Let’s Talk Wheels July Car Questions

Courtesy photo

Ronnie asks; How do I know if the fuel pump is going out on my 2012 Nissan Titan? It just feels like it is starving for fuel, so I think it is getting weak. How do I know? And where is the fuel filter?

Mike: I would look at your data stream and pay attention to your long and short term fuel trim. That tells you how much the computer is having to tell the fuel pump to adjust its flow. But I would look at your air filter first. And your fuel filter is inside the fuel tank with the fuel pump. Yes, it’s crazy. But not as crazy as putting the starter under the intake manifold.  


Michael wants to know what a Vortex Generator is because he just found out that his Toyota has two of them. Who thinks up names like that anyway?

Engineers! They think it makes them seem smarter. The VG on your Camry is on the outside of the taillight lens. It is a tiny fin that directs the air and is supposed to make your Camry slide through the air better and save fuel.  


Gail wants to know your pick for a small SUV. She needs something good in snow because she goes to school in Georgia for 2 more years. She would rather have new or slightly used. Budget is $27000. Any ideas? Jeep Compass? Hyundai Kona? Or… Get a Wrangler.


Mark just bought a 2009 GMC 2500 with ac problems. For one, the air doesn’t blow out of the vents very hard, even on max. Also, it isn’t very cold even though the ac place says the unit “has sufficient charge.” If it has sufficient charge, why isn’t it getting cold instead of cool?  Mike: Sounds like a blend door is bad. Need to have someone check that first. Don’t do anything else.


Jonathan asks; I inherited a very low mileage 1998 Plymouth Breeze. It has 18k original miles. The tires look like new, and are original. It just failed inspection because of the tires.

I emailed you about two years ago, but went in the NAVY. I’m coming home and could use some wheels until I get established. Any Ideas?   


Mike: Are you kidding? Tires over 8 years old are dangerous and should be replaced regardless of mileage. Yours are 20! Get new tires asap. Failing you for inspection could have saved your life.


Cookie asks why dealers do this window etching on the new Camry’s. She doesn’t want it, but they all want to add it and a bunch of other stuff. You were right last week when you said it is hard to get a “stripper car” anymore.

Mike: I agree with you, but I bet you can find a dealer that will work with you, perhaps not a Toyota dealer.


Wayne has a 2015 Civic. The ac seems to run hot when he runs it hard so he added a can of at AC cool stuff.  Now, it doesn’t cool at all. Is the compressor going bad?

Mike: Probably not, but it will be now that you have overcharged it. Sounds like the condenser fan may be a problem. You should have a trained AC Tech look at your car before you cost yourself a lot of extra money.

Greg had a 2011 Ford escape with a V6 and 81k miles. He wants to know what he should do in order to pull a small camping trailer without damaging anything. Thanks.

Mike: I would do a transmission flush, if you haven’t done it yet. And add an extra trans cooler. Then go for it! The Escape is a great CUV!

David was reading how the new LED Headlights coming out will help reduce CO2 emissions on cars. He is willing to be as creative as the next guy, but how can headlights help emissions?

Mike: Automotive electrical systems are very inefficient. Not only do LED’s last forever (supposedly) but they use very little power, drawing up to 65% less power from the vehicles charging system saves fuel and in effect emissions.

Troy in Crime Free Montrose asks; My nine year old Acura failed inspection for a headlight out. The dealer wants $1150 to repair it. Are they insane? Are all cars like this?

Mike: Welcome to the world of High End Luxury Cars. Your car has HID headlights which work off of AC voltage. When your bulb failed it damaged the Inverter, and the Ballast / Igniter. With the bulb included, the parts come up to close to $700. Add labor to remove and replace the bumper, it adds up. And there is not an LED conversion kit.

