Q. I'm starting to research 2013 seven passenger SUV's and have really come to like what the Honda Pilot has to offer. However, one item of concern that is steering me away from the Honda is that it has a timing belt, not a chain. I just don't get the warm and fuzzies from such an important part of the engine being run by a rubber belt, or the fact that every 3-4 years I have to be burdened by this costly replacement expense. I have two questions for you: What is the current cost for parts and labor on the timing belt replacement for the Honda? And which of the Pilot's competitors Toyota/Nissan/Ford have timing chains versus a timing belt?
A. I have always been a fan of the Honda Pilot and its stable mate the Acura MDX, and continue to think it is one of the best vehicles in its class. The Toyota Highlander (new model coming), Nissan Pathfinder and the Ford Explorer all use engines with timing chains that don’t require any additional maintenance. Rubber timing belts are generally trouble free, but they do require replacement on a regular basis. The Pilot requires timing belt replacement at 105,000 miles, with a basic cost of $60 for the belt and about 3.5 hours of labor to replace it.
Q. Would using the engine as a brake going down a hill do any damage to the engine or transmission? To what speed should I slow down to before shifting the automatic transmission to a lower gear?
A. Using the engine as an aid to braking years ago was popular due to the fact that vehicle brakes were not very powerful and often overheated when used repeatedly. My general feeling is that on a modern car, wearing out a set of brakes is a much cheaper repair than the cost of the extra wear and tear to an electronically controlled transmission. That said, if you still find it necessary to downshift, it has more to do with the engine speed (RPM) than vehicle speed. I would never downshift an automatic transmission from one gear to another at an engine speed that would cause the RPMs to rise more than 1000, unless it was an emergency. One instance that I would downshift would be going down a very steep mountain road. This method allows the brakes to function at 100 percent when needed.
Q. I live in Massachusetts and I have a 1995 Honda Civic, which I've owned for about 10 years. It has 100,000 miles on it. The engine is fine, but the body is falling apart, specifically the rear bumper. I've used duct tape to hold it up, but there is also a significant amount of rust around the back tire areas, and the area where the bumper is falling off. I can't pass inspection unless I do three things: buy two new front tires, replace the license plate with a new one with red lettering (MA law), and have the rust fixed on the rear bumper (both sides). The mechanic suggested using Bondo to fix the rust, but I've never used that product before. Any suggestions for fixing the rust so I can pass inspection? I don't want to invest much more money in this car, because I will be looking to buy a newer car in the coming months. The mechanic also suggested that I simply get a rejection sticker, which will prevent me from getting a ticket, and buy me some time (2 months) to fix the problems. Is that true? I thought a "failed" inspection sticker meant that you couldn't drive the car. Also, should I stick with buying another Honda Civic, or would you recommend another car? I'm looking to buy an '07 or '08 with low mileage, and decent MPG. Sorry for the long question.
A. In Massachusetts, when a car is failed for a safety inspection the car is not to be driven. If it were an emissions issue, it is only then you have 60 days to get the repairs performed. Regarding the rust, if the issue is a structural problem, fixing the rust with body filler may improve the appearance of the car, but if you get into a crash it could be dangerous to you and your passengers. Fixing the visual rust doesn’t address the issue with the bumpers. I would find a second shop and ask for an evaluation of the body structure prior to spending any more money on the car. Regarding replacing the car, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are all pretty good choices. Also, don’t overlook some of the smaller GM cars like the Cavalier and the Ford Focus. You may find a newer model with fewer miles for the same price as a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Prior to purchasing any used car, have it evaluated by a competent garage. Regarding the license plate, the single green plate only needs to be replaced if it is badly worn or lacks reflectivity. If this is the case, then it will be replaced at no charge to you. Simply turn in the plate at your local RMV office for two new plates.