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Car Doctor: Spend money on high-quality bulbs

Posted by John Paul  March 8, 2011 04:42 PM

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Q. I have noticed that many cars on the road have their headlights out. This is a safety problem since you don’t know if this is a motorcycle or something else coming toward you. Why is this?

A. You are correct that driving with only one headlight is a safety problem and actually a "ticket-able" offense in many states. Years ago I was involved in a car care survey and we found that one of every five cars on the road had a lighting issue. The average life of a headlight is about five years. As the fleet of vehicles on the road gets older, it is not unusual to see more lights out. A good driver should periodically check all the lights in their car. If you notice a bulb is out, replace it with a good-quality part. There are many inferior-quality bulbs available today that cost less but have a short life and provide poor lighting.

Q. I had a weird experience with my 2008 Dodge Charger. It is the base model and has 50,000 miles. I was driving approximately 30 mph on a suburban road when suddenly the car lost power. I slowed the car to the side of the road, put the transmission back into park and turned off the ignition. I then turned the key to start the car and it started right up again. I drove it for the rest of the day without issue. I checked the battery cables and they appear tight. Do you have any ideas? This is the first and only time this has happened and the car has had no previous issues or accidents.

A. There are a multitude of items that could cause this type of symptom. The biggest problem is diagnosing a problem that currently doesn’t exist. Unless there is a computer fault code stored or something that can be spotted visually, testing and looking for a one-time problem could become very expensive.

Q. I have a 2003 Ford Explorer with a 4.0-liter, six-cylinder engine; the mileage is 94,000. On several occasions the dealership has recommended power flushing the power steering fluids. The owner's manual makes no mention of any scheduled interval for changing power steering fluids and I don't recall changing these fluids on any other car. Does this make any sense, or is it just a way for the dealer to cover the cost of the flushing equipment? Cars are so much better now that scheduled maintenance is at greater intervals. It just occurred to me that the antifreeze has never been changed. The owner's manual seems to call for the first change at 5 years/100,000 miles. Should I get it done?

A. I’m a big believer in following the advice in the vehicle owner’s manual. Since your manual doesn’t have an interval for changing the power steering fluid, does that mean this service never needs to be performed? Yes and no. If the power steering fluid is clean, there is no need to change it, in my opinion. If the fluid is contaminated, changing the fluid could help extend the life of the power steering system. Regarding the cooling system, it is overdue.  The coolant should be drained, the system flushed, and new Ford- style "green" or "gold" coolant should be installed.

Q. I was wondering, with my 2006 Ford, am I wasting money when I use premium or super octane gas? The truck requires regular gas but from time to time I like to give it a treat.

A. If your vehicle only requires regular fuel and you refuel it with higher octane gas, in my opinion you are just wasting your money.

Q. I have an Infiniti M35 that I really enjoy and it is time to replace my wife’s Mercedes ML320. Since I’ve had such good luck with the M35, I was thinking of the EX35 as a replacement for the ML320. We try to ski most weekends and the ML is great in the snow. What do you think?

A. The EX35 handles great, rides well, has a luxurious interior, and is loaded with hi-tech features. With its optional all-wheel-drive system, this vehicle should be more than able to handle your trips to the slopes. Depending on passengers and ski equipment, you may find limited rear seating and cargo capacity an issue. 

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.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
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.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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