Carl asks: I have a problem keeping the hatch up on my 2014 Toyota RAV4. After I open it, it immediately starts sinking to the floor. What do I do without breaking the bank at the Dealer? $124 Each

Mike: I would check E Bay first and then the parts store and see which is the better deal. Unless there is a huge difference, support your local merchant.  (Wal-Mart has them for $18 a pair)

Ken asks: I want a new or almost new Ram Power Wagon. The dealers here don’t stock many of these and they are almost impossible to find on a used car lot. Where can I get a fiar deal on a big truck like those? Are they ever going to put a diesel engine in the Power Wagon so the mileage improves? Thanks!

Mike; the Power Wagon is an amazing off-road work and play truck, but it wouldn’t be if it had a heavy Diesel engine. Now, you can get a short bed Diesel 2500 Ram with HD axles and almost duplicate a Power Wagon. But, it will be a LOT heavier. If that doesn’t ruin your purpose, than you can get pretty close. Just find a dealer wot work with.


Donny has a Chevy 2500 Duramax with an Allison transmission. The truck is almost stock but not totally. When he tows a heavy trailer for a few minutes, the transmission jerks, turns on a light and won’t shift. He loses reverse too. He had a buddy to it reset to get home. What should he do?

Mike; It sounds like your (TCM) transmission’s computer is sensing slippage and going into “limp” mode. When it does this, It unlocks the torque converter, locks the trans in third gear, and you lose reverse. It does this to hopefully prevent you from damaging anything. But if the transmission is slipping, you had better have it looked at before it comes apart and costs you a ton of money to fix.

Les asks: I am buying a used 2016 GMC Sierra for a second vehicle. It has 44k miles and has been well maintained. Should I change the shocks yet? How do I know when to do it?

Mike: I remember when the stock suspension was so bad that you changed the shocks for aftermarket ones either before you took delivery of the truck or right after. I had customers bring their new trucks from the dealer to my shop and I would install high quality shocks in the first 1000 miles. On the new vehicles, the quality is terrific. They should last over 100k miles easily.

Donna asks: Is it ok to have your oil changed at a big box discount store?  What is the best brand of oil? And finally, why are oil changes $40 at a place that does it for a living and some places on sale for $19.99?

Mike: Well, if you think for a minute and realize that the parts alone for most oil changes cost almost $19 you have to know his is what is called a loss leader. The merchant is hoping to get you as a customer and upsell you on other services when they inspect the vehicle. I would rather pay them enough for an honest profit and hopefully get a good oil change with quality parts and a good inspection. And nowadays you buy oil by its classification as rated by the API.  (American Petroleum Institute) Check your owners manual and see what you need. The API’s latest classification is “SL.” If oil has passed these standards it has passed strict tests and has been deemed good enough for the modern gasoline engine. You just have to see that viscosity (or weight) your engine requires. Look for the API’s “Starburst” logo on the packaging.

Kevin writes; I have a  Honda Fit and I want to add a second battery. I have a big stereo and the amp will run the battery down while we are sitting and listening to music. Is there a place under the hood to put a second battery? Should I use a battery from a big truck or something? Thanks or your help.  

Mike, The battery on your fit is so small it looks like it belongs on a motorcycle. Honda was trying to save weight and put a tiny battery in your car. You can upgrade to the bigger 51R battery. Do that and buy a good one. As far as a big stereo, use a separate power source for it and place it in the rear. I would charge it separately since the Honda’s charging system is so small. Or power it with a good Jumpbox.  

Bob asks; my mechanic says I have to have a refrigerant leak fixed before he can legally recharge my air conditioner. Is that true? If it is, I have been breaking the law for years.

Mike: What he says is true. (kind of) Under law, he has to be certified by article 609 of the EPA to repair MVAC’s for money.  And, he can not intentionally vent refrigerant into the atmosphere, and if he knows yours has a leak, he is doing that. (technically) It is really the shop’s policy. Also, certain cities and states have different laws. Most shops will do it, but you are better finding the leak and saving money.

Mickey asks: Will adding a cat back exhaust system void the warranty on my Charger RT? Is there an advantage to using a MOPAR system?

Mike; It shouldn’t, and I would look and see what MOPAR has for you. And there is an advantage because they have some great stuff that bolts right on. The dealer will do it for you. MOPAR means performance.

