Transcript: Thursday, July 24, 11 a.m. ET

Goss's Garage

Pat Goss
Automotive repair expert
Thursday, July 24, 2008; 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 Motor week, 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.

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Hubbard, Ohio: I have read many reviews of the 08 Malibu and it does sound attractive. However I had an 04 Malibu Maxx which I bought with great expectations. The first problem was a snapping noise in the front end. To correct this they had to remove the left front fender to re-weld the firewall. That was discouraging in a 2 weeks old new car. Next they had to replace the upper strut bearing. Next the exhaust system weld cracked and they had to replace the entire system. These were all under warranty. Then the steering rack need replacement. The last was to replace the steering shaft extension. It always had some sort of a gear whine which varied on speed but they told me they could hear it but that they drove another 04 Maxx and it had the same noise. My daughter also had an 04 Maxx which had more problems than mine, In fact it was so bad the factory rep arranged for a free extended warranty. My daughter just got a new 08 Camry and I got a new 08 Accord. I am 82 years old and have never owned a foreign nameplate car but GM just doesn't seem to care. When my daughter complained they said well we fixed it didn't we, so what's the problem?

Pat Goss: This is an unfortunate situation but it is a lesson that some domestic dealers have to learn. I suspect you were dealing with an out of date dealer more so than just totally bad cars. All cars have problems and how the dealer responds determines how the customer feels at the end of the transaction. Better customer service is how some dealers sell great cars where other dealers sell the same car and the general feeling of the customer is that the car is junk. Also the new Malibu shares almost nothing with the old one and it is based on a European design.

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Pat Goss: Hi everyone and thanks for joining me again. I appreciate your participation.

Pat

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Westphalia, Kan.: I have a 1998 Toyota Camry. I had the auto trans, flushed. I want to get power steering and abs brakes flushed, also the cooling system done. Don't they have a machine to do each of these jobs? Some Toyota dealers say they don't have machines to flush cooling systems. That's not true is it? Thanks

Pat Goss: These are elective services and many shops do not see the need to keep up with the times. Plus if you don't offer the services you have the chance of selling a lot more repair work down the road. And fixing something after it breaks is always much more costly (profitable) than keeping it from breaking. So unfortunately you will find lots of dopes who for a wide variety of reasons elect not to purchase modern equipment.

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Syracuse, N.Y.: Pat, my wife has taken up certain aspects of hypermiling. By certain, I mean just the safe ones, no tailgating/"drafting". One aspect she has picked up is that going down a hill will mean shifting in neutral and letting gravity work. The car is a manual transmission. I seem to remember that you prefer idling with the clutch in, vice shifting to neutral. Does that same advice apply to the hill? Most of the hills on her route end with stop signs, so she has to slow down anyway.

Pat Goss: Clutch to the floor transmission still in gear is much safer for her and the car plus it accomplishes the same thing. If something should happen that requires power from the engine nearly all response time is eliminated if the transmission is already in gear.

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Ashburn, Va.: I have a 98 Ford Taurus that is a "third car" which means it sits for a period of several weeks before I start it again. Even though I replaced the battery three months ago, I find that it is dead when I try to start it. Can you give me some ideas what might be going on here and the repair cost that I might have? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Check that "new" battery because new does not automatically mean good. If the battery is okay test the alternator and check for parasitic drain. If all of this passes buy a battery maintainer (NOT A TRICKLE CHARGER) and keep the battery strong with the maintainer.

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Herndon, Va.: Pat: We have a 1986 Toyota Camry "passed down" from my in-laws. It has only 121,000 miles, and it's always been well maintained. My 23 year old son is now driving it. Of course the car doesn't have any of the safety devices - air bags, etc that are now standard. Should we consider "retiring" it for a new car?

Pat Goss: If safety is a concern, and it certainly should be, I would move to a more contemporary car. It isn't as if this is a valuable car so finding a new home should be easy and get you money toward a more safety conscious vehicle.

