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Discussion Starter #121


Pump the brakes — this Subaru Outback needs work
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2004 Subaru Outback, V-6. It makes a high-pitched humming noise, like millions of crickets, after I drive at freeway speed, but only after about 10 minutes on the road. It stops when I brake, then resumes. Oh, the Outback does have 272,000 miles on it. — Joy
It sounds as if you have a brake pad that’s sticking, causing it to rub against the disc rotor. Normally, the brake pads sit right against the disc rotors, and even touch a little bit, but not enough to slow the car or make any noise. Then, when you press the brake pedal, the brake caliper causes the pads to squeeze the spinning disc rotor, which is what stops the car.
Based on your description, it sounds like one of the calipers is sticky. So when you first start driving the car, everything is OK. But after about 10 minutes (and, more importantly, several applications of the brakes), the caliper fails to retract all the way, and leaves a pad pushed up against the rotor.
That’s what’s making the sound of a million crickets — the pad continually rubbing against the disc rotor as the wheel turns. When you actually use the brakes, and the pads are pushed tightly against the rotors, the noise temporarily goes away.
You should get this fixed, because it will eventually get worse. The danger is that if your brakes are always lightly applied, you can overheat the brake fluid. And if your brake fluid overheats and boils, it can’t transmit hydraulic pressure, and the brakes won’t work.
Have your mechanic check the brakes for a sticking caliper. But on a car this age, especially if the brakes have been neglected, the repair could easily cost $1,000, if the system needs pads, rotors and a caliper rebuild.
But if that’s what it takes to make the car safe, do it, Joy.
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Discussion Starter #122


Warranty firm needs to step it up for sticking step

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
We have a 2013 Avalanche with automatic steps going in and out. The step on the passenger side sometimes stays in when we open the door, whether getting in or out. Getting out, if I’m not watching, I could fall out, being a small person. The warranty outfit will not fix it because when the guy looked at it, the step did come out, so he claims it worked. Do you know what could be the cause, and how to fix it? — JoAnn
You’re talking about the motorized running boards, JoAnn.
As you say, it pops out between the door sill and the ground when you open a door, making it possible for non-NBA players to get in and out of vehicles like the Avalanche. And when they fail, it’s either the switch or the step’s motor.
When you open the door, there’s a switch on the door jamb that signals a computer to turn on the dome lights, among other things. In your case, it’s also supposed to switch on the running board’s electric motor.
It could be the switch. More likely, though, it is the motor that is failing. Electric motors often fail intermittently. And that’s going to be pricey to replace.
You definitely want to push harder to get this fixed under what I assume is your extended warranty. The guy you saw is hoping you get discouraged and go away. Don’t. Reporting it to him was a good start. Make sure you save that repair order.
Next, start using your smartphone to take a little video every time you get in and out of the truck. Point the camera at the bottom of the door and start recording. Then open the door and film the running board.
If the running board operates normally, delete the video. If it fails to deploy, and you capture it on video failing, take that evidence to the repair shop and insist that they fix it. If you have several videos from several different days, all the better.
If they still give you the runaround, send that same video evidence, along with the repair orders, to the warranty company, and ask them to either fix the running board or refund the money you spent for a useless warranty. Good luck, JoAnn. And watch your step.
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Discussion Starter #123


Chevy Bel Air is all original — even the smelly exhaust
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I am the second owner of a pristine 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air, with 95,000 miles on its 348-cubic-inch V-8 motor with a Powerglide transmission. It’s all original with no hot-rod modifications.
The car runs smooth as silk. I drive it two or three times a month to keep it exercised. But my daughter complains that if she follows me in her car when we go to car shows, the exhaust smells really bad. I have always used premium fuel in this car and I drive it often enough that the gas is not particularly “old.” I know this car was built well before pollution controls were introduced, but I don’t remember car exhaust smelling remarkably bad as a kid. I have also noticed some of my car-show buddies have this issue with their 1950s-1960s cars. Why do the vintage cars have pungent exhaust? — Joe
I didn’t remember old car exhaust smelling bad when I was a kid, either, Joe. But a few years ago, we were lucky enough to take a trip to Cuba to check out the old American cars there.
And most of them stunk, too. I think, as the air has slowly gotten cleaner, we’ve all forgotten how bad it used to be.
Since 1960, we’ve added fuel injection, computerized engine controls, oxygen sensors, catalytic converters and more, to the point where you could put your nose next to the tail pipe of a new car and not smell anything— but please don’t.
The carburetor on your car, in contrast, is the technological equivalent of pouring gasoline into the cylinders from a paint can. It’s sloppy, imprecise and dirty.
The problem most likely to make your exhaust stinkier than usual is a fuel mixture that’s too rich. So, if the carburetor jets, for example, are worn out after only 60 years, they could be pouring way too much gasoline into the cylinders. The engine wouldn’t be able to burn that extra fuel and — without any emissions equipment — it would all come right out the tailpipe. And it would stink.
There are other things that can cause incomplete combustion and a rich mixture: low compression, incorrect timing, low engine operating temperature or a weak spark. It’s probably worth checking all of them.
But my first guess would be the carburetor — and it’s probably not too early in this car’s life to replace it. If that still doesn’t improve the smell to your daughter’s satisfaction, you should start following her to the car shows.
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Discussion Starter #124


