trans dip stick) which may have helped a bit. Problem goes away if I put trans in neutral.

Is this transmission dying or can it be adjusted?

Many thanks.

Pat Goss: Check the engine, check the engine mounts, and all tune-up related items rather than the transmission.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Pat,

Can you explain the difference in driving dynamics between something with a high horsepower/torque ratio (i.e. Mazda RX-8) vs. something with lots more torque (like your diesel)? I understand it conceptually, but when you get in the car and drive it, how does it manifest?

Pat Goss: Higher torque gives the sensation of more power. Higher horsepower gives the sensation of more speed. Although the performance may be identical.

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Chantilly, Va.: I have a 2002 Ford Ranger,and sometimes I have difficulty turning the ignition switch to the off position while the vehicle is in park. The front wheels are straight, not turned at the time. The ignition key hangs up about halfway to the off position. This happens with both ignition keys. The dealer has replaced the ignition switch, and realigned the steering column, and this has not fixed the problem. What do you suggest?

Pat Goss: Check the brake shifter interlock adjustment.

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Richmond, Va.: I have a '98 Mazda Millenia. There is a strong vibration in the front end of the car (not tires ... they are new). It happens only during acceleration at highway speed after driving for about 30 minutes. I took it to the local Mazda dealer and they could find nothing. Any thoughts?

Pat Goss: One would hope they gave you a warranty on your new tires. Most new things come with warranties, and there is a good reason for that. New does not mean good. Check tire balance and check road force variation using a Hunter GSP9700 road force balancer.

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Pat Goss: Thank you everyone. As always it's fun. Here's wishing you very Happy Holidays, and all the best for the New Year. See you next year. Drive gently. Pat.

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