Q & A with The Car Doctor
John Paul is AAA’s Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years’ experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. He will answer readers’ questions each week. You can find the Car Doctor podcast at www.johnfpaul.podbean.com or on other popular podcast sites. Email your car questions to [email protected]. Follow John on Twitter @johnfpaul and friend him on Facebook mrjohnfpaul.
Q. I have a 2000 Buick Park Avenue with 181,000 miles on it. The automatic climate control is “shot.” Air comes through the vents only and only blows hot. Even when I’m on the highway with the system off there is hot air coming through the vents. I closed all the vents, but the hot air is coming in, is this a blend door issue? I know it’s hard to get to some of these doors, is there any easy fix?
A. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix. Unlike old cars that used cables to open and close vents and turn on heater valves, today these systems use vacuum and electric actuators. In your Buick there are four actuators. The air inlet, mode control, left air mix and right air mix. The air discharge is controlled by the mode door actuator. The actuator drives a cam wheel that controls the position of the two air discharge doors. Depending on which door or actuator is bad it can take 30 minutes to three hours to repair the problem.
Q. I have a 2007 Honda Pilot and I have owned it from brand new. My question is I changed the timing belt at 95,000 and it currently has 171,000 miles on it. I have had all of the regular maintenance performed and was wondering when I should change the timing belt again. The car is still in great shape and I would like to use it as my commuter car and hope to get another 100,000 out of it.
A. Typically, the timing belt on the Pilot gets changed at about 100,000 miles. My suggestion is if you plan on keeping your Pilot for another 100,000 miles it would make sense to replace the timing belt again this year. Considering the mileage, I would also replace the water pump and evaluate any seals for oil seepage, as well as drive belts and tensioners.
Q. I own a 2013 Volvo wagon with 235,000 miles. It still runs perfectly, and my mechanic says I can surely get to 300,000 miles which I aim to do. My question is about the steering: this car has always had wonderful steering – holds the road really well and not loosey, goosey like so many other vehicles. When I have test driven many other cars for my growing kids, it feels much less controllable on the road – the slightest movement of the wheel and you feel the car sway. Can you tell me what it is that makes the steering in my Volvo such a dream? What should I look/ask for in my next car to get the same kind of control that I have now?
A. Today most/nearly every new car has electronic power steering depending on the car that can translate into somewhat of an artificial “feel” in the steering. This can have a bit of loose feeling on center to an almost twitchy overly sensitive feel. There was a time when BMWs had legendary almost telepathic steering, but even that has changed over the years. Unfortunately, you need to road test the car that best suits your needs. Even the latest Volvos have lost a bit of that steering feel that you like in your car. The other determining factor can be tires, tires can transform a car’s steering from direct to mushy.
Q. I have a 2005 Toyota Camry XLE with 150,000 miles on it. I recently brought it to a repair shop for an oil change. The “maintenance required” light was on, so I asked them to reset it. When I picked up the car, I noticed that the electronic clock was not working. Instead of displaying the time, it displayed “E/T: 93:04” and would continue to count up as long as the engine was running. I went back into the repair shop, and they tried playing with the radio fuses, but could not correct the issue. They told me that the clock display was now showing the engine elapsed time. Any thoughts on how to get the display to show the time?
A. There are times simple things feel complicated and you need to just look in the vehicle owner’s manual for clarity. You need to use the mode setting and toggle back to the clock. Today nearly all newer cars have owner’s manuals online. As an example, https://www.toyota.com/owners/resources/warranty-owners-manuals.camry.2005