Getting grilled on the latest technologies and integration in car safety features

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I see that new cars have a small rectangle on the grill. Some are clear and some are solid. To my eye, it seems to ruin the appearance and pattern of the grill. I was wondering what purpose they serve. — John
Those are sensors for the safety systems that are being used on more and more new cars. The newer ones are lidar sensors that use laser-based radar to detect other objects in the road, whether they are cars, pedestrians or bicycles.
The lidar system sends out pulses of light, and by measuring how quickly they bounce back, it can tell when there’s an object in front of the car and how quickly your car is closing in on it.
For example, let’s say you’re traveling along the highway at 65 mph in traffic. The lidar system will know that the car in front of you is also going 65 mph because your distance from that car will remain the same. Everything is fine.
But when the car in front of you suddenly slows or stops, the system will immediately detect that you’re getting closer and closer to that car, and it will go on alert. If it determines that your foot is still on the gas, not the brake, it will conclude that you haven’t noticed the stopped car in front of you, and that’s when things get interesting.
Normally, the first thing the system will do is warn you with a light in the gauge array or in the windshield if there is a head-up display. If you ignore that, it will add an audible alarm. And if you still don’t respond, and the system calculates that you’re going to crash into the object in front of you, it will actually apply the brakes to slow the car and either avoid the crash or lessen its severity.
These systems vary from carmaker to carmaker and come under the generic names “forward collision warning” and “automatic emergency braking.” Some work at slow speeds only; others work at high speeds, too. And some can detect non-car objects, such as pedestrians and bikes.
Although they’re not perfect, they are, generally, technological advances that will soon be in all new cars. Plus, they’re already saving lives — and sheet metal.
At some point, someone will invent a sensor that can be better camouflaged into the front of the car. But until then, I’ll take an ugly rectangle on my car’s grill if it means saving that grill from getting mangled — with my own grill right behind it.
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Discussion Starter #125


Don’t expect great gas mileage from a pickup truck
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I bought a used 2008 Ford F-150 about three years ago. It’s an excellent vehicle and very trouble-free, except for regular maintenance, of course. The only irritating issue is low fuel economy. I bought a cover for the bed and that improved the mileage, but it still gives me only 16-18 mpg. Any suggestions for better miles per gallon? — Frank
If you bought a zebra, you’d expect it to have stripes, right, Frank? Well, you bought a pickup truck, and you should expect it to get mediocre gas mileage. That’s baked in.
In fact, 16-18 mpg sounds pretty good to me. The EPA rating for this truck back in 2008 was 14 mpg city and 19 highway, with an average of 16 mpg. So you’re already exceeding expectations.
If you had come to our shop and said that your truck used to get better fuel economy, but it had dropped recently, there are some things we would check.
We might start by checking your vehicle’s tire pressure. Low tire pressure is not only dangerous, but because it creates a bigger patch of rubber on the road, it creates more friction and can also result in lower mileage.
We’d also check the thermostat. If it were stuck halfway open or opening too early, your engine might not be getting all the way up to operating temperature. And an engine running cool will run inefficiently, with lower mileage.
We might check for an obstructed exhaust, too. If the engine wasn’t breathing properly, that could lead to wasted fuel.
Finally, if it’s an old vehicle, we might check the compression, because an engine that’s not fully compressing its fuel-air mixture is obviously not getting the most out of each drop of gas.
If you really want to see if you can improve your mileage any further, you might want to try overinflating your tires by a few pounds more than the recommended pressure. Just be sure to stay below the tire manufacturer’s maximum pressure.
Also, you can make sure the truckbed is empty when you’re not actively hauling anything. Extra weight will decrease mileage. And you can drive slower. The difference in fuel economy between going 75-80 mph versus 55-60 mph is enormous. If it matters that much to you, slow down.
But don’t expect any miracles, Frank. You’re already at the winning end of the F-150 fuel-economy bell curve.
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Discussion Starter #126


