Transcript: Thursday, January 25, 2007, 11 a.m. ET

Goss's Garage

Pat Goss
Automotive repair expert
Thursday, January 25, 2007; 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.

For more auto advice and industry news, visit our Cars section.

The transcript follows below.


Duluth, Ga.: I have a '91 Buick LeSabre with 160,000 miles on it. My car was bought new and has been maintained since day one. I realize that there are many miles and do expect there can be problems with a car with this many miles. I make many trips during the year. Resulting in approximately 1,000 miles per trip (mostly interstate miles). My car runs smoothly, never burns oil, no oil leaks, no white or black smoke or white blue-ish, no engine knocking, no hesitation, etc.

The check engine light came on and I took it to a repair shop that performed the diagnostic (for $90) and told me that the computer code result was that the cam sensor was the problem. However, they also mentioned that because the sensor was bad, all six fuel injectors were firing at the same time.

1. For $90 shouldn't I get some sort of written report? Going by the results of the diagnostic I was told that the cam sensor was reported as not functioning correctly. It would be nice to be able to take a report to another shop in order to obtain a second opinion without having to spend another $90.

2. I was told that for $200 they could change the cam sensor, but no guarantee that this would fix the problem. If the diagnostic code said (which is what I was told was the case) it was the cam sensor shouldn't the problem be fixed if the sensor is replaced?

3. I bought the sensor at an auto parts store for $17. A friend who is a mechanic on big rigs replaced the cam sensor for me. He then disconnected the battery so that the computer memory could be reset. Once the battery was reconnected (after about 15 min) I started the engine and the check engine light was off, but only briefly, then came back on. He disconnected the battery a second time. This time the check engine light was there from the start. He said there must have been another code on the diagnostic results which I was not told about, or that the sensor cam was not an issue to begin with. Is there a specific way to reset the computer memory on the Buick LeSabre?

Pat Goss: First run don't walk away from the shop that wants two grand to install a twenty five dollar sensor that requires about twenty minutes to do (most Buicks).

Second the code did not tell what was wrong because codes mostly don't tell what part has failed just what part or system is being affected by what is wrong. In order to find the real cause of a code it is necessary to run the diagnostic test that has the same number as the code.

Most shops do not have equipment that would print code information and even if they do all it usually would tell is the code and you could do that verbally. also most shops would not perform a repair or render an opinion based on an unknown shops possibly faulty diagnosis.


Fredericksburg, Va.: I was astounded at the number of burning oil complaints from owners of '95 Saturn's on a recent web discussion group. My 95 Saturn with 130k miles burns at least 5 quarts between 3k mile oil changes. Do you see a large number of Saturn owners come into your shop with this complaint. Do you recommend switching from 5w-30 to 10w-30 oil weight or go to a synthetic oil. I have tried the "high mileage" oil without much success.

Pat Goss: We see a few but they are mostly Saturns that have had spotty service. The most common problem we see is bad valve seals so I would check them first. I do not recommend the thicker oil unless you simply want to prolong the agony of the poor engine. Thicker oils can help in one area but often create problems in other areas. If it is indeed bad valve seals the fix is not overwhelming. If it is piston rings then go with the thicker oil or a viscosity improver additive and drive it to failure.


Franklin, Tenn.: Pat, thank you for taking my question. I have 2005 Chevy Colorado that has 20,000 miles. I previously had an 2001 impala that had transmission problems after the transmission was serviced at 90,000 miles. My Dad has 1991 Chevy 1500 that has never had the transmission fluid changed, and his advice is that if you don't change the fluid very regularly than you are better off not changing it at all. How often do you think I should change the transmission fluid? Please let me know what you think.

Pat Goss: The generic recommendation is two years or twenty four thousand miles (never exceed thirty thousand. Because modern transmissions operate at a higher temperature in most cases flushing(NOT just changing a small portion of the fluid)has become the best way to double or triple the life of transmissions.


Ashburn, Va.: Pat,

I have a 2000 Porsche Carrera with 20,000 miles. Lately, I have been smelling antifreeze ... no puddles and not running hot. Ideas on what it might be?

