Ask John Paul: AAA’s Car Doctor

I am thinking of replacing my ever so dependable 2001 Toyota Avalon with a car that would have similarly generous legroom as comfortable seats and ride.  My wife’s car, a 2010 Honda Accord an otherwise great car, but rides a bit too firm and legroom feels tighter, so it is not great for us on a road trip.   I was pleasantly surprised when I test drove a 2015 Subaru Outback recently.  It was quite comfortable and roomy with good visibility, and it offers some impressive active safety features like lane change warning and blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and pre-collision automatic braking.  I am seriously considering the Outback, but something just doesn’t feel “right”. On paper the car looks great but I’m not sure I would be happy with it. I am 50 and I think this latest safety technology could help me. In my search, all-wheel drive is not necessary, although based on last winter I would prefer it. I would like to keep the cost it under $45,000 and would appreciate your suggestions.

jpaulAAAmarkerThe Toyota Avalon in 2001 had about 41 inches of legroom. Three cars that can be ordered in all-wheel-drive that also meet or exceed the legroom of your Avalon are the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Genesis and Buick LaCrosse. Depending on what features you are looking for in addition to legroom, any one of these cars are easy to recommend.  The Fusion is small on the outside but has plenty of head and legroom. The Buick and the Hyundai are good solid cars with their own specific personalities. As you found out from looking at the Subaru you really need to find the car that best matches your budget, needs, desires and not just get a car because other people like them.

I own a 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid that I use rarely. I have this SUV because I don’t really need a car every day but do need a car/SUV from time to time. I ride a bike often and this Toyota seems pretty kind to the planet. Here is the problem, in the last couple of years it has developed an annoying condition that the battery goes dead. The original battery was replaced last year and I drive as little as possible to reduce pollution. At a recent trip to the repair shop they could find nothing wrong with the battery or charging system. They did recharge the battery and only suggested the problem was me not driving enough, any ideas?

The problem could be simply a result of your hybrid sitting idle for too long. Toyota recommends to their dealers if a hybrid car or SUV is going to be in storage that the accessory battery is disconnected. Short of disconnecting the battery; consider installing a battery charger such as the Battery Tender. These battery maintainer/chargers will keep the battery charged without over charging and are designed to be left connected when the car is parked. In addition many 2006-2010 Highlander hybrids have been recalled for an issue with Intelligent Power Module (IPM) inside the vehicle’s electrical inverter module, although it may not be the cause of your vehicles problem if your vehicle is part of the recall it should be taken care of.

 I’m looking for a car to get me to the train, about seven miles a day, but would like to spend as little as possible. I am okay with something over 100,000 miles, but do need a car with some size. I do see that 2000-03 Buicks, Lincolns, and Cadillacs can be had for about $5000 with around 150,000 miles on them. What are your thoughts about buying a car with high miles?

Any one of these cars can be good or bad choices, it really depends on how the car was maintained and driven. Recently I saw at a great looking 2000 Toyota Camry that sold for $3500. This Camry was very clean, had the original paint (no prior body work) and appeared well maintained. To my surprise the car had 230,000 miles, but it sounded like it would last another 100,000 miles. All in all I thought the car was well bought.

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Ask John Paul: AAA’s Car Doctor

I drive a 1989 Jeep Grand Cherokee with almost 200.000 miles without any big issues. Recently I have noticed the air conditioner doesn’t drip water on my garage the way it once did. My garage (not a Jeep dealer) tells me in order to solve that problem the dashboard has to be removed and that sounds like a big job. Hopefully you have a better suggestion?

John Paul

John Paul

All air conditioner systems remove moisture from the air to reduce humidity. That condensation collects on the air conditioner evaporator and drips out the evaporator drain hose. Over time the evaporator drain can clogged with debris such as leaves and pine needles. Usually all it takes to get the evaporator to drain again is to clean the drain hose. But here is the problem; Jeep didn’t use a drain hose they designed the evaporator to drain through the body of the vehicle. There are several videos posted online that show a simple fix. You drill a quarter inch hole in the drain and clean the buildup of debris and then use compressed air to get the evaporator to drain again.

I am considering purchasing a BMW 2 series AWD convertible and was wondering how good it would be in the snow and how safe the soft top would be or would you recommend the Audi A3 convertible and why? Would I need to put 4 snows on either one of these cars if I plan to drive them year round?

The BMW and The Audi in this category are very close matches. The BMW is just a little bigger but slightly heavier, the performance is similar with the A3 having a slight edge in fuel economy. Both a great small luxury cars that are fun to drive all year round and with regards to safety both offer roll over protection to protect the occupants Regarding snow tires, to get the best winter performance snow tires are recommended. The bottom line buy: the car you like, with either car you can’t go wrong.

