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Transcript: Thursday, Feb. 5, 11 a.m. ET

Goss's Garage

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Pat Goss
Automotive repair expert
Thursday, February 5, 2009; 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.

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Germantown, Md.: Hi-I recently purchased a 2009 Toyota Camry, which is great, however, surprisingly it came without any side body protection, so the side of my car, especially the door has been scratched by other car doors opening. What do you recommend I do to minimize the scratches caused by other cars opening their doors against my car. It's not always possible to park away from other cars! Should I purchase a door guard and if so, what type and where should it be placed? (Plus what do I do about the scratches already received?) Thanks.

Pat Goss: I also have an 09 Camry (Hybrid) and I added the Toyota accessory moldings from the accessory catalog. Very inexpensive (under $100.00) and very easy to install plus it comes in factory colors to match the car's body.

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Bethesda, Md.: Morning Pat, Cleaning/detailing question for you today. I remember the old days, when you would get a car detailed and they would steam the engine compartment. Is that still a good idea with all the electronics in there? I know definitely to only do it to a cold engine. Is there some home-use product that works well with a hose or is this a job for only professionals? I'll also add on here is there any reason to even do this? I recall that excess dirt causes the engine temperature to vary as it insulates the engine, and not as it is originally designed to do. Thanks!

Pat Goss: Keeping the engine and under hood area clean can save a lot of money on electrical and rubber-part problems as the car ages. But NEVER steam clean a modern engine. Use nothing more than the pressure of a garden hose and an appropriate chemical. I clean mine every time I wash the car. When I am through washing the car I take the remaining sudsy water and an old sponge and wash the engine bay then hose it off.

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Bowie, Md.: I have a 1996 Ford Explorer. When I'm driving my front wheels sound like a motorcycle. It gets louder as I go faster. What could this be and is it a major/expensive repair?

Pat Goss: As in my previous response to you, check the axle/hub bearings and because obviously you have not followed my suggestion of several days ago --- do it IMMEDIATELY!!

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Doylestown, Pa.: Pat, Do I ever have to replace the automatic transmission fluid in my 2002 BMW Z3 2.5 with over 90k on it? Is there really "lifetime" transmission fluid? Thanks, Scott

Pat Goss: Only if you want to SIGNIFICANTLY extend the life of the transmission. Flushing (not fluid exchange)can double or triple the life of an automatic transmission.

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El Paso, Texas: I am writing about my 1987 Toyota Camry. A friend and I recently replaced the passenger-side constant-velocity shaft. The splined part of the new shaft is the same diameter, but the threaded part of the shaft and axle nut are larger. Therefore, the original retainer -- to hold the original axle nut in place -- has a smaller diameter than the new axle nut and cannot be used over the axle nut. Right now the nut is retained only by a cotter key. The axle nut supplied with the new shaft is not a castle nut and cannot be locked with a cotter key. We are stuck. Is there a safe solution to this problem, if done competently--preferably by us (part of the fun)? We are not comfortable relying only on the cotter key to lock in the axle nut. But we do not know how to seek other options short of starting again with a new c.v. shaft. As for the new shaft--bought "new" at a national car parts chain--it never occurred to us we would have this problem. How would you approach this problem? Thanks.

Pat Goss: You probably have a self-locking nut. You can tell by looking at the outer end of the nut. If there is an inner and outer portion visible with what looks like plastic between the two layers the nut is self locking and does not need the other components. If that is not the case you need to find the necessary locking parts to fit the new nut.

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Washington, D.C.: Should I replace an original equipment car battery that's six years old and has 50k miles on it? I'm told they only last so long, and will fail without warning.

Pat Goss: I would! I replace mine at the four year mark to avoid being stranded.

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Bristow: Pat- I recently put new tires on my car and they filled them with Nitrogen. If I take my car to get the oil changed will the oil change place know enough by looking at the green caps on the valve stem to not put regular air in my tires?

Pat Goss: Unfortunately I can't speak to the level of knowledge of another shop. Every time I begin thinking something is an absolute no-brainer someone proves me wrong with a boneheaded mistake. Sorry!

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Toms River, N.J.: I have a 2002 Toyota Camry Xle. In the past year the mpg has dropped about 4 or 5 mpg. What is the most common cause of this? The car has over 150,000. My driving habits haven't changed. I notice when I start the car cold some black smoke comes out of the tailpipe for a minute or two. Thanks.