Pat Goss: When you smell antifreeze, there's a leak. But don't make the common mistake that a leak will create puddles. Many times they don't. Look at all coolant carrying parts (especially hose connections)for signs of white streaks. Antifreeze leaks normally leave behind a white stain. That stain will direct you back to the leak.


Sterling, Va.: Pat,

I am trying to locate the oil drain plug on my 2002 PT Cruiser. The owner's manual does not have a picture indicating its location, and an exhaustive search on the Internet has yielded nothing. I think I found it, but before I start removing bolts I want to make sure its the right one. Any help on its location would be much appreciated.

Pat Goss: Your car should have a steel oil pan. The drain plug will be at the lowest point on the engine oil pan.


Haymarket, Va.: I love your shows on WJLK and listen when I can. You provide an outstanding service to the consumer! Thank you. Now, my husband and I have a discussion on going about the defroster in the car. I say when you turn on the defroster (even on the heat setting) it turns on the air conditioning (maybe the compressor) and he says I am full of it. So what's the story? Am I right?

Pat Goss: First, I have changed radio stations and am now on Washington Post Radio 107.7 FM and 1500 AM. You are not the one that is full of it, he is. Because effective defrosting requires dehumidifying the air coming into the passenger compartments. Virtually all cars have an automatic override that turns on the air conditioning when ever the defrost mode is selected. The exception to that would be when outside temperature is too low. In that circumstance the air conditioner would not engage until under hood temperature reached a pre-set limit.


McLean, Va.: Hi, Pat. I am trying to find a shop in the D.C. area to customize/rebuild my '68 Caddy. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Pat Goss: I've seen some nice things from the shop next door to mine. Glenn Dale Auto Body 301-577-7973.


Washington, D.C.: So glad that your chat is on today! I wrote to you in November about high prices for scheduled maintenance on my Volkswagen Passat. When I checked, they show you an estimated parts/labor cost for recommended maintenance (at 5,000, 10,000 etc). Edmunds shows reasonable prices. If I took this to my local VW service, would they reduce their price based on this? Or would I be better off going to a Jiffy Lube or something similar? Thanks for your help.

Pat Goss: I doubt the dealer would price match, but they might. Hey, the worst thing they can do is say no. At that point, you will need a quick lube or an independent repair shop but be exceedingly careful. The shop you select absolutely, positively, must use fluids that meet all manufacturers requirements. Nothing in the one size fits all category is acceptable.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Pat,

I have a 2000 Civic EX with automatic transmission with just over 100,000 on it. The car runs well but has a strange quirk with its idle speed. It never seems to idle at the same speed. At times it will idle smoothly around 900rpm, at times it will idle around 800, and sometimes it will idle lower around 600rpm. There is no pattern I can make out as to when the car chooses which speed it will idle at. Obviously, the differences are all after the car has been warmed up and driven for a half of an hour or more. I'll drive and come to a stoplight and it will idle high, the next stoplight it may idle low, then the stoplight after it may be high again. When it idles around 600rpm the car is rough and sometimes feels as if it would stall out if it dropped just a few rpm lower. This has never happened though. Any ideas?

Pat Goss: Check for gum and varnish build-up in the throttle body and the idle air control. Most cars require periodic cleaning of both parts.


Fairfax, Va.: What do you think of the reliability of Hyundai, specifically the Santa Fe? I am think of buying a 2007 model, but I was wondering about improvements in their quality (new model years). Looking at it and the RAV4. I like both cars about the same, but the Santa Fe with the same options is thousands less.

Pat Goss: Hyundai has done an amazing job of improving quality over the years. And often surveys better than the leading brands. I wouldn't be afraid of the Hyundai at all.


Prince William County, Va.: I have 2006 Dodge Magnum SRT8, I have been told by various people I can the computer configuration by downloading new info to my PCM. Others say I need to install a separate chip. Which correct and which will be serve my desire to increase horsepower and gas mileage.


Pat Goss: Both are correct. Depending on what you hope to accomplish and how sophisticated your equipment is. You don't have electronic equipment, you only option will be a chip. But be careful as it could have serious implications for your warranty.


Ellicott City, Md.: Good morning, Pat.

