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Car Doctor: Pay attention to tow ratings

Posted by John Paul  March 22, 2011 12:15 PM

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Q. As cars and engine sizes seem to be getting smaller, trailer towing capacities would seem likely to suffer. Yet, when driving in France a decade ago I was struck by the size of the RVs being pulled by relatively small cars. I see the same phenomena watching the Tour de France on TV, looking at the RVs that spectators have gotten up to the mountain stage areas. Are all of these Frenchmen grossly ignoring manufacturers' trailer recommendations? 

A. Tow limits are set by the specific vehicle manufacturer, but it is not just the tow rating that a driver should be aware of. The second number is the gross combination weight rating. This takes into account both the vehicle being towed as well as the tow vehicle. Most vehicle manufacturers calculate this rating by adding the vehicle weight, passenger weight, cargo capacity, and the trailer weight. The towing ability of a vehicle is determined not just by engine power, but suspension, vehicle structure, and braking ability. A vehicle with a powerful engine towing a heavy trailer would be extremely dangerous if the vehicle's brakes were insufficient to stop the combined weight of the trailer and vehicle. Regarding the French towing oversized vehicles with small cars, perhaps it is their "que sera sera" attitude?

Q. Sometime back you mentioned in one of your columns you were trying out new wiper blades from Michelin. I seem to have to replace the wiper blades on my cars every six months or so. How are these new blades?

A. It is not that unusual to replace wiper blades twice a year. The combination of summer heat and winter road salt take its toll on wiper blades. The Michelin blades that I recently installed are their Stealth blades. Different than a "unibeam" blade, these wipers combine a conventional insert in a new frame design. So far the blades are quiet, don't build up with snow, and look much better than a traditional winter blade.

Q. I'm 30 years old and have a pretty good job. I want a Porsche 911, but I don't have that good of a job. I looked at a Mustang (not my style) and the Infiniti G37 with all-wheel-drive (didn't feel quite right). I'm now looking at a Subaru WRX STI, what do you think?

A. The 2011 Subaru WRX STI is by far the best version yet of Subaru's road going rally car. The handling is superb; it is very quick and stops as well as it goes. I like the new "wide" body look, although I still can't warm up to the oversized rear spoiler. The front seats are firm and supportive and with the exception of the radio/navigation system the controls are simple and straight forward. If you are looking for a car that's fun to drive, can handle New England's winters (with the appropriate tires), and don't mind a firm ride, the WRX STI is a good choice.

Q. Can you tell me how someone can cause a vehicle's horn to honk when they are not the owner of the car? This is happening to a family member and the neighbors are tired of hearing the honking but she doesn't know how to make it stop. It seems someone is using a device to do this, and even the police and car dealers don't know what to do to make it stop. This happens several times throughout the day. Can you help her find a solution?

A. The problem is more than likely a faulty horn-relay or horn button. I have seen several cases where the cover over the airbag shrinks in cold weather and causes the horn to sound. I can't imagine the electronic complexity of a device that could trigger a horn. If the car has an alarm it is possible that the alarm is sounding due to vibrations. I have seen tractor trailers and motorcycles set off car alarms.

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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