Pat Goss: Usually it is caused by a gradual deterioration of sensors and components. It can also be caused by deposits in the engine and fuel system unless you regularly use a high quality fuel system cleaner.

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Manassas, Va.: Hello Pat! Got a few questions for you. Please forgive me in advance if you've answered them already. I vaguely remember you telling people NOT to "warm up" their cars (Keep them idling until the heater warms up or the ice melts off your windshield). Did I hear correctly? If so, why not? At what point do you start considering getting a new car, vs.. keeping the old one alive? Thanks!

Pat Goss: "Warming-up" a car is bad for the car due to inefficiencies in the way the engine performs while cold and not under a slight load. It takes much longer to warm up when not being driven. It adds unnecessary pollution to the atmosphere. It wastes gas. It shortens the life of the engine. It only warms the engine not the related components. Etc., etc.

It's time to get a new car when you are so tired of seeing the old one in the driveway you can't resist the lure of a new one. Or --- the car is so old and unpopular that parts availability is an issue.

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Anonymous: Pat Goss hi, I have an 1984 Buick Rivera 5.0 engine? I have changed the tans fluid, gasket, and filter to try and help with the hard shifting. At first it was all right then it stopped wanting to accelerate when pressing the gas and it was over heating. It will go in gear(p,r,n,(d),d,2,1). So I checked it out my self and found out that the freeze plug was cracked and I changed that with a stopper plug, drove it to the gas station and I still was experiencing the same problem with the trans, and it was still leaking anti-freeze a little bit so I called a shop about it and the first thing they recommended was that I get another trans for about $2000 without recommending any simpler less expensive repairs. My question is can you give me some advise or a referral that will help save some money?

Pat Goss: Rubber freeze plugs are only good to get the car to a repair shop for replacement with a proper part. Check the 1-2 shift solenoid in the transmission and the valve body as both are common problems.

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Tierra Verde, Fla.: Why would a 2006 Jaguar xj8 need brakes at 23,000 miles, and not the front?

Pat Goss: We often find rear brake pads wearing more rapidly than front brake pads on cars equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. The normal reason is that the front pads are semi metallic while the rear are organic.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Pat, I own a 1998 Mountaineer, V8, AWD with 111K on the odometer. Last Jan I had a remanufactured transmission put in with a 3 year warranty. I've had to take it back to the shop once before since then due to occasional hard shifting and slippage, to which the shop said the transmission fluid was a little low (so they topped it off). This seemed to solve the problem temporarily. During my last oil change, the technician pulled me into the bay and showed me all the transmission fluid that had leaked onto my undercarriage (all the way back to the rear shocks). I took it back to the shop and they cleaned the undercarriage, secured the transmission 'overflow hose', added transmission fluid, road tested it, saw no new transmission fluid on the undercarriage, and gave it back to me. So far, so good (but it's only been a day). My question to you is, "Is there such thing as a transmission overflow hose (I thought it was a sealed environment)?" Also, "Did the shop do its due diligence troubleshooting my problem?" Thanks!

Pat Goss: Okay you lost me with the overflow hose which doesn't exist. There is a problem but you're getting a run around.

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Baltimore, Md.: Pat, I have a 2009 VW Jetta TDI diesel. It is the new engine with Blue Tec. Can I use a fuel additive called Power Service in this car without voiding my warranty? The power service bottle says it can be used with any low sulphur engine. This stuff really works-- I used it in my 2006 TDI and got three more miles per gallon and a quieter engine.

Pat Goss: Don't know you need to ask the folks at Mercedes. And remember that most products in cans that cause a significant improvement in fuel mileage on properly functioning engines damage those engines.

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Ashburn, Va.: Hi Pat- hopefully easy question. 2006 Acura TL with 36k miles, needs brake pads. Dealer claims that Acura/Honda requires the rotors be cut with every pad change. Have no traditional rotor-caused symptoms, and seem smooth to the touch. Think I'm being given a line... your thoughts?

Pat Goss: In most cases any good brake shop is going to recommend at least a very light, very fine cut on the rotors to make the new pads seat properly. Most used rotors are too smooth for proper burnishing of the new pads. All rotors must now be machined on the car.

