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Buying a car with a salvage title can spell trouble

Posted by John Paul  October 11, 2011 01:54 PM

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Q. I purchased a Nissan 350Z and when I received the title I noticed it was a salvage title. I would have never purchased this car if I knew it was a totaled/stolen car. My problem is the check engine light keeps coming on. I have had the EGR valve cleaned and then replaced and the engine de-carbonized twice, but the light still comes on. Now the mechanic decided the computer is a problem, giving false information and turning the light on. He feels that eventually the light will go off since all the problems are repaired. The car runs okay; can you give me additional advice?

A. If your car was branded with a salvage title because of flood damage you may be chasing this check engine light forever. Any wire that has any amount of corrosion and causing a poor connection could be causing the check engine light to come on. I am a little concerned by your mechanic's response that the computer will eventually straighten itself out. At this point I would consider a second opinion with a technician that has the tools and knowledge to properly diagnose and repair your car.

Q. Two years ago I purchased a 2008 leftover new Toyota Tundra truck. It is an extra cab with the six-foot bed and four-wheel-drive. Recently I got a flat tire so I put on the spare. To my surprise the spare is a Bridgestone tire and other four tires on the truck are Michelin. I called the dealer to ask him if this was normal and he said he checked the other trucks and they all have a spare tire that is Bridgestone. Can you tell me if this is normal? Also can you check with the manufacturer to see if this is common practice for a new truck?

A. I have seen this in the past and heard about it from other readers. This is most common, especially if the "full size" spare is an option. Since most vehicle manufacturers use more than one tire supplier it is not surprising that the spare tire could be a different brand. It is also not unusual to see four alloy wheels and a steel wheel for a spare. But just to be sure, I checked with Wade Hoyt, the public relations manager for Toyota. Wade checked with his truck guru and in his words "this is common industry practice."

Q. Most owner's manuals recommend frequent checks of the engine's oil level, yet don't state whether this should be done with a warm or cold engine. I check the oil in my car when the engine is cold in the morning and the oil is always over the full mark. Does this mean that the oil is overfilled or does the engine oil level change when the engine is warm? P.S. Thanks for the interesting and helpful information.

A. Thanks for the kind words. The engine oil in your car should be checked as recommended by the vehicle's owner's manual. In my car for example, the manufacturer recommends warming up the engine, shutting it off and allowing it to cool for 3-4 minutes, then checking the oil. In most cars this is the typical procedure. The bottom line: Check the oil often. Driving without sufficient oil will surely result in engine damage.

Q. For the past six months the battery in my 2009 Acura MDX dies for no apparent reason (never in my driveway, but always after I have driven somewhere and want to go home). One time the battery died at the gas station. I turned my car off to get gas and then it would not start again! I have had it back to the dealer and they say everything is fine. This is very frustrating, help!

A. I am not aware of any particular starting problem with this model or its twin, the Honda Pilot. At this point I would start with the basics by testing the battery, all of the associated wiring, the ignition system, and any anti-theft devices.

Q. I have a 2005 9-3 Saab (purchased new). In the winter of 2007, I had the front and rear brake pads replaced because the brakes squealed as loud as a downtown bus during the cold weather. Despite replacement of the brakes, they are squealing again. Do I again need all brakes replaced? Is this a common problem with the 2005 Saabs? I had a 1998 Saab 900 prior to this car and never experienced such a problem with the brakes. What should I do?

A. Brake noise is generally caused by the brake pads moving or vibrating very slightly. The brake pads and their associated hardware should be inspected. The second issue is that in the last 15 years or so brake manufacturers have completely moved away from asbestos brake pads. Asbestos worked well as a brake component but has serious health implications. Since this switch to a safer material brake noise has become more of a problem. In the last couple of years several aftermarket brake manufacturers have been advertising quieter pads. Perhaps one of these aftermarket pads may solve your noisy problem.

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