Talking Cars: Help, I can't steer!

Junior Damato

QUESTION: I have a 2005 Subaru WRX STI. I got it used in 2007 and the car was practically new with 36,000 miles. It has 82,000 miles on it now, and for the past year or so the steering tends to cut out on me often. I noticed it happens more on turns where I’m either accelerating or when there are bumps. I’ve had a few instances where I couldn’t turn and had to stop the car, back up and use both hands to turn the wheel. I’m wondering if bad belts do this, or could it be something else like the steering box and can this be tested?

ANSWER: First, there are no bulletins on this problem. A loose power steering belt would not cause this problem. I would look at both front axle joints, especially the outboard joints. You mentioned you have to sometimes back up to free up the steering. This tells me something is binding up. The possibility of a ball joint or steering rack would be low on my list. Have the technician remove both front axles and check the axle joints, especially the outer joints.

QUESTION: I own a 1997 Ford Explorer with over 200,000 miles on it. It is stuck in park. I searched the web for advice and found that it could be a fuse. I checked the fuses in position 10 (7.5 amp) and 13 (15 amp), as mentioned on the web. But these didn’t correct the problem. The brake lights do not work, but the parking lights do. I’m able to move the truck but turning the key one position, moving the column shifter to neutral, starting the truck and moving the shifter to drive. But the brake lights do not work, and when I put the truck in park it gets stuck again. Short of checking all the fuses, what else can I do?

ANSWER: A very common problem with a lot of Ford vehicles is the brake light switch, or broken wire at the switch, not a fuse. The safety shift interlock is powered from the brake light switch. When you step on the brake pedal, the shift interlock solenoid gets it’s power, then releases the solenoid allowing the shifter to move. You are now just turning the key one notch, moving the shifter to neutral then turning the key to start the engine and put the shifter in neutral or reverse.

QUESTION: I have a 2000 Olds Alero (4 cyliner, 2.4 liter), 138,000 miles. I am the original owner. The car runs fine and is well maintained. In the last few months I have heard what sounds like a metal to metal scraping sound from the front when I apply the brakes. I have had the brakes checked by two different shops and they are OK. One of the mechanics said it could be a worn bushing, given the age of the car. What do you think, correct diagnosis? If it’s a worn bushing how much do you think the repair will cost? If I don’t get it fixed will it eventually damage the car?

ANSWER: The first step is to find another shop and have them road test the can and then pull all four wheels. The technician will have to check the front rotors and rear drums. There should be no noise when applying the brakes. The sound you mention could be a rust buildup on the inside of the front rotor or metal to metal contact front or rear.

QUESTION: I have a 2006 Mini Cooper S GP with 7,300 miles on the clock. It is always on an OEM battery tender. I had to move the Mini outside in December when a new ceiling was being installed in my garage. The Mini got buried in the snowstorm and the battery went dead. I jumped it and drove for 45 minutes at 60 mph; when I shut it off it was totally dead – no lights, no cranking power. I put it on a 10 amp charge for a few hours and now everything is fine. How long do you have to drive to fully charge a Mini battery?

ANSWER: First the battery is original and needs to be checked by a battery shop or automotive shop. You can call 800-crankit for an Interstate dealer in your zip code. The battery is also original and more than 4 years old and should be replaced. To your question about how long to recharge the battery, there is no exact answer. You can charge it with the 10 amp charger for four hours and then put the battery tender on to fully top off the battery. Again I cannot stress enough to have the battery checked. The alternator can keep the battery charged enough to start the car and a weak battery will keep the alternator charging constantly, which is bad for the alternator and gets the gas mileage.

Junior Damato writes weekly about cars. You can send questions to him care of the Old Colony Memorial, 182 Standish Ave., Plymouth, MA 02360.