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Rockville, Md.: When I stop my car at a stop sign or light, it tends to shake a lot with an accompanying loud noise. It's worse when I have the heat or air conditioning on, and much better when there is no air flow. The shaking goes away when I begin driving again. Any ideas what the problem could be?

Pat Goss: If there are no problems with an illuminated Check Engine light I would begin by checking the engine mounts.

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1996 Saturn: Actually your response was to me about the axle/wheel bearings. I had it checked and they were not sure what the noise was but definitely ruled out the problems you suggested. I have not heard the noise again.

Pat Goss: I wish that were true but your Saturn is not an Explorer.

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Davidsonville, Md.: Thanks again for your time and expertise Pat. I know you have mentioned that cold weather causes gas mileage to drop, but my 2004 Solara (6-cyl) has gone from a consistent 25 MPG overall to a consistent 20-21 MPG overall. Tires (Nitrofill) are consistent, driving style is consistent... can this just be the cold? It also has 92,000 miles on it but this just started a few months ago (well... with the cold). Also, I know I'm due for a timing belt change... what should I expect to pay? Thanks.

Pat Goss: I don't have an accurate way to estimate the timing belt job here but it will be several hundred dollars including a water pump. If you use a fuel system cleaner (high quality like BG-44K) regularly the problem is most likely a combination of temperature, age and sensor degradation. Begin by having a GOOD technician check the air fuel ratio. Poor mileage is often caused by a lean fuel mixture.

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Laurel, Md.: The positive cable on my battery post is tight as I can get it. Some mornings the car won't start. I get out and tap it with a ball peen hammer lightly and everything comes back on. I cleaned it. Is there some after market attachment that I can buy that has a better connector. Just seems the lead is beyond tightening anymore.

Pat Goss: Depending on the style of the cable end it may be necessary to remove the bolt and cut some of the lead from between the two halves of the cable end. This allows more room for compression of the halves of the cable.

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Washington, D.C.: Why do some vehicles come with transmission or oil pan heaters?

Pat Goss: I don't know! I have never encountered either as a factory installed option. Engine block heaters are all I have ever seen on passenger car option lists and they are for extremely cold areas to keep the coolant and oil warm for easier starting. Sorry I can't help!

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RE: Transmission Leak: So what do you think is the possible cause of the transmission leak? And what is the proper testing procedure for this kind of problem? Would it be a good idea to ask them to replace the entire transmission under warranty at this point?

Pat Goss: Often unexplained leaks are caused by internal transmission problems that cause the fluid to come out through the overflow (IT IS NOT A HOSE, IT IS NOT CLAMPED, IT CAN NOT BE SEEN EXTERNALLY). If this is the case a replacement transmission is in order.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, I took my 04 Camry for an oil change at the dealer where I bought it (I bought a service plan when I bought the car.) At my 45K service, they recommended that I flush the transmission. I declined. I took it to Meineke a few weeks later for something else and asked them to look at the transmission fluid to see if it's to be flushed. They said no and that the manual says to flush it at 100K. Any thoughts? I see above that flushes prolong the life but is dealer trying to sucker me? Thanks.

Pat Goss: The normal flush interval is 2 years or 24,000 miles not to exceed 30,000 miles. Keep in mind if you want to get the most life out of your transmission the fluid should be flushed before it changes color. Waiting until the fluid is dirty means damage to the inside of the transmission. It's like treating a cut on your finger --- if you're smart you don't wait until it is infected.

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Washington, D.C.: Your thoughts on the Audi A3?

Pat Goss: Nice car! But like all European cars I recommend an extended warranty or get rid of it when the warranty expires.

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Virginia: Hi Pat- I have a 2007 Saturn Aura. Occasionally, the radio doesn't work- it gets really static-y and not a single station works. It seems like this happens more in colder weather, but it's also happened when the weather has been mild. Any idea of what might be happening?

Pat Goss: Normally it would be caused by a poor antenna connection but good luck finding a technician who can isolate the problem unless there is a TSB. You can check for TSB's (Technical Service Bulletins) at www.alldata.com

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Adams Morgan: Weird question. Any time I am up on Wisconsin around Tenleytown, my remote alarm/door unlock doesn't work. I have a 2003 Forester. Could the transmission towers up there be interfering? Ever hear of something like this before? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Absolutely! Whenever there is a problem with location specific operation of remote transmitters suspect there is interference from something nearby.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Pat, Last time I took my car in for an oil change, the shop recommended that I do a "fuel system service." I asked if it was necessary, and they said that it would increase my mileage somewhat. In fact, my mileage is pretty much where it normally is this time of year. I declined the service, but I'm wondering if that was the right move. Do you know what's entailed in a "fuel system service," and whether it's generally worth the cost ($150). The car is a 1996 Ford Contour with 142K miles. Thanks.

