Car Q&A. I own a 2002 Pontiac Bonneville with only 11,000 miles. It developed an annoying clunking sound coming from the steering wheel at low speeds on small bumps... Can this be called a safety defect? What are your thoughts?
Q: I recently leased a 2006 Nissan Altima. The problem is, the trunk opens halfway and does not stay open. Is this a defect? The trunk recently came down on me and put a big lump in my head.
A: Most trunks and hoods have gas charged small supports that do wear out. The replacement cost is $20 to $40 each. Installation is usually simple. I would not say the supports are defective, just worn out.
Q: I own a boat with a Mercruiser GM V/8 engine, saltwater cooled. I want to winterize it, drain the block water drains and avoid using antifreeze. A friend told me, without antifreeze sitting in the block, rust will build up faster. Is this true?
A: The worst thing for metal is letting it sit dry with all the salt buildup, after running all summer then sitting through the long winter. You should always drain the cooling system then fill it with a 50/50 antifreeze mix. You should also treat the fuel and top off the gas tank 90 percent (to allow for expansion). You should also lubricate all the controls and spray protectant on all metal parts and wire connectors. Make sure the batteries are fully charged and either removed or disconnected. Remember, a fully charged disconnected battery will not freeze over the winter.
Q: My friends in the oil business tell me gasoline with ethanol mixture will cause problems when left sitting in the fuel tank of a boat lawn tractor – for example, for six months or more – even if treated with fuel stabilizer. If this is true, what can one do?
A: There has been a lot of talk about the new gasoline mixtures over the last year. The stories I have heard mostly apply to the marine industry. I have also seen a higher number of dirty fuel filters and replaced a lot of fuel injectors. Personally, I do use a fuel stabilizer and top off all my fuel tanks for the winter storage of my boat and lawn tractor.
Q: I own a 2005 Dodge Dakota that has had an ongoing brake pulsation problem since new at 5,000 miles. The dealer replaced the front rotors at 6,000 and 11,000 miles. The second time, they charge me $499, which I had to pay for. I contacted Chrysler, and they said they would reimburse me. To date they have not paid up. This goes back to June. What can I do?
A: There is no question that brake pulsation (rotors out of round), especially front, is common with American vehicles. My own truck had the same problem, and the Chevrolet representative declined a second brake rotor replacement at 11,000 miles. The answer is simple: Go to small claims court for your reimbursement and order a set of Power Slot brake rotors; I did, and the poor quality factory brake rotor problem is gone.
Q: I own a 2002 Toyota Avalon and 2003 Camry. The dealer service has been excellent. There is no recommendation on transmission fluid replacement. They say to change it when needed. What kind of answer is that? What do you suggest?
A: The transmission fluid intervals will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. On some vehicles, the use of factory is needed. My recommendation, depending on the vehicle and driving condition, is two to three years or 24,000 to 36,000 miles. Some manufactures, like GM, recommend the fluid change at 100,000 miles.
Q: I own a 2003 Toyota Avalon with only 39,173 miles. The check engine light came on, so I went to the dealer, and they said the problem was the VSV valve and charcoal canister. The replacement cost was $472.21. Have any other Toyotas had this same problem? I called Toyota customer service and reported the problem. They said there were no recalls on this problem. What are your thoughts?
A: Unfortunately, the charcoal canister and related valve and sensors, the air ratio sensor and EGR sensor have a very high failure rate. It would be nice if Toyota did reimburse owners for these common failure emission parts under 80,000 miles. If these parts went under a recall, which they should, a lot of unhappy Toyota owners would be very happy. Toyota needs to remember that the American car buyer put Toyota where it is today.
Q: I own a 2002 Pontiac Bonneville with only 11,000 miles. It developed an annoying clunking sound coming from the steering wheel at low speeds on small bumps. The dealer identified the problem as the lower steering shaft that needs to be removed and replaced at a cost of $350. I called GM, and they said the dealer could take it out and repack it with the special GM grease. The dealer will not remove and pack the shaft, saying the problem will reoccur again in three years. This sounds like a defect to me. Can this be called a safety defect? What are your thoughts?
A: This poorly designed lower steering shaft has been a problem since the late 1990s, including my own 1999 and 2004 Chevrolet pickup. The dealer is correct: the removal and repacking will last two or three years. There is a new replacement design for some GM vehicles. This is not a safety defect, just a very annoying noise. It would be nice if GM did extend the replacement service on this part. Other manufacturers have either a small universal joint or knuckle in the lower shaft that also fail and cause a binding when trying to steer either way.
Q: I have been using Amsoil synthetic oil in my 1999 Toyota Corolla since new, and the current mileage is 74,000. Over the last 15,000 miles, the engine started using a quart of oil every 700 to 900 miles. There are no leaks or smoke coming out of the tail pipe. Does this mean there is an internal engine problem?
A: Oil consumption can be caused by a number of factors; a worn part is the most common, followed by the pcv ventilation system. There should be a check of the pcv system, and removal of the four sparkplugs for inspection of any oil buildup on the spark plugs. You can also consult your Amsoil dealer for heavier viscosity oil. You can also switch brands and, also, try a synthetic blend.
Junior Damato writes weekly about cars. You can send questions to him care of the Old Colony Memorial, 182 Standish Ave., Plymouth, MA 02360. He can be heard live on WXBR radio 1460, 7-10 a.m. Saturday mornings.