Car Talk

A good car stereo shop can either add a permanent CD player that they will mount somewhere for you, or they can even replace your Camry’s “head unit” (the stereo controller on your dashboard) with a whole new system that has a CD player built in. If only I could’ve replaced my brother’s “head unit.”

If you’re handy and prefer to do it yourself, just go online and search for “USB CD player for 2019 Camry.” You’ll find a number of options for CD players that plug into your car stereo’s USB port. Then, when you select USB as your “source,” your car stereo system will play whatever’s in the CD player. The player itself can go in the glove box, under the dash, or on the side of the center console, with self-adhesive patches.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The solution is what your mechanic did. You “tap” a new spark plug hole. There’s a kit we buy that comes with an insert. It’s a sleeve that’s slightly bigger than the existing spark plug hole and has threads on the outside and the inside. We drill out the new hole, which is a little bigger than the old one. Then, we screw this sleeve in there and epoxy it in place. The spark plug threads inside that new sleeve.

They work. Your mechanic is right that the insert should not fail again. So, I’m guessing you’ve had three different plugs blow out. The good news is you only have five more inserts to pay for!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

So, it’s worth taking a trip to your local auto parts store and asking them for a flasher for a 2000 Holden Commodore. Presumably, you’ll get a less confused reaction from them than you did from me. Then, either ask them to show you where it’s located with their parts locator chart, or go home and get under the dashboard with a flashlight and look for a part that looks exactly like the one you just bought. When you find it, unplug it and plug in the new one. If that fixes the problem, I imagine you’ll be the happiest guy in all of Australia.

If that doesn’t fix it, you can return the flasher and get your five bucks back. Then take that money, add a chunk of your last paycheck to it, and drive the car to your mechanic.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Stop Leak or Bar’s Leak may or may not help. But for $10, or whatever a bottle of the stuff costs, it’s worth a try in your case.

The key is to keep an eye on the coolant level. With a cracked head, coolant will definitely leak into the cylinders and get burned up and sent out the tailpipe. What you need to know is how quickly you’re burning it.

I’d have your mechanic add the Stop Leak for you and then top up your coolant. While you’re there, he can show you how to check the coolant level correctly when the engine is cold.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

It’s particularly useful if you have a car that gets parked for long periods of time. So, while you’re at the International Slanket Convention for three weeks, the charger automatically senses a drop in the battery’s voltage and turns itself on and off as needed, keeping the battery ready to go when you get home.

Normally, when you buy a trickle charger at an auto parts store, you open the hood, you attach the clamps on one end of the charger to your battery terminals, and then you plug the other end into a wall socket. When you go to drive the car, you remove the clamps, close the hood and drive away.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

I recently bought a set of NGK spark plugs online at a really good price. Then I had a thought — maybe they were stolen or fakeIt’s not easy, Steve. The internet has made buying auto parts easier than ever. It’s also made buying counterfeit parts easier than ever.

I suppose the best advice is to simply beware of a deal that sounds too good to be true.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

I think it’s to avoid bashing into the car in front of them, James. If you’re driving along and the car in front of you stops suddenly, what do you do?

OK, what do you do after you’ve run through all your four-letter words?

Well, you slam on your brakes to try to stop before you plow into the car in front of you, right? And if there’s any question about whether you’ll be able to stop in time, you steer your car to the right, onto the shoulder.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The question is whether you got the right Yokohama tires, Anahat. Cars like the Prius, which are driven by people who know their mileage down to the second decimal place, use special, low-rolling-resistance tires. Low-rolling-resistance tires have specially formulated rubber that reduces rolling friction, and therefore, increases mileage.

The downside is that you give up a bit of traction (which relies on friction). But since most Prius V drivers aren’t going out for joy rides on twisty mountain roads, pushing .96 g of lateral acceleration while yelling “Yee haw!” most of them happily take the mileage over the traction.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Yeah. I’d go back and reintroduce yourself to your friends at AutoNation. The open-ended wrench symbol is Ford’s “drivetrain malfunction indicator.” The drivetrain is pretty much the engine and transmission. So that doesn’t narrow it down very much. But by scanning your car’s computer, a mechanic can narrow it down a lot more.

Whenever the drivetrain malfunction light comes on, the car’s computer will store a code that tells your mechanic why the light was triggered. From your description, my first guess is that your transmission is not upshifting for some reason. That could explain the “roar” you’re hearing.

Let’s say your truck normally shifts from second to third gear around 25 miles an hour. If it got stuck in second gear, by the time you reached 35 or 40 mph, the engine could be running at over 4,000 rpm. That would make it sound more like an Airbus A320 than a Ford Sport Trac.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

There’s no inexpensive way to fix the valves, Gloria. Bent valves are not like a gate latch that you can straighten out with a hammer and pair of pliers. Valves have to fit precisely in the openings made for them in the cylinder head. And once they’re bent, they’re ruined, whether you bent one of them or all 16.