You always say that if transmission fluid looks and smells new, you can do a transmission flush. If it is dark and smells bad (like mine does), leave it alone. I'm curious what the reasoning behind this is. Does flushing bad fluid cause more damage than leaving it in there? What about machines that only replace some of the fluid through the dipstick ... would that be harmful (or helpful)? If I leave everything alone, what are the signs that my transmission is failing?

Pat Goss: The reasoning if very simple, when fluid is really nasty and smells really bad the transmission has been damaged. There are no absolutes, but any kind of service partial change, fluid exchange, or a full blown flush could cause dirt that has built up, from the poor maintenance, to block passages inside the transmission. In that case the transmission might slip (you may not notice it), the slipping causes more wear, which causes more slippage, which causes more wear, until the transmission fails. Again no absolutes, but if you've been neglectful I suggest leave it alone.


Takoma Park: Mazda Protege5 as a used car. What are your mechanics seeing in terms of wear and trouble areas? Anything in particular?

Pat Goss: Nice car. Very few problems.


D.C.: Sometimes, it's hard to figure out what tire brand to go with, as the average customer can't look at a tire design and say one is better than the other. What do you go by when deciding on tires, besides the marketing information?

Pat Goss: A lot of different things go into my decisions and recommendations. How the car is used, what is expected of the tires, what characteristics are most important,ectera, ectera. In other words, if a car is lightly used and rarely goes on the highway it doesn't make sense to buy a high dollar, high performance tire. If wet roads scare you, then you'd want a tire that has good wet performance. If you're an aggressive driver, you'd want a tire with good dry performance. And the list goes on, and on. Once you've made a selection of the things that are most important to you, you can get good comparative information at .


Columbia, Md.: Thank you for your time and expertise in answering our questions.

I have a 1999 Ford ZX2 with almost 80,000 miles on it. It is a five-speed manual. I have noticed lately that when I get up to highway speeds (70) that my RPMs are much higher then when the car was newer. At about 70 my RPM is 3500, used to be less than 3000. I started noticing this about a year ago as I was driving and I started to double check that I had changed into fifth gear because the car would sound like it was still in fourth, but of course I had it in fifth. My mechanic seems to think everything is fine, but I know the engine makes a lot more noise and I am not getting as much mileage as before. Guess since he does not drive it everyday he does not know how it should sound and I am very attuned to that. Does this sound like the transmission, clutch, or what? I just want to know what to tell my mechanic to double check again. Thank you so much. Gotta keep this car for a quite a while.

Pat Goss: Because a manual transmission provides a solid mechanical (non-changeable) gear ratio between the engine and the drive wheels, a change in rpm at a given speed could only mean a couple of things. You changed tires and their the wrong size or profile, or your clutch is slipping. I'd take it to a technician that takes you a little more seriously.


Fairfax, Va.: Pat,

Why do OEM brake pads put off so much black brake dust ? Can't they design pads that work like the Metal Master pads that put out a white dust instead ?

Pat Goss: Some cars do. More and more new cars are using ceramic brake pads. Just as much dust, but light color so it isn't as obnoxious.


Falls Church, Va.: Had my rear brake pads replaced. They then made a lot of noise and sprayed out fine brown dust (rust?). The car place found that one pad had mistakenly been installed backward, so they replaced the pad and the rotor (at their expense, no problem).

The brakes are now perfectly quiet, but that pad is still spraying out some brown dust. My brakes have always coated my back wheels with black brake dust, but this is a different color. Should I be concerned?

Pat Goss: Yes, you should be concerned. There's a possibility the wrong type of brake pads were installed.


Driving in snow: Hi Pat,

I have a FWD compact car. Would it help driving in the snow if I put weight in the trunk or is that defeating the purpose of FWD?


Pat Goss: Absolutely no benefit to adding weight in the trunk on a front-wheel drive vehicle. The weight of the engine and transmission is already centered over the drive wheels, giving a front-wheel drive vehicle a traction advantage. Weight in the trunk is for rear-wheel drive.


Chantilly, Va.: Mr. Goss,

Can you tell me why horsepower and torque are always quoted at 5600 rpm or higher?

Why don't they state those figures at rpm ranges between 1500 and 3000 where a vehicle normally operates?

