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Car Doctor: Right to Repair law won't increase thefts

Posted by John Paul  June 21, 2011 12:18 PM

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Q. In Massachusetts, I have heard many commercials on the radio about “Right to Repair” legislation. I have heard some shops say it is needed, others say it isn’t necessary, and one commercial that said this information would increase car theft. What is your take on this?

A. AAA supports the Right to Repair legislation both locally and nationally. It is our opinion that this legislation will continue to provide consumers with a choice of where to get their car repaired. In addition to protecting the vehicle manufacturers, the legislation prohibits the release of trade secrets. As for increasing the possibility of car theft, let’s face it. If someone wants your car badly enough, they will pick it up and tow it away. Finally, it’s your car. Shouldn’t you have the right to choose who can repair it?

Q. We are the original owners of a 1998 Jetta Wolfsburg edition with 86,000 miles on it. The car has always been maintained by the dealership. Recently, and especially in wet weather, it has been stalling out unexpectedly.  It was evaluated by the dealer and an independent auto shop and it was determined that the distributor showed "burn" marks, the spark plug wire harness is partially corroded,  the plugs need to be replaced, and a tune-up is in order. 

The work would not be guaranteed -- it may not help in the long run. The quotes for this work are $600 to $700 by the dealer and $300 to $400 by the independent shop. Should I buy a new car, or take a chance and fix it? I always look forward to your Boston Globe column every issue!

A. It is difficult to make a decision on a 13-year-old car, but considering the low mileage and reasonable cost of repair, I would fix it. Prior to any major repair, it is always a good idea to have an overall evaluation of the car performed. In this way you can make an informed decision on these and any potential future repairs. It is always cheaper to fix an old car than to buy a new one, but there are times when the car may be just worn out or you want to upgrade to the latest safety and convenience features.

Q. I own a 1999 Chevy Blazer with 103,000 miles on it. It is a four-wheel-drive with a six-cylinder engine and runs fine except in wet weather. Parked indoors or outdoors, it has a hard time starting and floods quickly. It seems that if I start it every day during this weather, it works, but if I let it sit for a day or two it won't start.

I have a good mechanic who is puzzled by this and states that unless I go through an expensive, thorough electrical review, with no guarantees at the start, he is lost for answers. I have let this vehicle sit for two weeks and then it magically starts and runs without incident for an extended period of time. Ever heard of this type of problem before?

A. The first area I would check is the ignition coil. As the coil starts to fail it will lose its ability to produce a “hot” spark. This weak spark will also cause the spark plugs to foul and cause a flooding symptom.

Q. I have a 2000 Lincoln Town Car with about 33,000 miles on it. Most of those miles, probably 31,000, were put on before the end of 2007. Up until then, the onboard computer usually indicated I was getting about 19.7 mpg, which correlated well with my mathematical calculations. For the past several years, during which my wife rarely drove the car, the average use was less than 800 miles per year.

Several months ago, while I was driving the car, I noticed the fuel efficiency had dropped to 14.6 mpg. One service station said the loss was probably due to low tire pressure. The pressure was a little low but after restoring proper tire pressure, the efficiency did not improve. The Lincoln dealer service manager said it was probably the fuel filter. I had a new filter put and that did not improve the efficiency. By the way, the car passed Massachusetts inspection in January 2011. Any thoughts?

A. Considering the age of the car, a maintenance tune-up is probably in order. This may not help with the overall fuel economy but considering the car is 11 years old and has 33,000 miles on it, it can’t hurt. That said, around town with such short trips I wouldn’t be expecting more than 15 miles per gallon. According to the EPA, the average combined city/highway mileage when this car was new was 18 miles per gallon.

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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