However, you don’t have to buy a whole new engine. You can simply buy a replacement cylinder head. And by “simply,” I still don’t mean “cheaply.” You’ll either need a used cylinder head from a junk yard (aka auto recycling center), or you’ll have to buy a remanufactured one from a company like Jasper.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

We’ve also seen situations where owners will accidentally hit the “stop-start” button twice when shutting off the car, and put the car into “accessory mode” without knowing it. If you leave your car in “accessory mode,” things like your radio and heater fan will continue to run and drain your battery.

In terms of chargers, solar chargers put out about 500-1,500 milliamps. So even at the high end, under perfect, sunny conditions, it’s adding about twice as much current as your car is draining just by being parked.

And since conditions are rarely perfect, you’ll just barely be replacing what the computer, the emissions system and the alarm are drawing when the car is off.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

I suspect you have a failing air conditioning compressor clutch. The compressor clutch is the electro-mechanical device that turns your AC compressor on and off. The AC compressor will normally cycle on and off while it’s in use, depending on the demand for cool air. And the clutch is what starts and stops it.

So if the compressor clutch is faulty and failing when it gets hot (like after a multi-hour drive), it would essentially turn off your AC. That would pretty well explain the lack of cold air, huh, Charles?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

As a rule, you never want to drive on tires that are more than 10 percent below their recommended pressure (that’s typically when your tire pressure warning light will come on, if your car has one). Underinflation can cause heat to build up and tread to separate, causing a blowout (see the Ford-Firestone controversy, February 2000).

So if your car calls for 33 psi, you never want to let the tires go below about 30 psi. But tire experts say running them at 35 or even 38 or 40 is not going to endanger you or cause any meaningful degradation in braking or handling. At worst, you’d have a stiffer ride, and have a few welts on your head from hitting that pesky dome light.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The problem is that all-wheel-drive cars have something called a center differential. A center differential is a box of gears that allows power to be transmitted to all four wheels, while at the same time allowing the wheels to turn at different speeds when they need to.

When do they need to? When you turn. Whenever you turn left or right, your inside wheels always turn slower (and travel less distance) than your outside wheels. If you don’t believe me, steal one of your kids’ Hot Wheels cars and turn it in a tight circle on the kitchen table.

Here’s the problem: If you have one new tire that’s larger than the other three, that new tire will always be turning more slowly, forcing the center differential to work. And the center differential is not designed to be in use all the time — like when you’re driving at 75 mph down the interstate.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Think about stopping at a traffic light while facing up a steep hill. When you take your foot off the brake, your car will start to roll backward a little bit before the power is transmitted through the fluid and the car begins to move forward. The same thing is happening when you shift before you’re fully stopped.

Is it good for the transmission? No. But at that low of a speed it’s unlikely to be doing much harm, either. If, on the other hand, your husband is backing out of the driveway at 4 or 5 mph, and, instead of using the brakes at all, he shifts into drive to stop the car and move it forward, I think he’s probably shortening the life of his automatic transmission, and you are within your rights to administer a dope slap, Michele.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

There are several reasons why it’s a nonissue. First, the pick-up tube itself has a fine-mesh sock on it. That allows liquid gasoline to pass through, but stops any debris large enough to damage the pump or the injectors.

I suppose if you had enough crud in your tank, you could conceivably clog up that sock. But you’d have to have the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in there to do that.

Plastic gas tanks also have made a difference. They’re very common in cars now. And increasingly common at gas stations, too, where the fuel is stored. So while old steel tanks could rust and produce flecks of metal when they get old, plastic is forever — fortunately and unfortunately.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

If it’s not producing a code, that suggests it’s something mechanical, rather than electronic. And if I had to take a wild guess — which is usually what I do — I’d guess it’s your harmonic balancer. Every gasoline engine has a harmonic balancer, not just those sold in California.

The harmonic balancer is a big pulley that sits on the front of the crankshaft. It’s made of two concentric metal discs with a piece of rubber between them. And its job is to damp the vibrations created by the engine’s crankshaft. If your harmonic balancer is slipping when it’s cold, it could create lots of vibrations when you first start the car. And then once it warms up, it may start working properly. And that would not set a code.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

My first suggestion would be to add the words “YouTube” to your search. YouTube has become populated with a ton of how-to videos, where amateur mechanics, plumbers, appliance repairers and brain surgeons happily show you how to do something very specific.

When searching, it’s often helpful to know how many years your particular Regal was produced. In your case, that fourth generation Regal was made from 1997-2004. So any of those years should work. It also happened to be essentially the same car as the Chevy Lumina (R.I.P.), the Chevy Monte Carlo (R.I.P.), the Pontiac Grand Prix (R.I.P.) and the Oldsmobile Intrigue (R.I.P.). So if you can find videos on any of those models from those years, you’ll probably learn what you need to know.

From my experience, the only thing that’s at all tricky about replacing the rack and pinion on your car is that you have to lower the rear section of the sub-frame to get at it. So you might want to recruit a friend to provide an extra set of hands, and help you line things up. That’ll make the job easier. Just pick someone you’re not that fond of, because the friendship will probably be over after this.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Hey, there’s probably stuff going wrong with him, too, Janet, but you’re not trading him in yet, are you? He’s mostly right, actually. Economically speaking, it’s certainly cheaper to keep your old car. But older cars, by definition, are not as reliable. And if it’s not a financial hardship for you, we agree with him completely on the new safety equipment. Since you bought your Lexus in 2009, all kinds of electronic-based safety systems have become common. And they’re all great.

