Talking Cars: Timing belt life and hybrid SUVs
Q: My wife drives a 2001 Toyota Camry automatic. In order for her to reach both the gas and brake pedal, she has the seat all the way forward. She sits inches away from the airbag. Do you know how far back is safe for a driver? Is there a way to shut the airbag off? Is there a way to extend the gas and brake pedal?
A: The average distance away from the airbag should be 12 inches if possible. As for airbag shut-off switches, I have been installing them since the 1990s. You will need to get an approval slip from the government and the average cost is $375. There are also pedal extenders that attach to the factory brake and gas pedal. Some vehicles have adjustable pedals from the factory.
Q: I own a 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII. The front air springs are leaking overnight. I asked the dealer about a conversion kit to eliminate the air springs. They knew nothing about them. I know you have mentioned this before in your column. Where can I get information and pricing?
A: I use a couple of different companies located in Florida. Get online and Google “Lincoln springs.” Check with a local technician for a set of used T-Bird front strut and coil spring assembly from a salvage yard. They should fit fine as a direct bolt-in. A new set from a conversion company is around $500.
Q: I am the original owner of a 2003 Hyundai XG350 six-cylinder with only 28,000 miles that is always stored in the garage. The dealer said the timing belt should be replaced because the car in now eight years old regardless of the low mileage. My mechanics says six years or 60,000 miles. What is your opinion?
A: Timing belt life will vary on the manufacture. A good rule is five years or the recommended mileage; whichever comes first. If the timing belt breaks on this engine and some other interference engines, major damage will occur.
Q: I own a 2001 Lincoln LS that has a problem with the battery going dead when the car sits a day or two. I have had the car checked and two new batteries replaced. The certified mechanic I went to said the car is full of electronics and he would not be able to find the problem. Can you help?
A: A qualified technician should be able to locate the parasitic drain in two hours or less. The procedure to locate the problem area is hooking up an amp meter, waiting for the computer to go into its sleep mode and then pulling one fuse at a time while monitoring the amp meter. There is something draining the battery while the key is off. I have seen clocks, alarms, alternators, power seat and door lock relays, hood, trunk, glove box lights all play a part in battery drain. These are a few items to get checked.
Q: I currently own a 1995 Subaru wagon and I’m looking to buy a new car. I like the Subaru, but I need more ground clearance. I am thinking of a diesel or hybrid SUV. I would like a wagon, but I need the added ground clearance. I am also debating between 4x4 or all-wheel drive. I would appreciate your suggestions.
A: There are many vehicles that will fit your needs; you just have to narrow the selection down to a few vehicles. Some shops will not work on diesel or hybrid power vehicles. Remember diesel fuel is not cheap as it was years ago; in most cases diesel costs more than gasoline. Both the diesel and hybrid will initially cost more and the return will take five years plus.
Q: I own a 1998 Volvo S70 with only 51,000 miles. Volvo has serviced the car for the last eight years and I have spent a lot money on various problems. My latest problem is the ABS and Trac light turns on and off. This has happened since November. My local garage told me not to worry about it. I would like your opinion.
A: I hear this answer often from owners who have been to local shops where the technicians do not have the experience or proper scan tools to check the vehicle. The warning light indicates a problem in the antilock brake system. I have personally had to have a number of ABS modules repaired not replaced by a local rebuilder.
Q: I own a 1995 Mercury Grand Marquis with 135,000 miles. Lately, I’ve noticed a whining sound from under the hood. The sound changes with engine speed. Any ideas?
A: With out hearing the sound it is hard to pinpoint. However have the technician look at both the power steering pump and alternator. Have the technician use a stethoscope on the belt driven accessories.
Q: I plan on buying a 2008 Nissan Sentra. I was told it has a continuously variable transmission (CVT). What is the difference between the regular automatic transmission and the CVT?
A: The CVT transmission has been around for many years. Over the years it has been very much improved. The CVT uses a pulley system similar to a snowmobile. The pulley size changes with engine speed. The idea is to keep the engine at an RPM that is best for the type of driving the driver is doing. I do not see any reason not to buy this car with the CVT transmission.
Junior Damato writes weekly about cars. You can send questions to him care of the Old Colony Memorial, 182 Standish Ave., Plymouth, MA 02360.