Covering the nuts and bolts of stubborn lug nuts

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
The lug nuts on my car have some kind of cover on them. And the covers are turning instead of the lug nuts themselves. How do I get the lug nuts off?
— Sidney

Ah, the scourge of decorative nuts, Sidney.
Lots of cars and trucks use chrome covers over their lug nuts. It gives the lug nuts a nice, shiny finish, because who among us wants dull-looking lug nuts?
But the downside is that they can corrode. Water and salt eventually get in between the chrome cover and the nut itself, and the nut swells up and you can’t get a socket on it. Or if you can get a socket on it, the chrome has separated from the nut, and the chrome moves but the nut doesn’t.
In that situation, we chisel off the thin chrome cover and what’s left is just the lug nut. You’ll then need a smaller socket. So, if the lug wrench that comes with your car is a 21-millimeter, you might need a 19-millimeter wrench now to remove the lug nuts.
Then you have to decide if you want to drive around with your lug nuts exposed, or do you want to spend the money to replace them with new, chrome-covered lug nuts?
The downside of leaving them exposed is that eventually they’ll rust and corrode and be hard to remove. The other downside is that your lug wrench will no longer work, so you’ll have to buy a new one that fits your pared-down lug nuts and toss it in the trunk.
But if the car is 15 years old, and you’re not sure how long it’s going to last, leaving the lug nuts exposed might be a reasonable choice.
You might be unpleasantly surprised to learn that a new set of chromed lug nuts from the dealership will cost between $5 and $25 a nut, depending on the car. And you need 20 of them.
You might find some at parts shops or online for about half that. Even so, it’s still a lot to pay for something that really should last the life of the car — but doesn’t.
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Discussion Starter #127


Whether automatic or stick, the answer will cost you

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I have an ’87 4Runner that I bought new. Yes, that makes me older than dirt, but my love is still true. When I put the truck into reverse, the backup light doesn’t come on. I had a mechanic fixing something else who said he could fix it for about $400. I think he said it had something to do with the mechanism in the shifter. It has been a while since then and he’s not around now. Any ideas how I can figure this out myself? — Paul
Lucky for you, Paul, I’m old enough to be dirt’s father, so I’ve worked on plenty of 1987 4Runners. But whether it’s going to cost you $40 or $400 depends on what type of transmission’s in your 4Runner.
If it has a stick shift, there’s a $40 switch that controls the backup lights. You can find one online and it’s a piece of cake to replace. It just screws into the outside of the transmission.
If it’s an automatic transmission, the switch is also easy to replace because it bolts to the outside of the transmission — but it’s a lot more expensive. On automatics, the backup light switch is built into the neutral safety switch — which prevents you from starting the truck unless the transmission is in park or neutral.
Before you replace the neutral safety switch, however, it’s a good idea to check the wiring. You’d hate to replace the whole switch only to find out you had a broken wire somewhere.
But if the wiring is good, it’s almost certainly the switch. Don’t even bother shopping for a new one. The price will give you heart palpitations. It gave me heart palpitations, and I don’t even own a 4Runner.
So, my advice would be to spend some time looking for a used one. Try your local automotive recycling centers (junkyards), and look online, at places like eBay. If you’re lucky, you can find one for a few hundred bucks.
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Discussion Starter #128


Tire specifications show the mashup of globalization

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
Why are tire sizes designated as they are? If I understand correctly, we have metric, English and a ratio. Like, a “235-75R15” tire is 235 millimeters wide, has a 15-inch hole in the middle for the wheel and the sidewall height is 75 percent of the tire’s width. What’s the rationale behind all the different measurement systems?
It seems like a Brit, an American and a statistician walked into a bar ...

— John

Great question, John, but not simple to answer definitively.
The general answer is that the U.S. has held onto its beloved feet and inches while the rest of the world has been trying to nudge us into meters and millimeters. And because that nudging has been only partly successful, we’ve ended up with a mishmash of terms.
The U.S. has traditionally been a dominant world market for tires. So, the U.S. Department of Transportation got to set the original nomenclature for tires. That’s why, until the 1960s, the wheel size was in inches, the tread width was in inches and there was no sidewall height information (the percentage known as the “aspect ratio”). Back then all tires had the same aspect ratio, which was 90.
But then, technologically superior radial tires were invented in Europe, and the Europeans wanted to sell their tires in the huge U.S. market. And because the only legal requirement for selling tires in the U.S. was that the wheel size be stated in inches (because consumers didn’t care back then how wide a tire was), the Europeans just had to change that one number on their tires, and then they had access to the world’s largest tire market at the time.
Eventually, radial tires were manufactured here, too, and then U.S. tire makers wanted to sell U.S. tires in Europe, so they also adopted the millimeter rating for tread width.
Radial technology also allowed for wider tires and shorter sidewalls. That’s when you started seeing aspect ratios on tires.
I’m guessing that at some point, the U.S. and the U.K. were such dominant car markets that the European manufacturers just started using inches for wheel size in Europe, too. Because if you check out tires sold in Europe, the vast majority have the same nomenclature that we use here.
So it’s really a story of the mashup of globalization.
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Discussion Starter #129


Is not fixing my aging Altima bad for the environment?

