Q & A #88 With The Auto Specialist
Welcome back to the Auto Specialist. In a surprise move, Consumer Reports gave two thumbs down to the 2012 Honda Civic LX. The watchdog magazine revealed that the vehicle had “scored too low to be recommended.” This was unexpected since the Civic has traditionally been thought of as one of the most reliable cars on the road. The magazine compared it unfavorably to other small sedans, such as the new Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra. The news is a significant blow to the Japanese automaker since the company has always prided itself on excellent engineering. Time will tell whether the marketplace proves more receptive to the Civic LX.
Today, we’ll help Russ determine whether his Accord’s brake fluid really needed to be replaced. We’ll also answer Evelyn’s question about a steering pull in her Sebring. And lastly, we’ll help Derrick with his F-150′s head gasket. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
Question: I own a 2007 Honda Accord with about 50,000 miles on it. I took it into the dealer last week for an oil change and new brake pads. The technician told me I should also replace the brake fluid. At first, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to spend the money, especially since the brake system was working fine. But I eventually gave in, and let him to do it. I’ve been thinking about it, and still can’t figure out whether it was even necessary. Did the dealer just want to increase the ticket volume? What do you think?
Answer: Thanks for writing in, Russ. Replacing the brake fluid sounds like a service that dealers and repair shops recommend in order to increase their revenue. But the dealer was likely making a sound recommendation. The fluid in your brake system can become contaminated by moisture, which gets in through the hoses and seals. Most automakers suggest changing it every two to four years. Given that your Accord has 50,000 miles on it, the service is overdue.
Question: I’m driving a 2004 Chrysler Sebring. It has just over 82,000 miles. A few months ago, the steering wheel started to drift to one side. It was a small drift, but still noticeable. I was hoping the problem would correct itself, but instead, it has gotten worse. My car now drifts further, and I have to keep pressure on the wheel to drive straight. I haven’t taken the car to the repair shop yet. Can you explain what it happening?
Answer: Thank you for your question, Evelyn. A pull to one side can be caused by a few problems. Some are simple to correct. This is the case with alignment problems, such as uneven caster or camber between the left and right wheels. If one of your tires is severely worn or has too little air, it can also cause pulling. These too are easy to fix.
Other problems are a bit more complex. This is the case with a bent rear axle, a brake caliper that is sticking, or a bent steering linkage. Because there are so many factors that might be involved, I recommend having a mechanic take a look.
Question: I have a 1999 Ford F-150. I bought it used, and the engine has nearly 160,000 miles. It was in the shop recently to have a compression test done on the cylinders. The mechanic told me the head gasket was failing, and needed to be replaced. I didn’t have it done because I was in a hurry at the time. But he made it sound important. Is this something I should worry about?
Answer: Thanks for sending in your question, Derrick. The head gasket is definitely important. It is sandwiched between the engine block and cylinder head, and creates a seal. If the gasket fails, coolant can get into the cylinders, which will cause other problems. It may also allow compression in the cylinders to leak outward. So, yes. A failing head gasket needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
That’s it for this installment of the Auto Specialist. Thanks again to Russ, Evelyn, and Derrick for letting us help with their car questions and problems. We’ll have a new set of questions to address next time. Until then, drive safely.