Lately when I bring my 1993 Ford truck in for an oil change, they ask if I want the high mileage oil change or a regular oil change. The regular oil change is about $30 while the change with the high mileage oil is about $50. I have 150k miles on my truck. Is it worth the extra cost for the high mileage oil change for a truck with 150k miles on it? I thought I read in a different newspaper you weren’t convinced that the high mileage oil was worth it.

The high mileage oil has some additives that help preserve engine seals, reduce smoking, slow oil leaks and remove sludge build up. Some time back I had Felix Rouse from Valvoline on my radio program to talk about high mileage oils as well as some other issues that relate to oil. Prior to talking with Felix I was convinced that high mileage oils were created in the marketing department not the engineering department. Your question is it worth the extra cost, maybe?

We purchased a new Honda CRV three weeks ago. After the second day I noticed a potentially dangerous issue. When slowing down to approximately 15-20 MPH and then giving it the gas, there is about a one second delay before the car moves. It doesn’t happen all the time. The first time I was making a left turn with oncoming traffic. As I was making the turn the car just wouldn’t move. I had plenty of time to make the turn but now found myself almost stuck in the middle of the intersection. This has now happened about 10 times. Not just making left turns but it can happen any time you slow down to about 15-20 MPH and then give it the gas. Went to the dealer and naturally they couldn’t find anything wrong. I suspect it has something to do with the transmission. Have you heard of this problem and are there any recalls for this issue?

I road tested the CR-V when it first came out for 2015 and didn’t notice any issues with the transmission or hesitation. The CVT transmission does have a different “feel” to it but again never a hesitation. The database that I use didn’t list any bulletins for this vehicle. At this point I would stay in touch with the dealer and see if Honda issues any computer updates that could smooth out the issue. A search online shows some consumer issues with this vehicle but to me the number seem minimal compared to the number of CR-Vs sold. Readers are you having problems with your 2015 Honda CR-V email me –


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Ask John Paul: AAA’s Car Doctor

I have a 1997 Ford Mustang and the air conditioning will not blow out of the dash vents.  When I turn it on the air only blows out of the defroster.  Do you know what I need to do to fix it and how much it will cost?

John Paul

John Paul

The heater air-conditioner system uses a series of vacuum controls to operate the duct system. For safety reasons the defroster setting works if there is a vacuum loss. Since the defroster is working the problem is a loss of vacuum. The problem could be as simple as a vacuum line leak.

 I have two cars: and I wanted to check the brakes. The front disc brakes were easy but I can’t get the rear drums off. Although the drums spin, I can’t get them off. Do you have any suggestions on how to do this without parts flying off or breaking something?

In both cases the brake drums won’t slide off due to a ridge of rust on the brake drums or the drum is rusted to the hub. First try penetrating oil such at PB-Blaster and allow it to soak in to dissolve the rust. Then using a heavy hammer strike between the lugs to break the drum lose. You also may back the brake adjustment off to permit enough clearance to allow the drum to slide off over the brake shoes.

If I were to buy an electric car, I would most likely install a charger in my garage. What amperage circuit is required and what about the connector? Can I just charge it with a normal outlet plug and would something like a dryer connector and plug work? Have you driven an electric car lately?

Today’s electric or plug-in hybrids use a standard 120 volt convenience plug or a dedicated and standardized 240 volt plug and charger. Chargers are available through a variety of sources and will generally require a 30/40 amp circuit breaker. This is not a DIY project; my suggestion would be to have the charger installed by a licensed electrician who has received training on this type installation. Recently I was driving a KIA Soul E/V and it had a 105 mile range. The car was a great car to drive and performed well but charging was best performed with a 240 volt charger. As an example I live about 48 miles from work, with the range of the KIA I was able to drive to work and home and still have a few miles to go. When I plugged in the 110 volt charger it took about 16 hours to fully recharge the battery. If this was a 240 volt charger the car would have been fully recharged in four to five hours. KIA also included a direct current “fast-charge” port which can recharge the battery to about 80 percent in 30 minutes.

I recently pulled into a gas station that was out of regular fuel and offered me premium at the regular price. When I asked about the benefits of premium the guy at the station told me I would be better fuel mileage. When I checked the mileage I didn’t see any difference, what is the real story?

The result you saw was typical, if your car is not designed to use premium fuel it is unlikely you will see any benefit from using it. If your car is  designed to use premium and you use regular you could see reduced fuel mileage and performance as well in some cases possible engine damage.

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Ask John Paul: AAA’s Car Doctor

John Paul

John Paul

I have a Chrysler 200 convertible that I drive year round that has a sloshing noise when going around corners. It sounds like water, is there a leak in the car because it is a convertible? Should I be driving my convertible year round?

The problem is most likely due to debris building up in the heater/ventilation system and has nothing to do with being a convertible. Cleaning the drain tube and replacing the cabin air filter should solve the problem. There is no reason that with a little care you can’t drive any convertible year round. My wife has been driving a convertible since 1999.

