‘Car Doctor’ Q&A – Saratogian

Q. Do new tires lose a little air every month? I bought a new Honda Pilot in May of this year, every two months I get a light telling me that my car has low tire pressure. Happened a few times so far, all four tires were five pounds low and had to be inflated by the dealer. When I asked about this, the service manager said it was normal, right?

A. All tires lose air over time, it is normal for most tires to lose a few pounds of pressure every month or so. In cold weather, tires can lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degree drop in temperature. That’s why it’s important to check your car’s tire pressure at least once a month, using a quality gauge. Maintaining the correct pressure will maximize both fuel economy and tire life.

Q. The oil light came on in my car while I was driving, shortly after the car turned off. It’s a 20 year old Mercedes Benz, what do you think is wrong.

A. When the oil light or any other red light comes on, you should stop driving immediately. The oil light indicates that there is/was dangerously low oil pressure. Driving with the oil light on could have seized up and destroyed the engine. At this point, take the car to a mechanic and have it checked. Although given its age (the average car on the road is just over 12 years old), it is nearing the end of its useful life.

Q. I have a 15 year old Saab that I like to drive better than my BMW and Audi. My question is what is the lifespan of the airbag system? I want to give the car to my daughter after winter and was wondering if the airbags wear out?

A. Most car manufacturers consider the airbag system to last the life of the car. Now, of course, if the airbag light is on, that would indicate that one of the systems that support the airbag has failed and will need to be serviced.

Q. I was at a dinner party recently and told someone that I had found a low mileage 2019 Chevy Sonic for my daughter for a college car. Someone called it a rolling coffin, are these cars as dangerous as this person claimed?

A. The Chevrolet Sonic is a safe car that uses advanced seat belts, airbags, and traction and stability control. In the design of the car, it uses a roll cage to protest the occupants. In fact, it earned a five-star rating from NHTSA and a good rating from IIHS. Now, all this does not change the law of physics regarding vehicle accidents and does not remove the driver’s responsibility to drive safely.

Q. Now that the cool fall weather has arrived, every time I get out of my car I get a shock. Can I do something?

A. Static electricity is the imbalance of positive and negative changes. During the summer, when the weather is more humid, these charges tend to escape us more quickly. With winter comes cold, dry air and load imbalance tends to build up until you hit your car and the load goes to the ground. Using a fabric spray such as Static Guard once or twice a month will usually help eliminate static shock.

Q. I have a work van (former Grumman bread truck) and it’s always cold inside. I remember years ago I had a friend with a Volkswagen with a gasoline heater. The heater got you out of the car and only used a little gas. Is there a modern equivalent for trucks?

A. The only item I know of is the Webasto Blueheat unit. These units heat the air or the coolant depending on the model, using the vehicle’s fuel. They work almost like a small household oven. My only experience goes back years with one installed in a Dodge Sprinter. It was a great system, provided plenty of heat, used minimal fuel, and had a timer that could be programmed to get the interior warm when you needed the truck. Best of all, there was no excessive idling, wasting fuel, and adding to the air pollution worries of an engine running unnecessarily.

Q. I have a 2008 Toyota Prius Touring model and one of my headlights goes out intermittently. I thought that would be a simple fix, but turns out Toyota wants $300-500 to install the new bulb? I wonder if there are other options (faster and cheaper solutions) or if this is in fact the price I will have to pay for a new bulb. Is the dealership the only option?

A. This has been a fairly common failure on some years of Prius vehicles with HID headlights and I’m surprised they’ve lasted this long. Unlike halogen bulbs that dim and then turn off, HID bulbs simply flicker or turn off. The repair usually consists of changing both headlights. There are non-Toyota parts, including ballast, which are generally less expensive than factory parts. Any competent garage should be able to repair headlights.

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