Q. I have a 1999 Saturn SL2 twin cam with 122,000 miles on it. It has been losing antifreeze. I replaced the water pump, which was shot. However my low coolant light still comes on every 1,000 miles or so. It has been doing this since the car had about 80,000 miles on it. The coolant level sensor isn't faulty; the coolant level is actually dropping. I have gotten used to topping off the reservoir every weekend when I check the oil. The mechanic who services the car says there is no mixing of oil and coolant, that both are perfectly clean. He can't find any leaks and the heater-evaporator box is bone dry when the A/C is off. Recently, when tested, the cooling system pressure dropped off slightly after about 2 hours. Where is my coolant going?
A. Some Saturn models will develop a crack in the cylinder head that will cause a coolant leak. The crack generally develops near the number four camshaft journal. It is very difficult to see but is the most likely cause of the coolant loss.
Q. I am looking into purchasing a new vehicle for my family. My wife and I have three children, five and under. I was looking at the Dodge Journey. I am somewhat skeptical about purchasing a first year edition of a vehicle. I am curious as to your thoughts about first year edition vehicles, or anything you may have come across regarding the Journey.
A. The Dodge Journey is the "Swiss-Army knife" of cross-over vehicles. It has plenty of bins, great in-floor storage and very flexible seating. My first impression was very positive. Years ago I would have had more issues with first year vehicles. It was more common to see manufacturers make running changes during the first production year. Now most new vehicles are pretty well sorted out. If you are still looking, the Hyundai Santa-Fe is quite nice and seats seven, and the Mazda 5 is economical and practical.
Q. I have a 2002 Olds Alero, and since November 2007 the security light comes on intermittently while I am driving. Within a few days of the light coming on, the security system shuts down the car: the engine doesn't start, the security light is blinking, the accessories work. The shutdown is happening twice a week now, at the worst times and usually when it is wet outside. While it was still under warranty, about two years ago, I had called the warranty company to have the car jump-started. The operator gave me a tip about resetting the blinking security light. He said to leave the key in the "ACC" position for 15 minutes, and that would reset the security system. Does resetting the system myself harm the system?
A. Performing the security reset isn't doing any harm, but isn't solving the problem. The most common problem is with the ignition switch/lock. There is a specific procedure to test this system and the individual components
Q. I have a 1994 Lincoln Continental which has the oil gauge flashing intermittently when the engine is hot. The oil has been changed and it is full. Also, the transmission shifts hard, but only when the engine is hot. Can you please tell what this could be?
A. The oil light flashing could be caused by something as simple as a faulty oil sensor. In most cases, a technician will remove the original oil sensor, and install a mechanical oil pressure gauge. The mechanical gauge will verify if the problem is with the sending unit or something else. Other possibilities include a tired oil pump, or, in the worst case, a worn bearing in the engine. The transmission problem could be the result of a worn clutch or servo in the transmission. In this case, I would look at the engine problem first, and then decide based on the diagnosis how far you want to go with the transmission.
Q. I am thinking on buying a Chevy HHR Panel. What can you tell me about them? Now that I am on a fixed income, I am looking for better gas mileage than the Dodge 1500 that I drive now.
A. The HHR Panel is interesting since it draws its inspiration from the original 1949 Chevy Suburban. I have not driven the Panel version but the conventional HHR was a pretty good vehicle with a decent ride and fuel economy. The HHR Panel has steel inserts in place of its windows. I would suggest a good long road test to make sure the blind spots from the lack of windows don't bother you.