Pat Goss: They don't always quote torque and horsepower at extremely high rpm. Because manufacturers use torque and horsepower to advertise their product, they advertise the rpm where the engine delivers the highest torque and horsepower. Most people don't know enough about torque and horsepower ratings, so they simply look at the total number, not the rpm at which that number is achieved.


Detroit, Mich.: Hi Pat,

I have a 1998 Honda Accord with 125,000 miles on it. I put about 250 miles on it a week commuting to and from work.

The check engine light came on a few weeks ago, and we took the car into our mechanic, who we like and trust. He told us the catalytic converter and 02 sensor was broken, and it would be $1,100 to fix it. We then too the car to the Honda dealership to see if it could be covered under the warranty. It wasn't, but the dealership told us we didn't have to fix it -- that it was an emissions issue and didn't affect the car performance. He also quoted a price of $800 to fix it.

This made me nervous, so we took the car to a third mechanic, who said that the check engine light was wrong, and the catalytic converter wasn't broken. He recommended using only premium/mid-grade gasoline from now on to prevent further problems. He said that if we did fix it he would charge $600.

As you can guess, I'm pretty confused. Should we get the catalytic converter fixed? If so, what is a reasonable price range? And does using mid-grade and premium gasoline really make a difference?


Pat Goss: The first thing you need is somebody that knows something about cars. Check engine lights refer to emissions problems, pure and simple. If the car's computer sees a problem that could elevate emissions to a level that would exceed 150% of the allowable limit during 2 consecutive drive cycles, it turns on the check engine light.

Okay, so that much has been explained, but now comes the issues of the codes, a catalytic converter code does not necessarily mean the car has a bad converter. An oxygen sensor code doesn't necessarily mean the car has a bad oxygen sensor. Codes DO NOT tell what is wrong with the vehicle. Codes DO tell what part or what system is being effected by what is wrong. To find the real cause you have to run the diagnostic test procedure with the same number as the code. In your case, something as simple as a broken vacuum hose could set a catalytic converter efficiency and an oxygen sensor code.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Pat,

I listen to your show often and have been meaning to ask you a question. I have a 2001 Saab 9-5 SE sedan. I love the car, but I have had one ongoing problem with it since I purchased the car a couple of years ago. Occasionally, when I start the car, it's exhaust emits a very strong sulfur smell.

The smell usually passes after a little while. The dealer a while back told me that it's a known issue with the model and suggested I try alternating where I purchase my gas (Texaco, Hess, etc.). This has not solved the problem.

Obviously, this can be embarrassing depending on whether I have other occupants in the car. Is there anything that can be done or do I simply have to live with the occasional smell of sulfur emitting from my car's exhaust. Thanks for your time.

Pat Goss: The obnoxious odor is usually caused by one of three things. 1) Gas with too much sulfur, often from no name sources, 2) a catalytic converter with insufficient rhodium, the metal that dampens the odor, or 3) an improper fuel mixture that overwhelms the catalytic converter at start up. Drive four tanks of differing name brand gasolines if that doesn't help, have the shop use an exhaust gas analyzer to measure fuel mixture under the situation where the the problem usually occurs. If fuel mixture is good and varying name brands of gasoline don't help, it is probably in the catalytic converter and therefore will simply be an offensive odor you'll have to live with.


Raleigh, N.C.: Hi Pat,

I recently bought a 2007 Ford Focus ST. I'm really happy with the car and it's a blast to drive. A nice balance of fun and frugal. Besides routine maintenance, is there anything I need to keep an eye on with this car or the 2.3 liter engine?


Pat Goss: Fun car, nice car, reliable car, and quite a value.


Alexandria, Va.: What's the proper idle RPM for an SUV?

Pat Goss: It varies from make to make, model to model, engine to engine. In most cases if I had to pick an average, 800 to 1,000 rpm.


Rockville, Md.: Hi Pat. I'm glad you're on today! I have a 2003 Kia Rio, and I've noticed lately when I reverse the car, it feels like one of the tires has a flat or a tire is off rotation, as if one tire keeps rolling over an invisible something. As soon as I put the car in drive, that feeling goes away and the drive feels smooth. What could be the problem when something feels only wrong for the five seconds I'm in reverse, and should I get this checked out? Thanks!

