Q: After reading the item about brake lights staying on, it conjured up old memories of an occurrence I had as an equipment maintenance supervisor. One day I told one of the men to drive back to the office and I would follow him over there. I noticed that while driving behind him his brake lights were never off for more than a few seconds at a time. When we arrived at the office, I mentioned it to him and he indicated to me that he drove with his left foot resting on the brake pedal for emergencies. After checking the maintenance records on his vehicle I found that he was getting his brakes replaced about every 8,000 miles, compared to the other vehicles getting over 20,000 miles. I showed him the results and told him that if a slight pressure to the brake pedal was enough to turn on the brake light and cause constant heat and excessive wear to the shoes. I also made him understand that this action could cause failure when he most needed it.
A: Not only does that cause wear, it may cause an accident by misinforming other motorists. It can also affect fuel economy and performance, especially when the engine control computer is receiving mixed messages from the brake light switch and throttle position sensor.
Q: When buying a new motorcycle or car that is a year old but only has four or five miles on the odometer, is it necessary to have the oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, etc. changed before taking possession of the vehicle?
—P.G., Butler, Pa.
A: With that kind of mileage, the vehicle must have been sitting in the dealer's stock. You probably got a good deal on it. In any case, no, you should not have to change any fluids. But to be on the safe side, we would change the oil after about the first 1,000 miles. Those original miles may have come from moving it around the lot.
Q: As a woman of the baby boomer generation why is it so difficult to purchase a vehicle and not get ripped off? I visited several dealerships looking for a used car that was comfortable riding and capable of safely making frequent, long trips. I was precise and upfront about my specific needs. The dealer closest to my home, a luxury car dealer known for extremely comfortable riding cars, seemed the best bet. After entering the dealership I was handed off from the experienced used sales manager to a newer salesman and given a quick tour of the dozen used vehicles available. We decided I would drive two of them to start. The interior of the first had not been detailed so it was filthy and gave off an odd odor. The second one pulled hard to the right and made a loud knocking sound. When I questioned the salesman he acted surprised. I commented it had undoubtedly been in an accident, and he assured me it had not; they didn't leave cars like that on the lot. Needless to say I left. I searched Carfax and found that indeed the car had been in an accident. Why the acting, the games, the subterfuge? Why not find me a decent car among the dozen there rather than giving me two in bad shape?
—S.S., Buffalo Grove, Ill.
A: We have come a long way since the days of the shyster horse trader, or have we? If you want to know how to buy or sell a car, get your hands on a copy of "Strategies for Smart Car Buyers" published by Edmunds.com (ISBN 0-87759-690-5). Used copies are cheap online and your library may stock it. If you don't want to read the whole book, at least read the bonus section on "Confessions of a Car Salesman." It is a real eye opener.
Q: I have a 2007 Nissan Maxima. Last fall the tire pressure light came on and the car repair shop tried to fix it several times. They would get it to go off only to have it come back on, sometimes within a couple of days. Finally they put in new sensors and the main electronic monitor. It stayed off for about four months. The cost to fix all of this was not inexpensive and time consuming as they would have my car for a whole day to two each time.
A: You could put a piece of black tape over the warning light. Nah, bad idea. We don't usually provide specific repair procedures, but this problem is so common we feel compelled to. Take it to your favorite tech if you can't do it yourself. Locate the tire pressure warning check connector under the driver's side of the dash. With the key off, ground the white wire in the connector. Then turn the key on and un-ground and re-ground the white wire five times within 10 seconds. The Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS) indicator light should start blinking. Remove the jumper wire. Start the engine, then either drive the vehicle over 32 mph until the TPMS indicator light stops blinking (usually about 10 minutes), or use a tire pressure sensor activation tool.
Q: This is a follow up to the question from K.H. Chicago about having a CD stuck in the player. I too had a CD stuck in my 6-CD in-dash player (a book on CD from the library). The method that worked for me was to get a flat cardboard mailing envelope, one that has a self adhesive strip on the flap. Tear off the flap so you have a long skinny piece. Only take off the protective strip portion of the adhesive, about 3 inches. Then put the end of the flap, with the sticky end exposed, into the CD slot and press eject at the same time. It took a few tries, but the adhesive clung to the CD and got it out.
—S.W., Dundee, Ill.
A: We were not going to plow that same ground again, but this tip seemed so clever we decided to run it. This is absolutely the last CD removal tip…until next year.
Q: After an oil change, the oil in my 2000 Dodge Caravan 4-cylinder only takes a few days to turn black. In all of our other cars the oil stays clean for quite a long time. Have you any idea what is going on?
—J.F., Windsor, Conn.
A: After more than a decade, you could have some sludge buildup in the engine and oil pan. Also, some oils and other lubricants such as transmission fluid change color shortly after filling. It is probably nothing to worry about.