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McLean, Va.: Hi! Good Morning! Thanks for helping me out. I have a brand new car -- only a couple of months old. Before I bring it in to have something checked out/fixed, I would like to know if the problem I have is normal or not. My new car is an automatic (6-speed, if that matters). When I put the car into park or change from drive to reverse or reverse into drive the car rolls. It rolls for a good few inches before the new gear "kicks in". I'm used to these switches being "tight" rather than rolling like this. Is this normal? Thank you.

Pat Goss: It may be normal but it could also be a problem. Look in the owner's manual for the proper gear shifting procedure. Many new cars clearly state to keep your foot on the brake pedal until the car has completed its shift. If it says something different have the dealer verify the condition and try another car of the same make and model for comparison.

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Arrington, Texas: Your answer about HHO kits is wrong, 100% WRONG I don't care how long you've been working on cars. 3 gallons of water to equal 1 gallon of gas? HHO (which by the way is NOT a chemical compound but just a mixture of 2 hydrogen per 1 oxygen molecule) The expansion ratio of Water to HHO gas is 1: 1860. This is Hydrogen and Oxygen. So one gallon of water is total 7,040,844 CC of gas production. Water CC - expansion to GAS CC) Several tests have been done in controlled environments showing a 143HP Honda engine requires around 1381 CC's Per second to idle and 2863 @ 4000 RPM, the byproduct of burning is water vapor. Do the math on both, there went your vapor lock and energy conversion arguments out the window. 1 person has claimed to run a car entirely off water and that was Stan Meyers. What these kits do has been proven many times over to improve mileage from 20-40% and in some cases MUCH more than that with a 1.5-2 Liter Per minute system. These are HYBRID systems and the "excuses" you used to defunct them do not apply. They supplement your fuel by fooling the 02 sensor into running leaner and letting the hho gas take some of the load. It lowers operating temperature and cleans emissions. I don't sell these kits, but I have one on both my cars and can vouch for their effectiveness. Don't knock it till you've tried it. Which you can do for 10-20 bucks and a trip to home depot.

Pat Goss: Thank your for straightening me out but we will have to 100% disagree. I'm sure that most be true of everyone else who is selling miracle mileage improvers as well.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: I have a 2003 Grand Am 2.2 liter, with 31,000 mile, that will not accelerate beyond 2,800 RPM sitting in Park. This has gotten worse and worse, I am not able to drive it. The fuel pressure is 53PSI, change of the MAP and TPS without result. The spark plugs have been changed and a new cylinder 4 injector no change. The OBD codes are at various times No.4 misfire and random misfire. There is spark to all cylinders. I tried a new coil pack on the car now and no change. There is a rather noticeable WAHAA sound when this happens and the RPM drops off. I have noticed an air sucking type sound from the purge valve on the power steering pump at idle and on acceleration, could this have an impact. Maybe I should just get my old MG midget running in place of this car but a little small on I95 commute!

Pat Goss: Sorry to tell you but due to the fact that most engines rev very quickly these days (so quickly it is easy to destroy the engine) virtually all manufacturers have a rev limiter built into the computer that limits the rpms (in park and neutral) to 3,000 to 4,000 rpms. In other words it's normal!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Pat, when I read through car review magazines, sometimes they will write that a car has a control arm setup, and implies that it has better handling. What exactly are control arms, is this really a better suspension system, and are there any drawbacks of control arms vs. other systems? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Control arms are better for heavy vehicles and considered better by some road testers for handling. Control arms are metal beams that attach to the car's frame and support and control wheel movement. On a strut suspension you have a lower control arm but the top of the strut is positioned by a rubber mount attached directly to the car's chassis. On the control arm system the upper strut mount is replaced by an upper control arm that positions the wheel. I realize this may be hard to visualize but I just don't have enough space to do it justice.

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Lifelong Washingtonian: Hi, Pat, I read your column often and appreciate the education. I have an 88 Lincoln Town Car. The trunk has a hydraulic closure mechanism and, when I tried to open the trunk this morning with the key, it wouldn't release. The electronic release has been broken for years, so using that key is essential. The latch wasn't obstructed and I can't figure out why it won't operate. Is there a fuse that also operates the key release? Any recommendations would be very helpful. Many thanks!