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
My mechanic says my 1999 Altima needs a new charcoal canister at a cost of $512. Most of that cost is for the part, not the labor, he says. He also says it won’t hurt to drive the car without having this part replaced. I’ll just continue to experience two irritating reminders of the problem:
1. The “Service Engine Soon” light never goes off.
2. When I refuel, the gas pump shuts off early and I can never fill it up all the way, even with multiple squeezes of the nozzle.
Neither of these problems is enough to make me drop $512 on a car with almost 200,000 miles. So, I just want to know: What are the potential problems in the next 50,000 miles if I leave things the way they are? And how bad of a person, environmentally speaking, am I for driving the car in this condition? — Bill
Well, one problem you’ll have in the next 50,000 miles is you won’t know when your “Service Engine Soon” light is trying to tell you something new. If it’s always on, you won’t know when you have a second, or third, problem.
As far as how bad a person you are, I think I’d defer to your poker buddies on that. But I wouldn’t want to live next door to you, Bill.
The charcoal canister captures raw gasoline vapors so they don’t escape into the air. Gasoline vapors are the source of smog, which damages people’s lungs, and is particularly hard on kids and people with breathing difficulties.
So, you’re saving $500 at the expense of everyone else’s health.
Your mechanic is right that it won’t harm the car if you drive with a nonfunctioning charcoal canister. But because it will harm your family and friends, why not consider looking for a used one?
If your mechanic is willing, have him call some local junkyards and see if he can find you a charcoal canister from an Altima of the same era.
Maybe you’ll find a working one with 100,000 miles on it. Then you’ll certainly be good for another 50,000 miles (although if that’s your goal, you might want to have him pick up a used engine and transmission while he’s there, too).
Because the bulk of the repair cost is the part, buying a used part might cut the cost by more than half.
And then with all the money you save, you can fly across the country on vacation and pollute the upper atmosphere.
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Discussion Starter #130


Mechanics can wave a magic (tailpipe emissions) wand

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I have a very puzzling and scary problem with my 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer. About six months ago, it started to have a gasoline smell in the cabin when the engine was started. It would dissipate in about 10-15 minutes. It didn’t happen often, but I mentioned it to my mechanic, who said he had never heard of that.
About two months ago, it started happening again and now it happens more frequently. It happens whether the gas tank is full or not, and the fumes are coming from the air conditioner vent. Sometimes it smells strongly outside as well as inside, as if someone is pouring gas inside the vehicle. I’m actually scared the vehicle could catch fire!
Of course, when I take it back to the mechanic, the smell has dissipated and even leaving it with them for days reveals nothing. Can you help? — Donna
You need to find a mechanic with an old-fashioned emissions testing wand, Donna. Back before cars tested themselves, and we could just plug into their computer to get the results, we used to test a car’s emissions by sticking a wand up its tailpipe. The wand would detect unburned hydrocarbons (i.e. gasoline) in the exhaust, which would tell us whether the emissions system was operating properly or not.
Whenever we have a customer’s vehicle with a gas leak, we still use that wand to sniff it out. It’s very sensitive and able to detect gasoline in concentrations of parts per million, and pinpoint exactly where a gas leak is coming from.
The reason it seems like a huge leak is because it doesn’t take much gasoline to create a big smell. So, if it’s just a drop or two of gas that’s leaking onto the engine, evaporating right away and wafting in through the ventilation system, it’s unlikely that your mechanic can find it with his naked eye. Or his naked nose.
Find a shop with an emissions wand, leave the car overnight and have them use the wand to sniff around your Trailblazer’s fuel injectors and fuel rail. You probably have a leaky injector or a leaky seal there.
While not impossible, it’s not likely to catch fire if the leak is that small. But get it fixed soon, Donna.
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Discussion Starter #131