Pat Goss: I suspect you may have the beginnings of an issue with the brakes. I'd get the brakes checked first.


Stephens City, Va.: Mr. Goss,

Thanks for all the great advice over the years. I have a 2002 Nissan Frontier 3.3l v-6 with 155,000 miles. It has been great, but lately I have a problem when traveling about 65 mph and the motor runs around 2800 rpm. The motor seems to misfire mostly when I have a load or I am traveling up a hill. I have brought the truck to the dealer who performed a fuel injection service, the service dept could not really find anything wrong. It seemed to work for about a week but the misfire is back. I had the fuel pump replaced approximately 4-5,000 miles ago. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Keep up the great work.

Pat Goss: You need to verify if the dealer simply looked for codes, or if they used an engine analyzer to measure voltages in the ignition system and emissions at the tailpipe. If all they did was look for codes, you wasted your money and you need a shop with good equipment and technicians that know how to operate it and interpret the results.


Annandale, Va.: I've heard conflicting information about whether to flush and fill Volvos. The owners' manuals I have for my two Volvos, one a '98 and another a '04 suggest that this NOT be done, but then I've heard that virtually all cars should have this done every few years. Your thoughts?

Pat Goss: Depends, are you looking for 80-100,000 miles out of the car? No problem, don't flush. If you want to double or triple the life of the components, flush the different systems.


Silver Spring, Md.: Posting early...

1989 VW 1.8l gas engine.

Has what sounds like engine knock ... happens under initial acceleration, worse on hills. But it goes away after an oil change for a week or so and it seems to be intermittent. I remember you saying that an emissions system that is in need of cleaning can cause the same symptom. Should I spend a day cleaning the emissions system or should I plan to do something with the bottom end of the engine?

Pat Goss: First, you need to identify the problem. Is it a knock in the bottom of the engine, caused by excessive wear on the bearings? Is it a knock in the middle of the engine, caused by a piston problem? Is it a knock in the top of the engine, caused by a cam follower or valve problem? Or is it simply a knock caused by improper combustion due to improper fuel mixture, timing, etcetera, etcetera. Once the cause has been determined and appropriate fix could be suggested.


Columbia, Md.: I've had this problem for many years, and have never been able to get an answer. I have a '97 Plymouth Voyager with nearly 150,000 miles, and before that I had a Dodge Caravan for nine years. Both vans perform horribly to scary when the road is wet. Accelerating when a light turns green, or entering a road, the wheels initially spin without traction. I give a lot of extra space when stopping on wet roads.

I don't think this is my driving style because it doesn't happen when I drive other cars. It's not the tires, I have great tread and replace them as necessary. When I bought the second van, I specifically got it with larger than standard wheels.

I've never read about this as a general complaint for these models. Any thoughts?

Pat Goss: Larger than standard wheels almost guarantee high performance tires. High performance tires almost guarantees poor wet traction. Look into tires of the appropriate size designed to specifically improve wet traction.


Bennett Point, Md.: Dear Pat,

My 1995 Buick LeSabre is giving me problems. Six months ago the orange engine light came on intermittently when I started the vehicle. I took the vehicle to my service station and they replaced the cam sensor and ignition control module. That didn't solve the problem and, in fact, the car cut out on me as well while driving. Dangerous stuff. I took the vehicle back again. The service station replaced the PCM. Again, the problem wasn't solved and the vehicle cut out again as I drove the Bay Bridge. And now the orange engine light stays on all the time. What do you think the problem is? Should I take the LeSabre to a Buick dealer instead of a local?

Pat Goss: One light, a thousand causes of it to illuminate. You need a shop that knows how to diagnose check engine light problems. Look at some of my other answers today, I suspect the shop is basing their diagnosis on codes. Codes do not tell what is wrong, they only tell what is being affected by what is wrong. You need a shop that has the equipment and knowledge, to run the diagnostic routine that matches each code.


