Q. I have a question on timing belt versus a timing chain when buying a car. I recently was told that my 2009 Honda Accord needs new belts including timing belt. Should I purchase a car with a timing chain? The replacement of the timing belt is going to be expensive! What do you think?
A. There was a time when most domestic cars had timing chains and imports with overhead camshaft engines had timing belts. Timing belts work well but they do require regular maintenance with replacement between 60,000-120,000 miles. Now we are seeing a switch back over to timing chains. It is interesting that the V-6 engine Accord has a timing belt and the four-cylinder has a timing chain. You are right; the repair is expensive taking 4-5 hours of labor plus parts. Although doing this repair once every 105,000 miles as recommended by Honda doesn’t seem outrageous.
Q. I am looking for a small SUV and I really need to know whether the Subaru Forester is a better choice than the Honda CRV. Recently the Subaru has been receiving many accolades for its reliability. I just want to make sure that it is the best buy for the money. Is there something else I should look at?
A. I have driven both vehicles and they either would be a good choice. The CR-V is a great small SUV; fuel economy is quite good, the interior design blends comfort and functionality. Personally I like the size, the CR-V is easy to get in and out of and quite maneuverable. For a slightly small version take a look at the Honda HR-V The Subaru Forester continues to improve, perform better, returns good fuel economy all at a good price. In my opinion of the two vehicles rate the CR-V first and the Forester second. Not on your radar but worth looking at is the 2016 Hyundai Tucson. This latest Hyundai is easily one of their best.
Q. I own a 2014 Hyundai Sonata and since the day I have owned it I feel as though it "floats" at highway speeds, and it is an effort to keep the car in its lane and going straight. As you can imagine this gets very tiring when on long drives or even shorter ones. Is there anything that can be done to fix this?
A. The first place I would look is at tire pressure and wheel alignment. I would also have the wheel balance checked. Although wheel balance won’t cause a floaty ride it is just a good excuse to carefully inspect the tires. Wheel alignment that isn’t perfect combined with slightly under inflated tires could be part of the problem. As I recall from my last road test of the Sonata the overall ride was pretty good. I don’t remember any issues with an overly “floaty” ride. At this point anything you try will be an expensive experiment that will involve an upgrade to the suspension and a wheel and tire change. I would start with the basics and look for incremental improvements to improve the handling.
Q. I have heard you on your podcast talk about those compact jumpstart battery packs. I have looked at some and they look like they may be okay for a small engine but will they be able to jumpstart my 5.0 liter truck?
A. I have tested a few models and they all seem to work with some limitations. The most recent unit I have tested is from a company called NOCO and the model is the GeniusBoost (www.geniuschargers.com/Boost). They have one model the GB 30 that is capable of starting engine up to 6.0 liters. What is nice about this product is that there is no danger of hooking up this battery booster backwards, it will hold a charge for up to a year and has a built in light as well as USB ports to charge a phone or tablet.
Q. I have a 2013 Scion IQ that I only drive back and forth to the train. It makes an odd knocking noise when the engine is cold. When the engine warms up I don’t hear the noise, but I almost never drive the car long enough to enjoy the engine being quiet. There are also other times it doesn’t idle very well; do you have any advice for my tiny car? Have you road tested the IQ and what did you think?
A. The problem is a result of excessive carbon build up in the engine. The repair is extensive with replacement of the pistons/rings and this requires removal of the engine. The good news is the repair is covered under the cars 60,000 powertrain warranty. With the exception of how the IQ shifts, I like this petite Toyota.
Q. I am considering a new truck for this year and wanted to get your opinion. I’m looking at all of them: Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, Dodge and the all new Ford. What full sized truck do you like?
A. I have tested all of the vehicles you are interested in. Of the full size truck choices I think the Chevrolet or GMC are slightly better than the rest. The ride is almost as quiet as a sedan, the engines are powerful and fairly fuel efficient and fit, finish and interior quality is very good.
Q. Do new tires loose a little air every month? I bought a new Honda CR-Z in May of this year, every three months a light comes telling me my car has low tire pressure. It happened twice so far, all four tires were low by five pounds and had to be inflated by the dealer. When I asked about this the service manager said this is normal, is it?
A. All tires will lose air over time. In cooler weather tires can lose one or two pounds of pressure per month. In warmer weather it can be higher. This is why it is important to check your cars tire pressure at least once per month, using a quality tire gauge. Maintaining the correct pressure will maximize both fuel economy and tire life.
Q. The oil light came on in my car while driving, shortly after that the car shut off. It is a 1989 Honda Prelude, what do you think is wrong.
A. When the oil light or any other red light comes on you need to stop driving immediately. The oil light indicates there is/was dangerously low oil pressure. Driving with the oil light on could have seized and destroyed the engine. At this point take the car to a mechanic and have it checked out. Although considering its age it may have been near the end of its useful life.
Q. I have a 18 year old Toyota; my question is, what is the life expectancy of the airbag system? I gave the car to my teenage nephew this past spring and just was wondering if the airbags wear out?
A. Most car manufacturers consider the airbag system to last the life of the car. Now of course if the airbag light is on, this would indicate one of the systems that support the airbag has failed and will needs to be repaired.
Q. I was recently at a dinner party and heard someone refer to the Smart Car and a rolling coffin, are these cars as unsafe as this person was making them out to be?
A. The Smart Car is a safe car that utilizes advanced seat belts, air bags and traction and stability control. In the design of the car it utilizes a safety cage to protest the occupants. In fact the Smart Car did receive a “good” rating for the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) as well as four-star rating from NHTSA. Now all of this doesn’t change the law of physics when it comes to vehicle crashes and doesn’t remove the responsibility of the driver to drive safely.
Q. Now that the cooler weather is here, every time I get out of my car I get a shock. Is there something I can do?
A. Static electricity is the imbalance of positive and negative changes. During the summer when the weather is more humid these charges tend to roll off of us more quickly. With winter, comes cold dry air and the imbalance of charges tends to build until you touch your car and the charge goes to ground. Using a fabric spray such a Static Guard once or twice a month will usually help eliminate static shocks.
Q. Is there a gasoline additive that can clean the fuel gauge sensor? The gas gauge on my Chevy Tahoe always displays “empty” regardless of how much fuel is in the tank. I was told that the problem is caused by a chemical build up on the sensors. I’m trying to avoid the expense of removing the gas tank.
A. If the gauge always shows empty, I would check the gauge circuit first, and then move on to the sensor. You are correct that in many cases the fuel level sensor fails due to the deposits in some gasoline formulas today. The sensor is not serviceable and will need replacing. There is some good news, however; unlike many vehicles, this sensor can be purchased separately from the fuel pump.