Pat Goss: If you are talking about using the key fob to open the trunk the most likely cause is a bad solenoid that activates the lock. If you are talking about using the metal key in the lock cylinder it is probably either a bad cylinder or bad latch assembly.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Pat, I have a 3-year-old Mini Cooper Convertible. The problem I've been having only happens when it's cold out (around 40 degrees or lower). It's a frameless door, so the window is supposed to slide down a fraction of an inch when the door is open so it'll slide into the channel & have a wind-tight seal. When I open the door & get in & shut it, the window won't go down enough to clear the roof. So after I shut it, the window is hanging outside, which means there's a gap. I can't imagine this is good for the window mechanics in the long run. Any idea what's causing this? Like I said, it's only happened in the cold, and usually (but not always) when the car isn't warmed up. I took it into the dealer, but they couldn't 'recreate' the problem, so nothing got fixed. Thanks!

Pat Goss: Check the door switch and the control module.

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I want to push my car off a cliff: Pat, I have a '98 Jeep Wrangler w/130K that has had quite a few problems over the past year. I did a good overhaul last fall w/a new roof, sparkplugs, battery, etc but it has an ongoing problem where it will be working just fine (for a month or two), and then one day, it won't start. Lights, radio, etc. come on, but it just won't start. Sometimes jingling the key around in the ignition works after about 20-30 tries and sometimes you just have to leave it and come back the next day. Then it will run well again for another few weeks. Once on a service call, AAA guys told me it was an ignition switch problem. Oh, and you can pull the key out of the ignition and it still runs just fine. I recently got really fed up with the issue, and took the car into the shop. The guy there said that he wasn't sure what the problem was as it is hard to tell, and it could be a pricey fix. He asked to keep the car for awhile so he could try and figure out what was going on and observe it when it doesn't start. Any thoughts? Is this something that needs to be fixed? And does it sound like a costly fix? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Step one is to test the battery! Then check the alternator followed by a voltage drop test across the heavy current carrying wires and cables. All voltage drops must be absolute zero, not even one tenth of one volt is acceptable. If all passes check power into and power out of the ignition switch during an event. If that passes check power into and out of the park neutral switch (automatic) and clutch switch (manual) during an event. If nothing is found seek the advice of an expert.

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Greenwich, Conn.: My son's 1995 Nissan Pathfinder's seven year old battery would not hold the charge if left for a few days. He bought a NEW battery and everything was fine for one day. This morning the battery was dead. Jumped battery and he left. Battery dead and jumped 2 more times. He took my car to work! Any ideas? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Check the alternators. Unless the alternator is replenishing the electricity being used the battery (new or old) will go dead after some use.

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Omaha, Neb.: Thanks for taking my question! I have a 2001 Ford Escort with a shudder problem (vibrates when resting in gear, like at traffic lights, occasionally stalls on very hot or cold days.) My previous mechanic replaced the PCV valve several times, which fixed the shudder for 6-12 months. Now that I've moved, nobody in the "big city" of Omaha has suggested replacing the PCV valve. Several people (non-mechanics) have identified it as a transmission problem. My question for you is, what can I do to ease the shudder? When the transmission finally kicks it, I will replace the car, but I'd like to forestall that date as long as possible. Any suggestions? Thanks again!

Pat Goss: You make no mention of a check engine light so I would begin by checking the engine and transaxle mounts.

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Laurel, Md.: Pat, what is the oldest tire you would accept to buy when purchasing new tires? Meaning if one knows how to read the date codes on tires, is 1 year, or 2 years too old?

Pat Goss: Two years. It isn't uncommon to find a two year old tire in inventory. This is due to manufacturing, shipping to a warehouse, then distributing to a retail outlet which can consume several months. Add to that the time it takes for someone to need that particular tire and it is often between one and two years. That would be on the less popular styles but on the really fast movers I would expect not more than six months in most cases.

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Glyndon, Md.: Good Morning, Pat, I'm looking at replacing my 2000 Kia Sophia in about 3 or 4 years. What are your thoughts on the Smart Car or the Mini Cooper? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Mini --- Great! Smart --- dumb!