Washington, D.C.: I have a 2001 Alero that has had problems with its turn signal for about a year. Sometimes it works fine, but other times it signals very slowly or rapidly. The bulbs all work and I took it in to get fixed about a year ago and the mechanic said he couldn't find the problem. I took it to the dealer about six months ago and was told I needed to replace the "multi-function switch," which they did for about $200. The signal worked perfectly until last week, when it started signaling erratically again.

Is this a somewhat common problem? Any idea if I need another multi-function switch or if there is a larger problem causing it to go bad?

Pat Goss: Check the battery, check the alternator, check the voltage regulator. If all are good, look for corroded connections in the system. Most probably one of the ground wires in the front of the vehicle.


Romney, W.V.: Top of the morning to you, Mr. Goss. I just purchased at auction, a 1989 Dodge 3/4 ton stake bed with A/T, no A/C for $1,850. It was from the Department of the Navy motor pool. Perfect hardware, four new skins, 21,095 miles and a maintenance database. Other than ordinary maintenance items to check, what should I or my ASE/mechanic/father stick our noses into?

Pat Goss: Flush all the fluids, and give the truck a bumper to bumper check. Sit back and enjoy it, sounds like you stole it.


Washington, D.C.: I have a new Honda Pilot with a tire inflation indicator. When the temperature is below 30 degrees, the warning light comes on for one or two tires. The inflation is fine, but I understand the system is really a calculation of wheel speed or wheel turn ratios. What else could be triggering the warning indicator?

Pat Goss: This normally caused by borderline low inflation pressure. Tire pressure must be checked before the car moves. I went through this consistently with my Ford Explorer until I switched from conventional air to nitrogen in the tires. Since then, no problem.


Fairfax, Va.: I've got a '95 Toyota Camry. One of the three bolts on the engine mount has rusted through and my mechanic reinforced another bolt that was starting to rust. Is this normal? Is it safe to drive with only two bolts on the engine mount? Is it worth it to replace the engine mount on a car of this age?

Pat Goss: It's hard to say whether it's safe or unsafe. That could only be determined by a visual examination. But why not just replace the bolt and be done with it?


Arlington, Va.: I travel regularly between Arlington and a city in upstate New York in a 2005 Subaru Outback 2.5 turbo with a standard transmission. The mileage on the way north appears to be about 26+mi/gal. On the trip south it is more like 24 mpg or less. I have been filling up at the same gas company at both locations. Should a car be that sensitive to gas?

Pat Goss: Absolutely, totally, yes. Different blends of gasoline used in different parts of the country, can have a significant effect on fuel economy. Because of the colder temperatures in upstate New York , the blend could be considerably different from the more Southern blend.


Columbia, Md.: Hi Pat, Thanks for taking my question. Yesterday when I was driving to work (fast on the beltway) there was a tiny little steam/smoke? coming out from under the hood (far passenger side) of my 1991 Prelude. When I got there I checked and looked like it was coming out from a rectangular gizmo to the left of the battery. Any ideas what it could be? I got a ride home yesterday so I didn't drive it --do you think it'd be OK to drive to my regular mechanic (35 miles)?

Pat Goss: Don't drive the 35 miles until you get an opinion. Sounds like you might have a bad water pump.


Chantilly, Va.: Pat,

Went to your web site and looked at the PM schedule you recommend.

I know it makes sense, but I haven't done one of those services, nor has anyone I've ever come across.

I'm talking about the flush of the power steering system. Granted, it does make sense, but I'll bet most people never think of that as something that needed to be drained.

Thanks for opening my eyes.

Pat Goss: It wasn't even a service for a large portion of my automotive career, but as cars have moved from the old-fashioned steering box to rack and pinion the need for service has escalated dramatically. Many newer parts are far superior to the olds ones, but most times only if they get modern preventive care.


Springfield, Va.: Hi Pat,

Long time listener on the radio. I just looked at the D.C. Auto Show site and it has you listed as broadcasting there on Saturday!

Pat Goss: Yes, I'm supposed to be broadcasting from the Auto Show from 11 am to 1 pm. Then I'm supposed to be at the Washington Post booth, answering questions from 2 pm to 4 pm. If you're at the show, stop by, I'd love to meet you. It's always great to put a face to the name. And thank you for listening.