Jim has a 2012 BMW 3 series. He was going to check the transmission fluid and found out that there is no dipstick. How does he change or flush the fluid out? How can they do this? Is it only BMW or what?

Mike: BMW says that the fluid is a lifetime, so if it’s not leaking you don’t have to check it. Of course, they want to sell you a new car or new transmission, so  I would flush it at 75k miles. And then they will fill it to the right level. It takes a special procedure and special tool.

Sick Ford Window Lynn writes; I own an F150 crew cab truck.  The driver side power window is giving me the blues.  It goes down just fine but has a problem coming back up.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Can it be just in the switch or is it in the motor?  Local Ford dealership wants 88 dollars just for the diagnosis.

Mike: Great question: Basically, what the switch does is reverse the polarity to make the motor go in different directions. Since it goes one direction just fine, it is most likely the switch causing the problem. Sometimes, you can take it apart and clean the contacts and get more life out of it. The best thing to do is go to a dealer and get a new one. I am sure that will do the trick.  

Expensive Diagnosis Mark Writes; I have a 2005 Nissan Maxima with an electrical problem. At certain times, the turn signals quit working and blows the fuse. I also have a problem with my radio cutting off, but not at the same time as the turn signals. My dealer has no idea what it is and says that it could cost me up to $200 to diagnose the problem, and, even more to fix it. Isn’t that unfair? Why can’t they just tell me what is wrong without charging me? Why so much?

Mike: Mark, I feel your pain, but I can also see it from a different point of view. First of all, an electrical problem is going to require a tech with electrical expertise. It will require him to remove parts of the dash, fuse panel, and turn signal switch to find the melted wire or damaged connector. Your shop may charge $90 an hour, but I bet they will not be charging you for half of the time they really spend. Sure, that seems like a lot of money, but you are paying for his time and his expertise. Once they find the problem, then it may require a part. That is why there could be added cost. If it was easy, you would do it yourself. I offer up the same argument when I go to my Doctors office, and he tells me the same thing I told you; I’m paying him for what he knows.

Robert writes: My 84 year old Mother has a 2012 Ford Escape with 16,000 miles.

It runs great. However, when I changed the oil I found traces of what looks like coolant in the oil cap–yet the coolant level is full. What is going on?

Mike:  It’s not really coolant, but condensation turning into a mayonnaise-like goo and collecting in the cooler parts of the crankcase, including the inside of the oil-filler cap. This is a problem during cold weather, and in vehicles that are used for short trips and never driven long enough to reach operating temperature, which boils the moisture out through the crankcase vent system.

Every month, take the car for a 30-40 highway run. This will remove contaminants from the oil and help keep the engine from sludging up.

Kevin has a late-model Chevy Silverado. My dealer suggests changing the brake fluid every 30,000 miles. The dealer claims the brake fluid can absorb moisture and become very hot, thus justifying a change. I have never done this before. Should I start?

Mike GM seems to be the only manufacturer that doesn’t recommend periodic flushing of old fluid. The issue, as you suggest, is water contamination, which lowers the boiling point of the contaminated fluid to a level where when hot, it could boil, causing the brakes to become spongy and not work well. These are bad things, so flush the fluid.  

You can check the condition of the fluid with small disposable test strips.  And, like the Dealer, I recommend a brake flush every 30k miles.

John is looking at new SUV’s and wants to know if getting the tow package is worth the extra few hundred dollars. It is just a hitch isn’t it?

Mike: There are a few levels of trailering packages, but they all help, even if you aren’t towing a trailer.  

First of all, It is more than just a factory trailer hitch. All of them provide the wiring needed for trailer lights and brakes. And usually it will include a larger transmission cooler. The higher levels of towing package will include a larger alternator, radiator, transmission cooler, and an in dash brake controller.  Some will also include suspension modifications, and link the trailer brakes with your SUV’s anti lock brake system and stability control. I wouldn’t buy anything without some sort of trailering package.