When price is equal, buy the car you enjoy driving

Plus: Tips on brake fluid and synthetic oil

By John Paul
July 23, 2010

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Q. I read your advice each week and thanks for all the information you've posted in the past, helping other readers. Now it’s my turn. I am currently in the market for a new car. I was leaning toward a 2010 Honda Accord V-6 coupe if I could get it for around $25,000, but after doing some research it seems dealers will only go down to about $28,000 for it.

Since then, I've come across a 2007 BMW 335i with 37,000 miles on it. It is at a BMW dealer and is being sold as pre-owned certified vehicle for about the same price as the Honda. Is a pre-owned certified BMW an equal or better option over a Honda Accord?

A. Since the BMW is a certified pre-owned (CPO) car, in my mind it makes all the difference. CPO BMWs are typically the cream of the crop that have been completely checked out by certified BMW technicians and have additional warranty coverage to six years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first).

The Honda Accord is a great car. The last coupe that I drove handled well, had plenty of power, and returned good mileage. As good as the Honda is, if you are a driving enthusiast, the BMW 335i is a great car to drive. Of course the Honda is front-wheel-drive and the BMW is rear-wheel-drive and in general the Honda will be better in wintery conditions. The BMW looks like a good value and over time will actually depreciate less than the new Accord. Then again, there is something comforting about buying a new car, especially one that is made by arguably the best manufacturer in world. When it comes right down to it, I recommend you buy the car you will enjoy driving. 

Q. While wintering in Florida I went into a few well-known tire shops that seemed to be pushing brake fluid replacement with their brake jobs. I have been driving for 60 years and never have run into this. My second question is concerning my 2002 Town Car. Can I change to synthetic oil after driving 50,000 miles on regular oil? I enjoy your column in the Globe on Sundays and online when I’m in Florida.

A. Years ago, the only time brake fluid was replaced was when a hydraulic component was replaced. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it seeks moisture. This moisture can cause rust, which is very detrimental to today’s anti-lock brake systems. Replacing the brake fluid when performing a brake repair could limit problems in the future. In fact, some vehicles have a specific recommendation to replace the brake fluid. Regarding switching to synthetic oil, this is not a problem. Years ago, people would warn against this by saying it would cause the engine to leak oil. This is not true, although synthetic oil will find a leak, if one does exist.

Q. I have a 2005 Nissan Frontier and the transmission fluid is foamy and burned. I have not added any fluid. Should I change the fluid and if so, what kind should I use?

A. Transmission fluid tends to foam if the transmission is overfilled. At this point I would change the fluid using only Nissan J-Matic fluid. Nissan warns against using any fluid other than genuine Nissan automatic transmission fluid.

Q. We own a 1992 Saturn 4-door sedan that seems to shudder and slip lately when I accelerate. It acts like the gas is shutting off, but it only does this under hard acceleration.  What do you think it could be?

A. There are many problems that match your description. It could be the transmission slipping, an ignition misfire, faulty sensor, or something else. At this point I would bring the car to a qualified technician for a road test and diagnosis.

Q. I own a 2001 Dodge Ram 1500 truck. The "check engine" light comes on and then off and it is now back on. I had a test that showed a code of PO138 which indicates a problem with the oxygen sensor. I contacted the mechanic that services my vehicle and was told a new oxygen sensor may not correct the problem and it could be a computer issue. What do you think?

A. Computer fault codes can sometimes be misleading, even to the best technician. There is a specific troubleshooting procedure that needs to be followed for correct diagnosis and repair. The wiring, connections, and the sensor itself need to be checked before the computer should be considered. I have seen many cases that the heater circuit in the oxygen sensor fails. In these cases replacing the sensor solves the problem.

John Paul is the public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. He can be reached at or on Twitter @johnfpaul.