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Crab Country, Md.: My mechanic says that the wire harness of my 1995 Buick LeSabre is shot and that he can not get a spare to replace it. He maintains that auto companies are required to manufacture spare parts for only ten years. Is this true? Is my Buick unfixable?

Pat Goss: Nope your Buick is highly fixable by the right tech. It is highly unusual to need a new wire harness except for fire and rodent damage but if it isn't available new (which is outrageously expensive) it is available used for about one tenth the cost. Plus in most cases wire harnesses are not replaced they are repaired.

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi Pat, I love your show! Thanks for the great advice over the years. A few weeks ago I blew out the right front tire on my Acura Integra. I bought a new tire and had it installed, but the car "pulled" to the right, likely due to uneven wear between the 3 older tires and the 1 brand new one. So, I had the tires rotated, with the new tire going in the back and the two back tires (which have even wear) going up front, modified X style. My question is; in the future, should I have my tires rotated a few times per year as normal, or, will uneven tire wear mean putting the newer tire up front is a bad idea (given that my car is front wheel drive)? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Initially the new tire should have been rotated to the opposite side on the front. That will often cure the pulling because it is turning in the opposite direction. If it then pulls to the opposite side a second tire is in order or expect somewhat more wear from an inability to properly rotate.

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Duxbury, Mass.: My 1998 Grand Cherokee has gone through 3 steering rods in the past 18 months. Granted the main user is my teenage son and we live near a drive-on beach, but shouldn't it be able to handle it?

Pat Goss: Yes it should be able to handle that use. I'm taking a guess but I suspect it is being replaced to cure a severe shaking in the steering after hitting bumps. If that guess is correct you do not need more steering rods you need a new heavy duty steering damper.

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Kentucky: Pat: Should I buy a new car this year or keep driving my clunker for a few more until something really revolutionary hits the market in a couple of years ? I'm thinking "electric" car but don't want to wind up with a Duryea in my garage.

Pat Goss: The reality of the market place is that no matter what you do you will be at least one step behind the curve. Even if you buy a hybrid today there will be new battery technology shortly and so on. I would make the decision based more on what you need at the time than what may --- or may not --- happen next year. If there is something guaranteed to happen that you feel is worth waiting for that's fine but don't wait for all the possibles. They may never happen.

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Claverack, N.Y.: What's the best time of the year to buy tires? When are the best sales, generally?

Pat Goss: It has a lot more to due with the store's individual sales than national sales but generally non-gift things like tire sales do slow toward and during the holiday season.

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Rockville, Md.: If I had a car with an electrical source, I would run it to a motor and never bother making hydrogen. That has got to be the worst idea I have heard that is about automobiles. There is no way you can not lose energy in the process and hydrogen is not anything to play with.

Pat Goss: Ahh a glimmer of common sense! Seems everyone would like to think there is a way to bypass the laws of physics and get free energy.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: Hypermiling -- Pat, have I misled my sister by advising her to avoid many of the hypermiling techniques? My advice to her was to buy a non-hybrid Honda Civic and to drive at 60 mph on the highway. She got 42 mpg on our last trip which was pretty good. I told her that drafting trucks, coasting down hills, auto-stopping and over-inflating her tires would not help her mileage much and would be dangerous for her or her car. Instead of these techniques I recommended she eliminate just one use of her car per week. Am I too cautious in my thinking on how to save gas: 1. How much you drive 2. The car (model and maintenance) 3. Driving gently and sticking to the speed limit. 4. The rest is noise.

Pat Goss: What wonderful advice. I am a firm believer in Hypermiling but not the lunatic stuff being promoted on the Internet and by the media because it sounds impressive and sells advertising. Most of the screwball stuff is dangerous beyond belief. Common sense driving techniques save gas and don't put the driver, the car or other drivers in Harm's way.

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Arlington, Va.: When I went to get my oil changed the other day, they asked if I wanted to get a fueling system flush (or something like that). I wasn't entirely sold on it when they described it to me, so I didn't get it. And to the best of my knowledge, such a service has never been performed on my car. Are you familiar with this kind of service, and if so, is it actually essential to the car's continued life?

