‘Car Doctor’ Q&A – Saratogian


Q. I am an older woman who only drives locally now, and my car needed to be inspected. My car battery died four years to the day, I had it charged and then replaced. It was a few months ago. Since then I’ve driven some, maybe an hour or two at 40 miles an hour here and there. The problem is that the car will not pass the technical control. My mechanic ended up taking my car home for several days to get it ready for the inspection. It’s the most ridiculous thing to do to a person and he said it was state rule, that I should complain to them. My car is a 2009 Toyota Matrix with 29,000 miles. What about the memory that the state needs to see and why?

A. The problem is not as “big brother” as it seems. Your car, like many others, is equipped with a computer system that keeps the engine running smoothly and efficiently and limits air pollution. Under this system, various monitors must be completed to know that all aspects of the pollution control system are working as they should. Some of these monitors are temperature dependent, some are speed dependent, and even the level of fuel in the tank may or may not cause a specific monitor to work. There are methods to speed up readiness testing by driving very precisely in a particular direction. For the average driver, once the car’s computer memory is cleared (battery discharged or disconnected), about 100 miles of mixed driving conditions prepares the car for its emissions inspection.

Q. I was looking for a diesel-powered RV that was big enough and still fit in my small parking spot at home. I found what I was looking for on the west coast near Portland Oregon. This is a 2001 Monaco Knight 34 foot model, still parked, but not driven for 3 years. It has been started occasionally and my experience tells me that is a potential red flag. My plan is to get on the plane, put new tires on it, have the Freightliner engine system and chassis checked by a local Cummins shop in Portland. I am very familiar with this engine, having had a Cummins 24 valve diesel engine in a 2002 Dodge pickup truck. This vehicle now has 66,000 miles. The engine sounds great in the videos he sent me and appears to have been well maintained. I also plan to visit my niece and her family in Seattle and stop in Duluth Minnesota to see my son on the trip home. What advice would you have for me regarding my project?

A. It’s like buying a 21-year-old car and an old house at the same time. I would be concerned about fuel quality and would like to change the fuel filter and look at the fuel separator. The brakes can get sticky while sitting and I would look at the radiator, coolant, batteries and electrical system. Although the transmissions are fairly trouble-free, having the entire transmission checked is money well spent. I would also make sure the home and vehicle air conditioning systems are working properly. At the same time, look at the generator which is probably powered by propane. Next, look at the plumbing for leaks as well as the operation of the unit. Like all RVs, look for any signs of water leaks from the roof, windows, and slide. If everything looks good, add fresh fuel and oil, enjoy the trip, and send some photos.

Q. I bought a used 2006 Toyota Camry LE in 2019, it had driven 34,000 miles. It was in very good condition, works very well. I had a previous 2006 Camry so I know how they perform and hold up. The only unusual thing for me was that the previous owner had installed a remote start; it came with an aftermarket key fob, of which I have two. I know it works, but never use it to start the car. I recently took it to my mechanic for an oil change and an A/C tune-up, it was blowing hot air. When I went to unlock the car after getting the key, it didn’t work. I asked my mechanic what happened, he said he used it and it rang when he locked the car. He checked the battery was good, pointed out it was a spare key fob and said to give it a day he could “wake up”. Otherwise, it will try to disconnect and reconnect the car battery. If it still doesn’t work, I should go to a car radio store. The other key fob works. What could have caused this one not to work?

A. I would start by seeing if the fob is transmitting a signal. Some auto parts stores have a device that can read the output from the key fob. This equipment is not too sophisticated, it just looks for a signal. If there is no signal, try replacing the key fob battery. I’ve seen keys being placed on clipboards in repair shops and the button held down which will drain the battery. Years ago I sent my wife’s car to a retail store to be cleaned. When I picked up the car it looked fine, but the key fob didn’t work. Come and find out that the cleaner dropped the key fob in a bucket of soapy water. If it’s not the key fob battery and the other key fob works, I suspect something happened to that key fob while the store had the car.

Q. New car batteries these days are very vague about battery life and warranties. Even with a new car, if you ask the dealer, their answers are almost as unclear. I have a 2019 Nissan Rogue and it’s been 37 months since I bought it. When should I consider replacing the battery? Previously with Delco and Die-Hard batteries you could buy 3, 4, 5, 6 year batteries and expect them to last as long as the warranty. How long should I expect from my car battery?

A. Typically, in the Northeast, batteries last an average of almost five years. At 37 months, it’s definitely time to get your Rogue’s battery tested. Today’s test equipment is reasonably accurate at predicting battery health and overall battery life. To be sure, when the battery is five years old, you can simply replace it. At AAA, our batteries have a six-year warranty with the first three years covered 100% and the six-year recall, battery cost is pro-rated.

Do you have a question about the car? Email Car Doctor for a personalized response. jpaul@aaannortheast.com


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