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Car Doctor: Keep wipers down when parked

Posted by John Paul  February 17, 2011 05:28 PM

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(David Ryan/Globe Staff).

Q. I see a lot of people leaving their windshield wipers pulled up and away from the window in parking lots during snowy and icy weather.  I was always told not to do this.  What is the right answer? 

A. Putting the wipers up and away from the windshield certainly makes it easier to clean the windshield if it snows. It also eliminates the chance of the wipers freezing to the windshield. My concern is that by doing this you are putting stress on the spring that holds the wiper arm against the windshield. I don’t do it on my car.

Q. I have a 2010 Toyota Avalon and on a very cold morning (around 20 degrees or lower), I get a whining noise when the engine first starts. I brought it to the Toyota dealer and the representative heard the noise. He said it was coming from serpentine belt. He said he compared it to other stock vehicles and noise was the same. Another dealer addressed the problem on the telephone with me and identified it as contraction and expansion in the engines. I'm not particularly satisfied with either explanation. Could you share your expert opinion?

A. Just about everything in a car expands and contracts with temperature changes. When the alternator needs to work harder (such as during winter start-ups) it is physically harder to turn. Add in a drive belt affected by the cold and it is possible to have some noise. The question remains if this is a normal characteristic of the car or a problem. My suggestion would be to have the dealer reinspect the drive belt and the belt tensioner. Replacing the belt may solve the noise problem.

Q. I have a 2001 Dodge Intrepid with 65,000 miles. I have had no problems with this car until recently. My right and left directional signal lights as well as the emergency lights are going on and off randomly while the car is turned off , causing our battery to die. I took the car to my mechanic and he dismantled my automatic starting system, which worked for a while. However, the problem has returned. Do you have any idea what would cause this?

A. The most common repair for this type of problem is a faulty body control computer. Before the computer is replaced, a technician will check all of the lighting circuits and switches for possible problems.

Q. I purchased a new Jeep in 1999, and in February of 2002 (with 18,000 miles on the vehicle) it developed a violent front end shimmy at 50 miles per hour. The Jeep dealer repaired it by overhauling the transfer case and the problem subsided. At 64,000 miles the problem reappeared. The original dealer was out of business and I had moved 70 miles away. I have had the car to four Jeep dealers who told me that could not be the problem. I’ve since proceeded to align the front end and replace a cracked wheel but the problem isn’t fixed. Could the vibration be caused by the transmission again?

A. The most common source of a vibration in a Jeep is the result of worn control arm bushings or a faulty steering stabilizer. I would also look at all the engine and transmission mounts and drive shaft. I would certainly look at these items before I condemned a very expensive transmission.

Q. I was reading your column and my wife suggested I write to you. I am in the market for a new car. We currently have three Honda Accords ranging from 2001 to 2004. My 2002 with 172,000 miles is dying and I’m ready for something new and different. I’m looking for something as rock solid as the Honda but a bit sportier and luxurious. I’m looking at the Lexus ES350, the Infiniti G37 and the Nissan Maxima. I have done research on Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and Consumer Reports to the extent of giving myself a case of analysis paralysis. I need either a front- or all-wheel-drive car since we are in an area that can get treacherous in winter. Any suggestions?

A. Since you have had such good luck with Honda, why not take a look at the Acura line? The Acura TL with all-wheel-drive is about the same size as your Accord, has some nice luxury appointments and with all-wheel-drive, it should be able to handle Connecticut winters.

Q. Please settle an argument my husband and I are having! I say that anti-freeze needs to be flushed and replaced or it will ruin the radiator. He says anti-freeze doesn't break down and can stay in the engine forever. Who is right?

A. The engine coolant in today’s cars last between three to five years. Over time the additives that help prevent corrosion will break down and the cooling system will rust. In addition, there are also lubricants that help keep the water pump working properly that diminish over time. You are right, and your husband needs to read his car’s owner’s manual.

Q. I recently purchased four Goodyear tires. Afterward, the car was sitting in a garage for four weeks while I was away. When I drove the car it thumped and vibrated for several miles, it eventually went away. Is it possible that the tires developed flat spots from sitting?

A. Tires contain nylon for strength and will tend to develop flat spots when sitting over longer periods of time. This can be much more apparent with some tires than others. This is a normal characteristic and nothing to be concerned about.

John Paul is the public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. He can be reached at or on Twitter @johnfpaul.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
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