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Car Doctor: Fixing random engine start problems

Posted by John Paul  April 28, 2011 09:00 AM

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Q. If my 2003 Ford Taurus sits for three or four days, it won’t start. If I get a jump start, it fires right up. My battery and starter were fine and everything else tested okay. Could it be a sensor or fuel pump?

A. If the car starts with a jump and the battery is fully charged, I would look for an electrical problem. On some Ford vehicles the battery ground cable has been known to cause intermittent no-start problems. A technician with a volt meter will perform a "voltage-drop” test to determine the cause of your car’s intermittent no-start problem.

Q. I purchased a new 2010 Infiniti G37x several months ago and the car has just about 1,600 miles on it. All of a sudden, the car’s horn has low "beep" instead of a loud "honk." I took it to the dealer and the work order stated: “Found low horn inoperative due to break in ground circuit, re-soldered to correct concern.” My question is, will this repair be permanent or should the harness have been replaced?  I would greatly appreciate it if you can respond in your column.

A. I’m perfectly comfortable with soldering as a repair. A properly repaired circuit should be serviceable for the life of the car. Keep in mind that nearly everything electronic has a soldered joint.

Q. I just had four new tires (that I bought online) installed at a local gas station in the Boston area and they charged tax on their labor fee. Is labor taxable?

A. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, charges for personal or professional services such as accounting, insurance, legal and medical services, as well as services such as haircuts and car repairs, are not taxable. Looks like you are owed a refund.

Q. I recently took my car to a local auto service for an oil change and the shop made service recommendations that I now fear I did not need. I own a 2005 Acura TSX with about 78,000 miles on it. Their recommendation was to have the power steering fluid and the brake fluid changed, as they said the fluids looked dirty. I agreed, but when the invoice came at $227, I started thinking that maybe they just needed to make a sale. Was their recommendation necessary?

A. There is no specific recommendation from Acura to replace the brake or power steering fluid as routine service during the life of the car (although interestingly, Honda does for some models). If the fluid is dirty or contaminated it certainly makes sense to change it but it may not have been necessary. On another note, some Acura TSX models had a recall in the power steering hose. You should check with the dealer to see if your car is involved in this recall.

Q. I was told by a local Toyota dealer that a law prohibits a floor mat to be on top of a mat on the driver's side. They removed the floor mat and I had to put it back. Do you know of any such law? 

A. There is no such law. Now with that said, one of the reasons that some Toyota products may have had unintended acceleration issues was with the floor mat getting stuck on top of the gas pedal. You might want to make sure that the floor mats are properly secured.

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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