Bob Weber: Motormouth
January 3, 2013
Q: I just bought a 1998 Lexus LS400 with 170,000 well-cared for miles. The suspension seems soft. Lexus checked it by doing the "bounce" test and said it was fine. But I think 170k is beyond the lifespan of any coil/strut combination and am guessing I would see significant improvement with replacing all four corners. There always seems to be a wishy-washy answer on when to replace struts, given no leaks, just miles. What is your opinion?
— J.D., Dove Valley, Colo.
A: Suspension parts wear, but they usually wear so gradually that the driver does not take notice. Often there are no visible signs and the bounce test proves nothing. More than one customer has complained that the car rode rougher after the shocks were replaced, when the ride was simply restored to its original condition. As shocks and struts wear, the tires are less able to maintain contact with the road. This can diminish braking on a rough surface.
Q: I have a 2005 Chrysler Town and Country and on three different occasions after topping off a fill-up the following occurred: When stopping immediately following the topped off fill-up the vehicle would shutter and die. Then the vehicle could be started immediately and would continue to run well. The first time this happened I took the vehicle to a mechanic that has done regular maintenance on the car for years. He advised me nothing showed up in the codes. He then advised to not top it off. Any suggestions?
— R.L., Geneva, Ill.
A: This is a common Chrysler problem and to avoid it most people just stop fueling when the nozzle clicks off. What's happening is that liquid fuel is getting into the evaporate emissions storage system. The car's computer purges the system when the engine is running, but it gets gasoline instead of the expected vapors. That causes stalling. Once the raw gas is gone, the engine runs fine until the next over-fill-up.
Q: I have a 2008 Toyota Corolla that is approaching the time to flush the cooling system and replace the coolant. The owner's manual strongly urges "…only use Toyota Super Long Life Coolant or similarly high quality ethylene glycol based non-silicate, non-amino, non-nitrate, and non-borate coolant with long-life hybrid organic acid technology (Coolant with long-life hybrid organic acid technology is a combination of low phosphates and organic acids.)" Their pre-mixed coolant contains 50 percent deionized water and retails for $29.99 per gallon. I checked with two independent shops in my area. One uses Global Extended Life coolant and has had no problems. The other shop uses only Toyota OEM coolant on Toyota vehicles and stressed warranty compliance. I need a third opinion — yours! Can I use Prestone Extended Life or some other more reasonably priced coolant?
— G.K., Woodridge, Ill.
A: Coolant technology is a slippery subject. Essentially all antifreeze is ethylene glycol based, but beyond that the technology is all over the place. Toyota and other Asian manufacturers avoid silicates as they tend to gel and cause clogging. Toyota and others prefer phosphates to prevent system corrosion. Having said that, we agree that you can't go wrong using the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) stuff. But aftermarket products such as Prestone, Zerex, Peak and others that meet the carmakers' standards are fine.
Q: I just finished reading your column this Sunday and read a question about the use of E85 in a 2012 Focus. You said that most newer cars it doesn't matter whether E10 or E85 is used. I own a 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan with a 3.3-liter flex fuel V-6. I have 128K miles on it and as far as I know it has never been run on E85. If I use it now will that create any engine problems or failures due to the age and mileage or does it not matter?
— V.A., Midlothian, Ill.
A: No harm will come from using E85, unless you consider reduced fuel economy a problem. Give it a try. See what you think.
Q: I drive an automatic and live in a hilly area. When coasting down a hill I shift to second gear and have the transmission do most of the braking for me instead of riding the brakes. I have done this for decades and it's become routine for me. Some people tell me there's no problem shifting down and others say it's overheating the transmission and brakes are cheaper to replace than a transmission. Please set my mind at ease, since I don't think I'm doing anything wrong.
— J.L., Hellertown, Pa.
A: When you downshift, it is the engine not the transmission that does the braking. An engine is simply an air pump and you are making it work via kinetic energy. The transmission is not laboring, but merely spinning happily away. All the while, you are saving on fuel. Sometimes we downshift and sometimes we simply switch off overdrive on a less steep incline.
Q: I read your column every Sunday and enjoy the different things discussed there. I notice that many times you refer to "regularly scheduled maintenance" by the vehicle manufacturer when answering questions. I have always been a believer in fix it when it needs fixing, not when the book tells you. But I am also a believer in oil changes every 3,000 miles. My 2001 Buick LeSabre just turned 200,000 miles. I bought it in late June, 2001 with 14,000 miles on it. The dealer said it was a "program car." I was a salesperson, so a lot of the miles were highway driving. My point is twofold; I will argue that American cars are just as good as or better than foreign (which goes against most people's thinking) and that you don't need all the regular scheduled maintenance that the manufacturer recommends. Notice that I have never changed the transmission fluid. I never do. The last time I changed trans fluid in a car, the transmission blew one month later. I think I have spent little money on this car for the miles it gave me. And there may be a lot more miles left in it. I have had many cars, mostly Buicks, and I drive them at least 150,000 miles. Buicks are the best cars made today, as far as I am concerned.
— B.R., Chicago
A: The key to longevity rests in the fact that "…a lot of the miles were highway driving." Nothing makes a motor vehicle happier than cruising down the highway in the hands of a good driver. You may even want to extend your oil change intervals, to maybe 5,000 or, as the owner's manual says, 7,500 or once a year. Yep, you're driving style is the gentlest.