Pat Goss: Fuel system cleaning is something that all cars need these days but there are a lot of different ways to do it and many give very little benefit for the money. Make sure they will use a machine that supplies the fuel and cleaning chemical for the car to run on for about one and one half hours. Do not spend a lot of money for a fifteen minute quickie cleaning.

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Silver Spring, Md.: My question is why does anyone want to go past 2,800 RPM sitting in Park? Are the kids still doing "neutral slams?"

Pat Goss: Beats me! I can think of lots better ways to waste fuel than sitting with my car in park revving my engine.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Pat, I recently saw and ad for a Chevy Malibu hybrid and it claims 32 mpg highway/24 mpg city. Aren't current hybrids supposed to give much better mileage than conventional vehicles in city driving than highway? These numbers are not very impressive. What gives?

Pat Goss: There are several different types of hybrids. From mild (like Malibu and some other GM hybrids) to wild (like Prius, Camry and Civic) All are beneficial but you have to gauge the gains relative to the cost of the option to see if it makes sense for you.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, I saw (online, of course) a water-to-hydrogen converter that you can basically install in your car, pour water into and get way better fuel efficiency? Would something like this really damage the engine? Have you heard of this?

Pat Goss: If it produced enough hydrogen to actually do anything it would damage the engine but they don't work --- they can't work. The best example I can give you in this space is that to carry enough hydrogen in a car to cover the same distance as you would with fifteen gallons of gas would require a 45,000 gallon tank or perhaps 8 gasoline tankers towed behind your car. These folks are snakes who steal from people trying to better themselves and better the environment.

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Washington, D.C.: Missed you the other week - hope things are ok. Quick question that I hope you can get to today! The dealership suggested we need a throttle body service ($130) & brake flush (brake pads are currently at 7-8mm) ($150). I'm wary of dealerships taking advantage of unknowing customers -- are these good preventive measures to take, or just filling the dealer's coffers? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Brakes should be flushed on all cars at least every two years. Very different from the old days when they were never flushed. The price is a bit high though. The throttle body on most cars will need cleaning about every 30,000 to 50,000 miles but again shop the price.

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Tune up?: What constitutes a tune up? The mileage experts keep telling us to inflate our tires and get a tune up, but what, to you, would define a tune up?

Pat Goss: There is no such thing as a tune up these days. What it really means is finding the fix for a specific performance problem not an old fashioned laundry list of generic parts and services. That usually means nothing except an empty wallet at the end of the day.

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Wellsville, Pa.: Hello Pat, I hope the summer is treating you well. I recently purchased a 2007 Subaru Forester. Not much more than 15 miles after the amber low fuel light came on, the car shuddered and stalled, as if it ran out of fuel. I pulled into a driveway, waited a few minutes and started the engine. I got to the gas station just up the hill and filled up the tank. 13.4 gallons till the auto-shutoff of the fuel pump. The tank capacity is 15.9 gallons. Any ideas why the Forester behaves like this? The manual says to expect near 50 miles left when the low fuel light comes on. Thanks for your time.

Pat Goss: I would suspect improper positioning to the fuel pickup tube inside the tank. If the tube that draws the fuel from the tank isn't close enough to the bottom of the tank it will cease drawing fuel long before it should. I would try it again under controlled conditions and if it happens a second time it should go back to the dealer for repair. That repair would be a new tank capsule/module.

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HHO systems: I'd ask your other correspondent to show any "controlled experiment" that he can point to, that shows 20-40% improvement in an otherwise stock engine. The only science I've ever seen in support of HHO is that in extremely lean fuel mixes, HHO can improve efficiency in hydrocarbon burning. Unfortunately, that science is not applicable to any car engine that is simply retrofitted to electrolyze water to form a hydrogen and oxygen gas mixture.