You can get city and highway speed automatic emergency braking — so if you’re distracted for a moment and don’t see a car or a pedestrian in front of you, the car will alert you and then brake itself if you don’t respond. That’s not just good for you, in that it helps you avoid an accident and questions about “whether it’s time to take away Mom’s keys.” It’s good for the pedestrian, who was texting his girlfriend while walking through traffic. He may live to LMAO again.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

We do recommend that you replace the heat shield, Liz. Just not with these guys.

The reason the heat shield is there is to keep your car from either catching fire or setting something else on fire if your catalytic converter overheats. Catalytic converters run very hot, even when they’re working properly. But if, for instance, one of your fuel injectors failed and started pouring gasoline into a cylinder, some of that gasoline would combust in the converter, which would then get so hot that it would literally glow.

And it certainly could be hot enough to set your car’s carpet on fire. Which might sound like a good thing, Liz, given the smell you probably have in this 15-year-old car. But the fire likely won’t stop at the carpet. A red-hot converter could also set fire to something underneath the car, like some grass or leaves you park over. Or it could ignite a piece of cardboard in your garage and burn your house down. So we do recommend you replace it. But not at the shop that wants to charge you $490. That’s way too much.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Ford’s “Reynolds Wrap Edition” aluminum-heavy F-150 arrived in 2015 with a lot of promise. The use of aluminum body panels instead of steel made the new truck much lighter, which improved mileage, and promised “No rust. Ever.” But a big concern was the cost of repairs, particularly the cost of replacing body panels.

If you have a little dent, pretty much any body shop can bang it out, fill it with Bondo and repaint it for you. But when you have to replace full panels, welding aluminum is a lot different than welding steel. To weld aluminum, body shops need to purchase expensive, new equipment, and get special training to use it. And based on Father Guido Sarducci’s “law of supply-a and-a demand-a,” you’d figure that fewer competing body shops would lead to higher prices, right?

So here we are, a few years later, and how much have F-150 body repair costs gone up? Zero. We checked with IIHS (the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), which, as you might guess, carefully tracks insurance payouts. The organization’s latest report on the F-150, from April 2017, found that the cost of body repairs, compared to the 2014 F-150, has stayed the same.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Motor mounts serve three purposes. The first is to hold the engine in place. Obviously, you don’t want it to fall out onto the street while you’re driving. But you also don’t want it to move around inside the engine compartment. There are lots of counter-forces acting on the engine when it sends power to the wheels. And without the mounts, the engine would be doing the Macarena under the hood.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Newer cars do use more power when they’re just sitting — for things like alarms, emissions computers and wireless connections. So it’s more common than it used to be for a battery to die when a car sits for a couple of weeks. That may be what the dealer is referring to in regard to new cars on his lot. But in that case, you’d just recharge the battery. You don’t have to replace it. Your battery presumably could not be recharged. So my guess — and my hope — is that it was just bad luck, Judy.

My advice would be to do your research when replacing a battery, if you have time. Sometimes you just need a battery right away — like you did — so you can’t go to Consumer Reports online and find out which battery is best. And if the idea of a future battery failure really worries you, another thing you could do is take a jump pack with you when you travel out of town.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

You have no choice, Jim. You have to use unleaded gas. Will it harm your engine? Mostly no. When lead — a known carcinogen — was finally phased out of gasoline in the 1970s, older cars like yours did fine, except for one thing. It turns out the lead in the gasoline provided a cushion between the valves and the valve seats. And without lead, the valve seats suffered from something called “valve seat recession.” Basically, they got pounded.

When those valve seats got pounded to the point that they wore out, they had to be replaced with hardened valve seats. That’s the only kind you can get now. And they’ve stood up well over time with unleaded gasoline.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

While these systems are, generally, great, they do vary in technology. Subaru has opted for this two-camera, binocular vision system. On the plus side, it’s relatively inexpensive to purchase, which has allowed Subaru to make it available to a lot more car buyers at a reasonable cost. More safety for more people is a good thing. On the downside, unless your windshield replacement is covered by insurance, you have to take out a home equity loan every time a stone kicks up at your car from a double FedEx truck.

So if you haven’t already done so, Greg, you should call your insurance company and find out whether it covers windshield replacement. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Modern engines rely on the exact opposite of that 20W-50 glop. They use low-viscosity oils that splash easily all over the moving parts of the engine to make sure they’re all lubricated. They also count on low-viscosity oils to reduce friction and drag (the work of simply moving the engine parts through thicker oil), which improves mileage. If you look at the specs for new cars these days, they’re not calling for 20W-50 oils. They’re not even calling for 10W-30 oils. They use 0W-20 synthetic oils. That means it acts like a zero-weight oil when the engine is cold and a 20-weight oil when the engine is hot.