Husband irritates wife with his habit of popping the hood after summer driving


Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
Please settle a contentious issue between my husband and me. He is an electrical engineer who is never wrong, and I am a housewife who values her pride and is tired of being embarrassed in public. We have agreed to abide by your decision, although I think my husband may renege on this agreement if you decide in my favor.
We have a 2017 Volkswagen Golf, a 2016 Toyota Tundra and a 2019 Subaru Legacy. The contentious issue is my husband’s belief that driving these vehicles during the hot summer months for more than 10 miles necessitates raising the hood after parking the vehicle, essentially to “let the heat out.”
If we go to the grocery store, he raises the hood in the parking lot. If we drive out of town, he will raise the hood at the rest stop and again at our destination.
If we drive 15 minutes to go out to eat, he pops the hood at the restaurant. I am tired of nice, concerned strangers approaching us to see if we “need any help.”
Surely in this day and age, cars and trucks have fans or refrigerants that will automatically help cool the engine when a vehicle is stopped!
If you say this practice is good for the car or truck, I will swallow my pride and try to accept the fact that we are the only ones ever to do this, wherever we go!
— Becky

You are absolutely right. The fact that nobody else on the planet except Hood-Up Henry does this (and no manufacturer recommends it) is a pretty good clue that it’s 100 percent unnecessary.
Car engines are designed to run hot. They have robust cooling systems, and fans that are designed to come on even after the car is shut off, when necessary.
But unfortunately, you married an engineer. And engineers focus on the theoretical. Even theoretically, the engine itself — the pistons, crankshaft and valves — is unaffected by how long it takes the heat to dissipate. But there are rubber belts, seals and hoses whose lives could be extended by (according to our detailed calculations) up to 11 minutes total over the life of the car if he dutifully raises the hood after each and every drive.
Is it worth it? No. I would say that, just in marital strife, he’s already on the losing side of the ledger.
Then you factor in the wear and tear on the springs, hinges and pistons that hold up the hood, and I’d say he’ll never catch up, no matter how many minutes of life he adds to the belts and hoses.
But as you wisely — and probably correctly — predict in your letter, telling him he’s theoretically right but practically all wet is not going to get him to change his behavior.
And all we can offer you is our admiration and sympathy.
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Discussion Starter #132




Wife planning to give remote-start for anniversary worries about electrical troubles


Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I am hoping to install a remote-start system in my 2012 Audi A4. It’s actually an anniversary gift for my husband. But I worry about getting it installed and then having electrical issues with the car. We bought it used from a dealership. — Mary
If it’s professionally installed, Mary (avoiding the guys in the supermarket parking lot), you shouldn’t have any future electrical issues. These things have been around for a while now and they work pretty well.
One option is to find a reputable car stereo and alarm place. Almost all shops that install alarms also sell and install remote-starter kits.
The problem is that stereo and alarm shops vary in terms of work quality — so do your homework.
You’ll want to spend some time online, reading reviews of area alarm and stereo shops, to find one in your area that seems to have an excellent reputation.
It would be even better to get a professional recommendation. If you have a mechanic you really like, ask him which alarm shop he trusts in the area.
Or you could call your Audi dealership and tell them what you’re hoping to do. Ask the folks at the parts department or service department if they have an alarm company in the area that they recommend.
They might tell you that they do alarm and remote-starter work. Using the dealer would be a good way to ensure that the work is done correctly. Or if it isn’t done correctly for some reason, at least you’ll know where to find them and get it corrected.
It’s also possible that your dealer subcontracts this kind of work to an alarm shop. If so, they may not want to share the name of the shop because you could go there directly, and eliminate the $100 markup that the dealership tacks on.
If that’s the case, you’ll have to use the dealership and pay a little more, or rely on your other research.
But it’s not a complicated job for a conscientious, professional installer, Mary. And if worse comes to worst, they’ll set the car on fire, and your husband’s anniversary present will be a brand-new Audi A4. Happy anniversary.
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Discussion Starter #133




A roundup of tire tips for choosing your next set — and on making them last longer

