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E85 gasoline price looks tempting, is it okay for my car?

Posted by John Paul  March 27, 2012 08:34 AM

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Q. I just purchased a 2011 Chevy HHR that is a flex fuel car. The E85 gasoline looks tempting since it is 30 cents lower than regular gasoline. What are the positives and negatives of this (E15 and E 85) fuel?

A. Fuel sold in the Northeast is available as 10 percent ethanol (E10) and, in limited locations, 85 percent ethanol (E85). Currently, gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol is under study. The E85 gasoline will work perfectly fine in cars like yours that were designed for it. The only downside is that you will see a drop in fuel economy. In my limited experience with a Flex Fuel vehicle, I saw about a 15 percent drop in overall fuel economy. Motorists should never use E85 in a vehicle not designed for it, as tempting as the price might be.

Q. The manufacturer’s warranty is up in my car soon. The dealer is recommending an extended warranty by the manufacturer or a less expensive scenario from a company that the dealer also uses. Any advice on the purchase of these types of warranties? My wife drives this car 6000 miles a year. There are currently no issues. My feeling is not to get the warranty based on the cost.

A. If you are going to purchase a warranty, I would suggest a warranty with the vehicle manufacturer or a company you can trust to be in business for the life of the car. I have seen one too many occasions that people buy warranties only to find the company goes out of business. In the near future, AAA will be selling a new extended service contract that, in my opinion, is one of the best I have seen.

Q. I am going crazy trying to determine the best financial time to trade in my 2008 Toyota Highland Limited with 78,500 miles. I drive a little over 2,000 miles per month, averaging about 25,000 miles a year. Many dealers have told me my value will be greatly decreased if over 100,000 miles. I have looked on the web and it appears as if my vehicle still has a decent value. I’m trying to decide if I would be severely hurt if I wait till the 2013’s come out. I am interested in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited or the new 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. Any thoughts?

A. Once a vehicle reaches 100,000 miles, most new car dealers will send it off to a wholesale auction. Auction “cash values” can be significantly lower than website trade-in values. Dealers will typically check the auction website to determine average values on higher mileage vehicles. Keeping the car one more year may hurt the trade-in value (depending on market values at the time). What you may gain is one more year with a historically dependable vehicle and no car payments. Regarding the Grand Cherokee versus the upcoming Pathfinder, the Jeep has been well documented as a solid vehicle. The Pathfinder has no history other than its Infiniti sibling, which so far looks okay. My vote would go to the Jeep based on my most recent experience.

Q. Do you have you any experience with performance enhancing computer chips? I have seen claims of more engine power, although in my case I’m interested in improved mileage. Do they work?

A. My feeling is the factory electronics carefully blend fuel economy, performance and emissions. When adding a new computer chip, you typically optimize one area and compromise others. Additionally, some of these add-on chips can void a manufactures warranty.
Unless you are racing, I would leave the electronics in their stock configuration.

Q. In the past, the rule for oil changes was every three months or three thousand miles, whichever came first. Now I have read that with improved synthetic motor oils and better oil filters, as well as major technical advances in engines, that the 3,000 miles is out of date and much longer intervals are the norm. But I have seen no mention about the time interval. I have a Ford F150 truck that I use less and less as gas is costing more and more. I am 78 and retired now, so I do not have to rely on it to get to work. My wife is also retired so we use the family sedan as much as possible which gets better mileage. I also use a motor scooter for short errands, which gets 80 miles per gallon. Consequently, I do not even put 3000 miles on the truck in a year. I am old fashioned and continue to change oil at 3000 miles. Should I be changing the oil based on time or mileage?

A. You are certainly making the most out of a gallon of gas. More people should try to utilize the most efficient form of transportation they own as you do. The average oil change recommendation I see on newer cars is around five months or 5,000 miles, some more, some less. Considering the type of driving you do, my suggestion would be to change the oil on your truck twice a year to eliminate any possibility of oil contamination.

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