Q: With all the sensors and computers on modern vehicles today, why is it necessary to check the oil level?
— J.S., Streator, Ill.
A: Many cars do, indeed, have oil level sensors. But many more (less expensive) cars do not. The oil dipstick has a bright yellow grip and is easily spotted under the hood. Owner's manuals usually have a picture pointing it out. To check the oil level, pull out the dipstick. Wipe it off with a clean cloth or paper towel then reinsert it fully. Wait a second or two then pull it back out. The oil should show on the stick between the full and add marks, usually in a hashed section near the end of the stick. We prefer to check the oil after the engine has been shut down for a few minutes to allow the oil inside the engine to trickle back into the oil pan.
Q: I am a senior citizen who owns a 1979 Buick LeSabre that I drive every day. I want to buy a new battery, but it is confusing. I currently have a 75 series battery, but am told that I need a 78 series if I want more power.
— D.F., Coconut Creek, Fla.
A: Both extreme heat and extreme cold affect battery life, but it is extreme cold that demands more initial power. We suggest you stick with the original size battery since you don't need that extra oomph that northern drivers need.
Q: My wife has a 2005 CR-V Honda. Around the last week in May, the engine light came on, and we were told that the timing belt needs replacing. They replaced timing belt and a few other related items. After driving it for a few days, all dashboard lights came on and car was sputtering at low speeds and had to be towed to dealer for further review. Since then, the car has been returned three more times, only to be brought back again for same issues. It has been weeks since the original repairs and still is not fixed.
— M.M., Chicago
A: Your wife's CR-V engine does not have a timing belt; it has a timing chain that should last the life of the engine. There is no replacement schedule. We suspect a problem in the engine's variable valve timing system or control. It may be time to talk to the dealership general manager or dealer principal. Something ain't right.
Q: I've got 61,000 miles on my 2003 Hyundai Elantra and expect to change the timing belt at about 65,000 to 70,000 miles. Do you suggest replacing anything else, like the water pump? I've got conflicting opinions on whether to replace the fuel filter.
— E.C., Buffalo Grove, Ill.
A: We have seen fuel filters last as long as the car if the driver is selective about where he buys gas, so leave it alone for now. The timing belt, however, should be replaced as you noted. Along with the belt, we would replace the belt tensioner and, of course, the water pump, which is driven by the timing belt. Doing both jobs at once saves labor costs. If your car is due for coolant flush and fill, this would be a good time to add that service.
Q: In your a recent column, you said that downshifting from drive to second was not recommended as a substitute for applying your brakes. Would the same be true if a modest braking action was desired by going from overdrive to drive when going down a hill?
— A.M., Woodstock, Conn.
A: We actually encourage drivers to shift to a lower gear to take advantage of engine braking when going down a long hill. It saves both brake wear and fuel. We discourage downshifting when approaching a red light, though.
Q: I have been experiencing a tire noise on my 2005 Toyota Camry for several years. Putting new tires on has not solved the problem. It sounds like a wobbling or sort of thumping sound on one side of the car. Could a dented rim cause this noise? If there is a dented rim, could this cause a safety problem?
— J.V., Munster, Ind.
A: We are not going to rule out a dented rim, but we doubt that it is the problem. If the noise can be isolated to one side or one corner, have the wheels moved to different positions. If the noise moves with a particular wheel, the wheel is the problem. If the noise stays in place, we suspect a possible bad wheel bearing or an alignment problem or a suspension problem.