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I’m a 70-year-old woman who drives a 2016 BMW 228i xDrive coupe. The current tires are Continental run flats that came with the car, which — at 28,000 miles — the front tires are bald. The rears still have some tread, but I need to replace the tires and have a few questions:
How do I determine if I have “staggered” tires? I assume not, but the guy at the tire store asked.
I’ve always liked Michelins, and they have both Y-rated tires and V-rated tires. Which do I need?
Do you still recommend rotating the tires? Some places will do it for free if I go back there regularly. Only front to back, or cross them in an X pattern?
Sorry for so many questions! — Caren
You are correct that you need four new tires. You have an all-wheel-drive car, and to avoid doing harm to your center differential, you need four tires that are all the same diameter.
Worn-out tires will have a smaller diameter. So you now need four new ones.
How do you know if you have staggered tires? Look at the tire sidewall for the measurements. The tire’s width is shown in millimeters, like “195” or “225,” and you’ll find it inside a string that looks something like “P225/55R18.”
If your rear tires are wider than the front tires, your tires are considered staggered, and you’ll need to buy two wider tires for the rear wheels. But you don’t have staggered tires (we looked it up) on your model 228i.
The letter (Y, V, etc.) is the tire’s speed rating. And unless you’re a closet Lightning McQueen, you don’t need the pricier Y- or V-rated tires. Y-rated tires are good up to speeds of 186 mph and V-rated tires are good up to 149 mph.
An H-rated tire (130 mph) will be more than adequate for your purposes.
And Michelin makes very good tires, in our opinion. But you can buy anything that’s the same size as the tires you’re replacing.
Do a little research, though. Check Consumer Reports or Tire Rack and find a highly rated tire rather than just accepting whatever the local tire shop has lying around.
Once you get your new tires, we do recommend rotating them.
Your current front tires wore out faster than your rear tires because front tires do most of the braking and all of the steering. But because you have all-wheel drive, you now have to buy four new tires even though only two of your tires are completely shot.
If you rotate your next set back to front every 5,000 or 7,500 miles, they’ll wear out more evenly, and the whole set will last a little longer.
And as long as they’re not staggered, you can move them front to back or crisscross them.
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Discussion Starter #134


2002 Toyota Tacoma pickup’s V-6 engine stumble is more than an idle problem

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
My wife drives our 2002 Toyota Tacoma V-6 with 180,000 miles. She reports that the engine will sometimes die when shifting from park to reverse. It seems to be worse in hot weather and usually happens when the AC is on.
A quick bump to neutral and the truck starts backup fine. I bought the truck new and it’s in excellent shape otherwise, but now I’m worried about future transmission problems. Suggestions? — Ronny
I doubt it’s the transmission, Ronny. More likely, something is causing the idle speed to drop. And when you put the truck in gear, which puts an additional load or “demand” on the engine, the idle speed drops a little bit more and the truck stalls.
I’d check the operation of the idle air control. When you use a major accessory like the AC — one that also places a big demand on the engine — the computer is supposed to tell the idle air control to boost up the idle speed to prevent it from dropping too low and stalling.
The idle air control may not be working the way it’s supposed to when the AC is on. It could just be dirty.
More likely, though, is a vacuum leak, which is very common on older cars and would also cause the idle speed to drop. Because it seems to happen only when you shift into reverse, it could be related to how the engine twists when you put the truck in reverse.
If you open the hood and watch while someone shifts the truck from park to reverse, you’ll see that the engine actually moves a little in one direction. When the truck is shifted from reverse to drive, the engine will move in the opposite direction. While it only moves an inch or two, it can be enough to make a crack in a hose open more or close more.
To check for that in our shop, we have a tech plant a foot on the brake pedal and put the truck in reverse. And when the engine begins to stumble, we have another guy go around with a wand that’s attached to a cylinder of propane. And that second guy will shoot a very small stream of propane gas around the areas where we suspect a vacuum leak.

When the propane encounters a vacuum leak, it gets sucked into the engine through the leak and raises the idle speed. So, when we hear the engine go faster, bingo — we’ve found the leak.
A vacuum leak could be anywhere, but I’d definitely check the fat hose that connects the air-flow sensor to the throttle body. We’ve seen that hose leak before.
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Discussion Starter #135


1997 Cadillac’s power steering goes from bad to worse after succession of repairs


Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
The power steering in my 1997 Cadillac Seville was making noises, so I took it to the dealer, which led to an expensive succession of repairs. The dealership said the fluid was leaking from the pressure hose, the pump and the steering rack and pinion. They replaced all three for $2,200.
The remanufactured pump they put in made a grinding noise, so they replaced it with another one. After that, the car was harder to steer, so I took it back again. They did a pressure test on the second remanufactured power steering pump and found that it was producing 800 psi, below the minimum acceptable 1,700 psi. So, they put in a third one. But the car was still hard to steer, so I went back again. They confirmed that it’s harder to steer than it should be but said the third pump is “operating as designed.”
Now the car drives like it barely has power steering at all. What do I do now?
— John

