Q: My kids always ask me, "Why don't school buses have safety seat belts for us?" Can you help with this question? As a mechanical engineer and car lover, I really like your answers. They are very good and accurate.
— S.L., Aurora, Ill.
A: You ask what many parents want to know. From our research, we find that of all motor vehicles, buses are among the safest. A big reason is that that sit higher than cars, and school buses are designed to be even safer inside that most. The seats are closer together and there is extra padding in each seatback for protection in a sudden stop or crash. Additionally, seat belts are only safe if used properly and the bus driver would have a hard time enforcing that. Add in that kids don't sit still and you can start to see how belts may be a hazard, not an asset. Besides, it costs a lot to equip buses with belts and few school districts have the funds for belts that they would prefer to use for more buses.
Q: After reading the Sunday paper, regarding T.L. from Chicago, I think it's important to bring up how inaccurate a Carfax report can be. It took less then 10 minutes for a body shop to show me what the Carfax didn't, or couldn't about my cars history, and because of that, I believe that any inspection fee that a body shop charges is worth well more then any number of printed history reports from any organization.
— R.D., Chicago
A: The reader asked us if he should have checked Carfax and we replied yes. But, as many readers pointed out, there can be oversights, omissions and errors. For instance, if you crash your car, but fix it out of pocket without involving your insurance company, there will likely be no report of that damage. There is big business in buying totaled cars, taking them to states that are lax about issuing titles and then selling them to unsuspecting buyers. We have long advocated taking any used vehicle in which you are interested to a competent auto technician and we should include a collision repair specialist. You, too, should carefully go over the car. No system is perfect. Caveat emptor, indeed. Let the buyer beware.
Q: I have a 2003 325XI BMW with 95,000 miles on it. Just 26,000 miles ago I put front brakes on my car and just last week I heard them rubbing, took it in and was told I needed new front brakes once again. They told me the reason was that I do a lot of stop and go rather than turnpike driving. Does this make sense to you? Did I need front brakes again after only 26,000 miles? I did put them on to be safe but would like to have your feedback. Being a woman sometimes has its drawbacks and I want to make sure they are still being honest with me.
— B.F., Glastonbury, Conn.
A: We can't fully answer your question without some more data. For instance, what kind of brake pads were installed last time? They may have been of lesser quality. Did you see the old pads and compare the remaining amount of lining to that of new pads? They may not have been as worn as you were told. You may have needed new brakes after 26,000 miles, but we feel that such short life is unusual.
Q; Every time I've had issues with a vehicle in the last 10 years, all I ever hear from the mechanics is that without a trouble code, there isn't really any way for them to determine why the engine acts like it isn't running correctly I've had issues with vibrating engines, starting problems, etc. So what exactly would be done with a tune up these days?
— J.S. Mundelein, Ill.
A: Frankly, there is no such thing as a tune-up anymore, although the term endures. In the past, replacing spark plugs and some other parts followed by a carburetor adjustment and an ignition timing adjustment made the car run smoothly again. Today, no such adjustments can be made so there is nothing to tune up. It would be more accurate to call the process engine performance analysis. Hard starting, stumbling, vibrations and more may be due to mechanical problems, as they always have. Relying solely on trouble codes is a cop out. There may be no codes for some problems.
Q; I always enjoy reading your column. My question relates to tire rotation. I believe that your recommendation is every 15,000 miles. Frequently, my local service location offers a free tire rotation with an oil change.
Should I take the free rotation if the last one was only 5,000 miles ago? Is there a downside to rotating too frequently?
— R.K., Plainfield, Ill.
A: There is no down side to frequent tire rotation. Doing it often allows the tires to wear evenly and may even improve your ride. Do it, especially if it's free. We don't blame the shop for providing that service. It gives them a chance to examine your brakes while the wheels are off which could lead to increased service dollars. It is an honest practice.
Q: I have a 2000 Chevrolet Silverado, model K2500 pickup truck, 8-cylinder, Vortec 6000, V-8 engine, with 32,000 miles on it. I have a problem with starting the engine when it is warm. For example if I go into a store, shop for 30 minutes or so, and come out I have to pump the gas pedal in order for it to start. This would be like the old carburetor engine cars when they were cold. It starts right up after pumping the gas pedal, and runs excellent after starting. When the engine is hot you can turn the engine off and restart it with in 10 to 15 minutes without having to pump the gas pedal. Can you please give me some guidance as to the problem with the engine?
— K.J., Chicago
A: We can offer a few generic solutions that may apply to yours and other vehicles with a similar problem starting after hot soak. One issue could be a leaking fuel pressure regulator allowing gas to get into the intake manifold. Another could be dirty fuel injectors dribbling gas into the manifold. Both of these cause flooding so pressing on the gas pedal may help by allowing extra air to get into the engine. Another trick to clear a flooded engine is to hold the pedal to the floor while starting. This usually keeps the injectors from firing until the engine starts.