 I have always changed my own oil and when doing an oil change always lubricate the hinges with white grease. The doors clunk when I open the doors, it is thoroughly “lubed” why is the hinge making noise?

This may be a case of too much of a good thing. Most cars only need a very small amount of lubricant to allow for smooth door operation. Remove any excess lube from the roller and cam while still lubricating the hinge pin and the inside bearing area of the roller. This should get the door hinge working properly.

 I have a 2010 Hyundai Elantra with only 40,000 miles on it and it makes a thumping noise over bumps. I had the local shop check the car and they couldn’t find anything wrong. Any ideas?

There have been some issues with the bushings on the front struts. Replacing the “bump-stop” bushings should solve the problem. Since the car under warranty have the dealer reference technical service bulletin number: 10-SS-006

What do you think about using nitrogen in car tires? I recently had my car serviced and they offered a tire rotation and nitrogen air fill for $49.95. The dealer suggested that nitrogen would also improve the tire life and the service included free tire rotation, what do you think?

Nitrogen has been used in racing for years and it has several benefits. Loss of inflation pressure up to 5 percent a month is normal for most tires. I have been told that nitrogen molecules are larger than oxygen molecules and, therefore, are less prone to “seeping” through the tire casing. In addition it has been shown that pure nitrogen may cause a bit less rubber degradation over time. The real reason tire life will improve is because the tires will get rotated regularly and the tire pressure will be maintained. In my cars I use plain old air which is 78 percent nitrogen and it’s free.

My 1970 Chevrolet Impala has chrome mag wheels and recently while washing the car I noticed the wheels were turning green. I tried cleaning them with wheel cleaner but it didn’t help. What should I do?

Chrome wheels will turn green when they are cleaned with wheel cleaner that contains acid. When cleaning wheels, use soap and water or wheel cleaner that is safe for all wheels including those wheels that have a painted surfaces. To restore the wheels on your car try a wheel cleaner and polish. I have had people tell me that Mothers brand metal polish and their Powerball work well.


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Maximizing The Resale Value Of Your Car: Advice From AAA

Oh, that new car smell. For some, it’s one of the best parts of buying a car.

Oh no, that old car smell. You’re ready to sell, and you’re afraid the years of use will have buyers turning up their noses, and not just because of the price. So how can you maximize your car’s appeal?

The spring car buying season is actually two seasons, for at the same time as you are shopping for a car, you may also be looking to get the most value when selling your own vehicle. Two experts from AAA Northeast have some suggestions on both ends of the process: Vice President of Financial Services Shaun McGee, and Senior Manager of Traffic Safety and AAA Car Doctor John Paul.

Sell, Trade or Donate: Which Route is Best for Your Car?

McGee: Before you choose that new car, think about how to get the most money from your current vehicle. If your vehicle is a top seller and in excellent condition, you may get the highest price through a private party sale. A vehicle in less than perfect condition may be easier to sell directly to a dealer or use as a trade-in. The best bet for a clunker? Donate it to an official charity and earn a tax deduction.

Five Auto Features that Fail the Resale Test.

Paul: You’ll drive your new car for many years to come, so selecting features that you’ll enjoy is your main concern. Not all options, however, improve the resale value of your vehicle. Options that will not have a positive impact on resale value include appearance packages like pinstripes, special paint or unique graphics; custom wheels and tires; satellite radio; vehicle telematics devices such as factory-installed navigation systems, and auto-dimming mirrors.

Buy with Resale Value in Mind

McGee: If you keep your vehicle for less than five years, the resale value should be an important consideration. To get the maximum value when you sell or trade, start with a resale-worthy purchase. Research used car prices in your area to determine the best selling vehicle. Focus on features that positively impact resale value, like air conditioning, automatic transmission, leather seats, and rear-entertainment systems. Buy the vehicle that everyone will want to own as a used car!

Low Mileage Top Priority for Used-Car Buyers

Paul: Mileage, accident history and overall vehicle condition matter far more to used-car shoppers than options and add-ons. High mileage will hurt trade-in values and low-mileage cars will sell for a premium. Keep mileage in check – consolidate errands and consider a rental car for long trips.

You’re Not just a Seller, but also a Buyer

McGee: Shopping for financing can be just as important as looking for a car. Loan rates are incredibly low (at AAA some under 2 percent). Consumers aren’t always aware that the same low rates can apply to models as far back as 2009, and that refinancing an existing loan may be a great way to lower monthly payments.

Paul: If it’s a good time to sell a car, it’s a good time to buy. If you’re looking used, a vehicle in excellent condition has no defects and passes inspections, at most has minor surface scratches on the outside and a clean interior with all equipment in complete working order. Looking new? Programs such as the AAA Car Buying Service take the hassle of the process and gets you a great new car at a fair price.

AAA Northeast is a not-for-profit auto club with 60 offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York providing more than 5.2 million local AAA members with travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services.

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