It could be a seized universal joint in the steering column, John, but if they missed that coupling when they changed the rack and pinion, shame on them.
They’re using remanufactured power steering pumps because new ones probably aren’t made anymore for this car. And they’re obviously not of great quality since at least two out of three of them failed — and the jury’s still out on the third one.
It’s possible that your current pump is sub-par, too. You could ask them to take one more shot at it, especially because they agree that the car is supposed to be easier to steer.
If it’s harder to steer primarily when the car is cold, or primarily in one direction rather than both directions, then they might have given you a defective rack and pinion. I would think they’d have put a new one in, but who knows?
And as you now know, power steering racks are very expensive to replace and there’s a lot of labor involved. They are going to whine if you push for another new unit, but they owe it to you to solve this problem after all the money you spent. And if they replace the rack and pinion again, ask them to find a new one.
But really, the pump, the rack and pinion, the hoses and the universal joint represent pretty much the whole system, so there’s not much else it can be.
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Discussion Starter #136


One of two culprits could be causing traction sensor problem on Subaru Outback

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
The “icy road” sensor on my 2011 Subaru Outback misreads the road all the time and cuts the power, making the car stutter. It happens most when I turn a corner and slowly accelerate out of the corner.
I got the whole sensor computer box replaced and it stopped happening for four months, but then started again! I hope you can help. — Defne
Let’s start by defining a few terms, Defne.
By “icy road” sensor, you mean the traction control system. That uses the car’s ABS (anti-lock braking system) to figure out when a wheel is spinning. It brakes just that wheel, and if the wheel keeps spinning, it then reduces engine power to stop it from spinning.
By “whole sensor computer box,” we’re going to assume you mean the ABS computer.
Now that I’ve correctly defined your question, I still have no idea what the answer is.
I’ll give you two educated guesses, though. The most likely guess is that one of your wheel speed sensors is faulty.
Like the ABS, the traction control system uses the wheel-speed sensors to compare how fast each of the four wheels is turning. If one is suddenly turning a lot faster, the “whole sensor computer box” concludes that the wheel must be spinning, and it takes action to stop it from spinning. That should result in your ABS or traction control light coming on. And if a dashboard light is staying on, your car’s computer should be able to tell you exactly which sensor is malfunctioning.
If your warning lights have not come on, I suppose you could try testing each sensor with something called a lab scope. Or you could try replacing one wheel speed sensor at a time and seeing if the problem goes away. But that’s at a cost.
A more remote possibility is that it’s not the traction control system at all, but a really bad CV joint. The only reason I suggest that is because of when you say the problem occurs. When CV joints go bad, they will often make a clacking noise (not unlike the ABS makes), and it tends to happen when you are accelerating out of a turn. If the CV joint is bad enough, it could even make the car seem like it’s losing power.
So, have your mechanic check the CV joints, just in case. And if it turns out it was a CV joint all along, ask him if he wants a good deal on a barely used “whole sensor computer box.”
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Discussion Starter #137


Digital odometer’s PROM keeps mileage updated when the battery is disconnected

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
How does a digital odometer keep its reading when you disconnect the battery? No, I don’t work for a used car dealer. — Steve
It uses something called a PROM, Steve, a type of computer chip. The letters stand for Programmable Read-Only Memory. There’s a PROM in the odometer itself, which is constantly updated with the new odometer reading.
Each time a new reading is recorded, it permanently replaces the old reading. And it doesn’t require a battery. It stores whatever information was last written on it indefinitely. Think of it as an etching.
The odometer’s PROM cannot be tinkered with. At least not by us mere mortals.
When someone comes into our shop with a bad speedometer head, we can’t simply order a new one and install it and set the odometer’s mileage. We have to send it to an authorized facility, where they transfer the old mileage reading to the new odometer and send it back to us.
We have neither the equipment nor the authorization to set a PROM reading in an odometer. Otherwise — like you, Steve — we’d go into the used car business.
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Discussion Starter #138


Disappearing tire trick requires trip back to tire store to check for broken sensor

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
My 2010 Chevy Impala keeps telling me that I don’t have a left-rear tire! But I can see it right there on the car — and it’s even correctly inflated to 32 psi.
It happened soon after I took the car to the tire guy to get winter tires installed. Two days later, the tire sensor indicates the Impala’s left-rear tire is not even recognized. Gone. I took the car back to the tire guy and the sensor light goes off as I drive into the parking lot.
The tire sensor light is playing games and goes off and on when the weather fluctuates. Can I take this car on a road trip later this month, or is it not safe?
— Mindy