Springfield, Va.: Pat,

I just had my 2004 Eddie Bauer Explorer in for 30,000 maintenance plus a transmission flush. I had a recall last year and an additive was put in the transmission. Does this recent flush negate the effects of that previous additive put in due to recall?

Pat Goss: It might, depending on the fluid the shop used. If they used the original basic fluid you may have to add the chemical additive again. If they used an upgraded fluid or used another similar additive as part of the flush then probably not. You need to ask the shop that did the work some questions.


Arlington, Va.: RE: A 1998 Toyota RAV4 with 50,000 miles.

Starting several months ago, the check engine light will periodically go on and stay on for a week or longer, then go off for a week or longer. The cycle will repeat. But the light went off about three or four weeks ago and has stayed off since. When it first went on, the shop replaced the EGR valve and this helped briefly, but then the on again-off again cycle started.

What would cause this behavior? If there is, in fact, a problem, I'm sure it hasn't fixed itself. Since the light is now off, should I leave well enough alone or does it need further examination. The car seem to be running fine.

Pat Goss: If the light isn't on, do not go on a witch hunt.


Silver Spring, Md.: Pat: Recently bought a 2002 Honda Civic for my daughter. The dealer had no records on previous maintenance. It's got about 90,000 miles. here's what I'm planning on doing, and would like any suggestions for additional preventive work: transmission flush, brake system flush, coolant system flush, check brakes, new tires/alignment and oil change. What else? And by the way, your Web site ( seems to be malfunctioning.

Pat Goss: Yes, our site is down this morning. Should be up and functioning probably shortly. Ain't technology great?!

I would add an engine oil flush and power steering flush. Based on time it's due for a timing belt.


Courthouse, Va.: Have a 2005 Mustang. On sub-freezing mornings, as I start out driving to work, there is noticeably more rolling resistance, i.e. I don't coast as far while in idle, etc. The issue clears as the car warms up.

My question is where in the kinetic chain does the resistance come from: cold tires, sticky axle grease, thick transmission fluid? Does it matter?

Pat Goss: It comes from cold tires, thick lubricants and other such miscellaneous stuff. Does it matter? No. It's probably normal.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Pat,

My '98 Mercury Mountaineer seems to have a leak somewhere around the moon roof. After a sustained rain, I'll notice water (some, not a lot) has leaked onto the window controls on the passenger side of the vehicle (vehicle is parked at a slight tilt towards that side). Also, I can see slight water marks in the fabric of the roof along the top of the windshield. I do not notice any problems when I am driving the vehicle, only when it has sat for a period of time in the rain. Do I have a clog, a leak, or both?

Pat Goss: Check the four drain tubes for clogs. Insects love to build nests in the tubes.


Franklin, Tenn.: Pat, thanks for doing this chat. I have read some on the Internet about the Chrysler Town and Country/Dodge Caravan being prone to transmission problems. Is that your experience? Has the problem, if any, been corrected or is this a case of a problem being overstated? Thanks!

Pat Goss: It's amazing how long some stories will stay around. Back in 1989 Chrysler introduced a new transmission. And, it failed, and it failed, and it failed, and it failed some more. '90 was, '91 better yet, '92 still better, and by the mid 90's Chrysler had the same or better transmission failure rate than the average for all vehicles. We don't see significant problems with later Chrysler Corporation vehicles.


Arlington, Va.: Pat -- This might seem like a silly question. When changing oil with the car on a lift, what's the best way to make sure the oil draining doesn't splatter or over-shoot the used-oil collector? Should I just lower the car to just above the height of the collector and squat underneath the car? (I'm pretty tall and the collector is about four-ft. high).

Pat Goss: We use oil collection cans, that have long necks on them so we can push the top funnel almost against the oil pan. The second thing we do, is to use large plastic inserts in the stock collector funnel. The plastic inserts are about 3 feet in diameter, making it a real challenge to miss. An insert would be far cheaper, than buying a taller collector and they are available through any of the commercial tool suppliers.


Pat Goss: Thanks again everyone, as always I enjoy your questions and insight. If you're at the Washington Auto Show on Saturday stop by and say hi. 'Til next month, please drive gently. Pat


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