Pat Goss: Fuel system service can be anything from a pure waste of money to a highly desirable service. It depends on what they are going to do in their service (there are hundreds of companies that make the chemicals and equipment)and what brand of chemical they will use. I use the BG system.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, I have a 08 Toyota Highlander. When the heater is running, the SUV idles very high and there is a strong vibration. Is this normal? I have about 2500 miles on it. Thanks.

Pat Goss: Usually no! Although the use of certain heat positions and the defrost position may cause the AC compressor to run modern computers usually maintain a nearly perfect idle speed. I would get it back to the dealer and have them check the computer's programming.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Pat, We have a 2005 Honda CRV, automatic transmission. Very rarely when I've been driving at a constant speed, the engine has revved as if in neutral, then the revs dropped back to normal. There is no apparent pattern to its occurrence. I've heard that such revving can be indicative of a dying transmission. Any thoughts? Thanks.

Pat Goss: The transmission needs to be checked as this is not a good sign and usually indicates either low fluid level or an internal problem. It should be checked immediately as such problems can cause the transmission to go from cheap, easy to repair to needs a new on one in a very few miles.

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Arlington, Va.: Pat, When parking any automatic car does it matter if I first set the emergency brake and then put it in park or put it in park first and then the emergency brake. I always thought by putting the brake on first the weight of the car is mainly resting on the brakes and not the gears. Thoughts? Thanks.

Pat Goss: You are way ahead of the pack and absolutely right. Apply the parking brake (yes it is a parking brake not an emergency brake) then put the transmission in park.

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RE: Trans Warranty: Since the auto shop seems to be giving me the run around, would you recommend contacting Ford directly to discuss the symptoms, problems, and warranty to see if they agree that a replacement is in order? If so, what information do I need to have ready so they can access my info? Thanks!

Pat Goss: Yes!

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McLean, Va.: If I get new tires and the shop puts nitrogen into the tire, is there an issue with me putting in regular air when/if the pressure drops down? Please don't say that I would need to take the car into the shop just to top off with more nitrogen.

Pat Goss: You can top off with air from a regular air source with no problems. After all, nitrogen is just a more desirable concentration of what composes more than 70% of our atmosphere anyway.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Hi Pat, I have a 2005 Lincoln Town Car with about 20K on the clock. I've noticed sometimes after extensive highway driving that there will be a knock in the engine if I stop and idle - for example, if I pull off the interstate and have to stop at a light on the exit. I took it into the dealer to get it checked out and they told me it was because we aren't using a Ford brand oil filter. They said that the filter used by the Quick Lube place is okay and that the noise is normal but that the Ford filter would prevent this knock. Something just doesn't add up.

Pat Goss: Possible but not likely unless your quick lube shop is using a seriously inferior filter (not typical). Because there are situations where strange stuff like this does happen I would install a Ford filter and see if it helps. If it does you will have to use a better quality filter. If it doesn't help you then know it's on Ford's dime if it is still in warranty.

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Re: Your comment on Foreign Cars: Why do you recommend getting an extended warranty or getting rid of the car after the warranty expires. =I thought foreign car quality was excellent.

Pat Goss: First I didn't say foreign I said European and they are known for being very costly to own as they age. Not necessarily trouble prone just expensive to repair the stuff that wears out on any car. And just like all makes some are trouble prone too.

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Garrett Park, Md.: Pat, The front windshield washer pump on my wife's 2003 Honda Element has gone dead. A little internet research seems to indicate this is a common problem--but also that it's a simple job. Anything I should be wary about here?

Pat Goss: Naah! Get the new pump and if it is like most you will spend more time agonizing over the job than doing the job.

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Pat Goss: Well everyone the clock has run its course once again. Thank you for participating, I really appreciate it. Remember if you are going to the Washington Auto Show on Saturday I will be there doing my radio show. So if you're there stop by and chat, I would love to meet you. Until next time Please remember and support those who protect us and who protect our freedom and --- drive gently!

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