I think your Impala has a bad tire-pressure sensor, Mindy. There’s a tire pressure sensor in each tire, and each sensor communicates wirelessly with the car’s computer.
If the sensor is broken or if it’s incompatible with your car and the car’s computer cannot connect to it, it’ll trigger a warning that tells you it’s not recognized.
It’s possible that your tire guy damaged the sensor when he swapped out your tires and didn’t know it. Or it’s possible that he knew he broke it and replaced it with an aftermarket sensor that doesn’t work well with your car. Or it’s possible that the sensor’s time was just up, or that its battery is dead after 10 years, and the visit to the tire store was just a coincidence.
In any case, a trip back to the tire store is in order. Explain that within two days of your visit, the warning light came on and is now coming on intermittently. The two days gives him plausible deniability. But if he’s a good guy, and he thinks it’s likely he damaged the sensor, he’ll replace it. If he’s a good guy and he doesn’t think he damaged it, he may at least replace it without charging you for labor.
If he’s not a good guy, he’ll still replace it, he’ll just charge you for it, which should cost between $50 and $100.
Ask the technician to use the original equipment General Motors sensor for your Impala. The OEM sensors tend to pair up most easily and work most reliably, in our experience.
Even though you’ve confirmed not only the presence of your rear tire and its proper inflation pressure, that could change on a road trip. And that’s exactly the purpose of the tire pressure monitoring system: to let you know if a tire loses air and you are in danger of a blowout.
So get it fixed and enjoy your trip.
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Discussion Starter #139


What is the acceptable pressure range for the over- and under-inflation of tires?

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
The owner’s manual for our 2015 Toyota Camry recommends a tire pressure of 35 psi for all the wheels. I check the pressure monthly, and there may be a loss of one to two psi on a couple of tires. I crank up the compressor and, after a few tries, I finally get exactly that one psi in there. In the process of adding air, I’ll sometimes go over by half a psi or one psi, which I then bleed off. Do I need to do that? What’s the acceptable range for over and under inflation of tires? — Jay
You don’t need to do that, Jay. With tire inflation, you can muck around and get close enough, and still live a full and happy life. Of the two ways to miss your mark, underinflating your tires is the bigger danger.
Underinflated tires put a larger rubber contact patch on the road, create more friction and therefore run hotter. And heat can cause the tire’s belts to separate and come apart. Every new car now has a Tire Pressure Monitoring System or TPMS, which is a built-in gauge and a way to communicate with the car’s computer. And if the pressure in any tire drops about 10 percent below its recommended level, an idiot light on the dashboard comes on.
If your Camry recommends 35 psi, 31.5 psi would be the absolute lowest you’d want to let it go before adding air. You have more flexibility on the upper end. As long as you stay below the maximum tire pressure listed on the tire’s sidewall (which is different from the recommended pressure), you can overinflate your tires by 10 percent or even more without too much concern. For example, if 35 psi is recommended, and the maximum safe pressure listed on your sidewall is 44 psi, you can safely put 38 or 40 psi in your tires.
You can even go to 44 psi. You’ll experience a harder ride, but you won’t create a blowout danger. You may even experience sharper cornering and increased fuel economy.
So, when filling your tires, the recommended tire pressure is the best compromise between handling, comfort, fuel economy and safety. But it’s certainly fine to go over the recommended inflation by a psi or two. And going over is always better than going under.
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Discussion Starter #140


New cars are able to tell when it’s time for an oil change, but is it really accurate?


Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
My Chrysler 200 is new enough to keep me informed of how much oil life remains. Can I trust it? It’s been 6,000 (easy) miles and 15 months since my last oil change (synthetic), and my car is saying that 25 percent of the oil’s life is left. I’m inclined to believe it since I think that automakers are overly conservative regarding oil change intervals. Should I change the oil when the car says 5 percent left? 10 percent? Or do you recommend a mileage or time interval? — Jeff
I’d trust it, Jeff. If we just do an “order of magnitude” check, synthetic oil can easily last 7,500 to 10,000 miles before needing to be changed. So, if you’ve gone 6,000 miles and have 25 percent left, you’re on track for an oil change at 8,000 miles.
That’s right on target.
In case you’re interested, the oil life monitor in your car is not actually “testing” your oil. The oil life monitor is measuring the conditions that affect the life of your oil. It plugs them into an algorithm and constantly produces an estimate of how much longer your oil should last. From the car’s computer, it collects information on things like the number of starts (individual trips), the engine temperature variations (driving conditions) and the number of miles you drive.
Through the years, engineers have created algorithms that are pretty accurate in predicting when the oil is spent. Remember, they have incentive to make sure you change your oil on time. If they’re wrong, and you’re under warranty, they could owe you an engine.
I’d say when you get down to 10 percent, it’s time to make an appointment for an oil change. It’s not an emergency at that point. Your oil is still fine.
But it’s like getting down to an eighth of a tank of gas: You want to know where a gas station is at that point.
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