Pat Goss: HHO works well in torches for heating and cutting but those results do not transfer to internal combustion. I truly wish some of these miracles worked because I would be a lot more comfortable if we didn't have to rely on imported oil. If you consider the practical side of these miracle mileage improvers: if any one of them were to mandated to be installed on every car by the government we would never need another drop of imported oil --- that is if they worked. But alas they don't work and we need real solutions to a huge national problem.

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Rockville, Md.: "There is no such thing as a tune up these days." Then what do we do for maintenance? Get a new car?

Pat Goss: Change fluids, perform flushes change filters and wait for a problem. When the problem occurs; describe the problem, ask that the problem be diagnosed, ask what it will cost to fix the problem and will the fix actually cure what is happening.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Pat: My teenager has just started driving, and is learning on a 2003 Subaru Impreza with a manual transmission. Aside from the normal maintenance, is there anything I should do for the car to help it survive my son climbing the driving learning curve?

Pat Goss: Nope nothing other than teaching him/her proper respect for things mechanical.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hey Pat -- what do you think of the new Smart car? Worth the year long wait? How about mechanically? I'm considering, and really value your thoughts. Thanks.

Pat Goss: It reminds me of the movie Dumb and Dumber --- or was that Dummer! I think there will be a lot of disappointed owners when the cutness wears off. it's a good car but certainly only for those who can live with quirkiness and not so great fuel economy.

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Howard, Va.: Pat what are your thoughts/opinions of the planned EcoBoost engines from GM? The Chevy Cruze is going to have a 1.4 liter with a turbo that GM claims will get 40 mpg. Is this realistic?

Pat Goss: Both Ford and GM are developing engines that make a lot of sense. Fuel economy is determined to a large extent by the displacement of the car's engine so if you make the engine smaller then provide forced induction (turbo or supercharging) you can maintain fuel economy and horsepower.

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Anonymous: Hey Mr. Goss, thanks for taking my question. I have a '99 BMW 328i. I just recently changed the brake pads & rotors. The mechanic noticed a lot of oil leaking onto the undercarriage, more heavier under the front axle. Apparently this is a fairly common problem. Do you know what it might be... or have experienced something similar? Thanks.

Pat Goss: I wish I could pinpoint it for you but there are lots of trouble spots on older BMWs when it comes to leaks. But then that's typical of lots of older cars regardless of make or model. Sorry!

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Pat, my Acura dealer is offering a switch to nitrogen for the tires of my 2005 TL. Not cheap, but is it worth doing for tire life? Mileage? Any reason or is this a gimmick? Thanks, I always appreciate your candor and insights.

Pat Goss: I use nitrogen in all my vehicles. I don't know what you call expensive but the going rate is $39.95 for four tires.

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Silver Spring, Md.: A general question. Bought a little rice burner for suburban commuting a few years ago, & it's great. But my life has changed & I now also use it on longer trips. A day on the highway is a long day. As we all look to smaller, more efficient cars, is it even possible to build a short wheel base car that's as comfortable as say, an Accord or Camry, on long trips?

Pat Goss: Not really. There are dynamics involved that make everything about an automobile a tradeoff. Some good for some bad.

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Germantown: Pat, in a previous session, you answered a person looking at buying a 2005 Acura TL. Your answer was: "Nice car, fun car, reliable car, not particularly economical though if that's an issue." I own a 2005 TL 6 speed, and couldn't agree with you more on the former points, but disagree on the latter. I easily get 24 mpg tooling around Montgomery County, and consistently 33 mpg (@ 70 mph) on the highway. The performance/efficiency for this car is incredible!

Pat Goss: One in a million but due to your driving style not the car which is generally not particularly economical.

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Derwood, Md.: I have a Toyota Prius. It has the extended life coolant and transmission fluid. Do I use your recommended flush and change intervals of 30,000 miles or use a longer interval?

Pat Goss: I have a 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid (much like your Prius) and will be changing my fluids on a regular basis as I have yet to see anything that lasts FOREVER.

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Pat Goss: Sorry folks but my time is up. I apologize to all of you who didn't get on but we will try again at our next session. Thank you all for participating, I really appreciate it. Until next time please remember and support those who protect and serve us and please everyone --- drive gently!

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