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Ask the AAA Car Doctor: Dealership service and more

Picture of Chris Teague

Chris Teague


John Paul is the AAA Car Doctor and president of the New England Motor Press Association. He’s here to answer your questions, so drop him a line to find out more about your car.

Q. I have always taken my cars to the auto dealer because I have always felt that OEM parts are the best to use. However, I am never comfortable going to the dealership because I do not necessarily trust them as I never know who is working on my car and their skill levels, experience, etc. I also feel that many dealerships like to upsell services that you do not need to make money. I also miss having that personal relationship with a facility and the person who works on your car. I have a couple of questions do independent shops install OEM parts on request? If not, are the parts they use just as good if not better than OEM parts? The only reason I go to the dealer is for the OEM parts. Perhaps this reason alone does not justify going to the dealership for service. I just do not want to degrade the quality and performance of my vehicles by having parts installed that are less superior than what was installed when it was manufactured. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Dealers do great repair work, but so do independent repair shops. Regarding parts, no independent repair shop wants to install inferior parts and will usually use the parts that have the highest success rate. Keep in mind that many original equipment parts and aftermarket parts are made by the same manufacturer. Many independent repair shops will use original equipment parts on request. Highly experienced repair shops will know when to use OE parts, catalytic converters are a good example. If you are unsure of using an independent shop, talk to friends, go to the AAA website at, or try a less complicated job such as an oil change to gauge your experience.


Q. I have a 2012 GMC Acadia with 53,000 miles. Last year when we went to start the car, it shook, the Stabilitrak/traction control alerts were flashing as well as the check engine light. It blew out smoke and smelled like gas. We took it to the mechanic; it was fine, and they couldn’t find a problem. The same thing has now happened three times starting a month ago. I had a friend check the code, and it says misfire. As predicted, we brought it to the mechanic, and by then, there were no codes. My mechanic is hoping the code is for a specific cylinder and not a “generalized” misfire code this time. Any suggestions if it isn’t a specific cylinder misfire code?

A. Over time, we have seen combustion chamber deposits causing random misfire codes. Carbon builds up in the engine and causes the valves to not close fully. At this point, if you don’t get a specific code, perhaps have your shop try a combustion chamber cleaning. The other option is to try a combination of TopTier gasoline and a cleaner such as Techron or Seafoam.

Q. I have a 2008 Toyota Highlander. When do I need to change the antifreeze in my car’s radiator? Someone told me that it’s not necessary to flush the radiator and change the antifreeze. That doesn’t sound right to me, please advise.

A. Toyota doesn’t have a specific recommendation except for checking the antifreeze level every 30,000 miles. On the severe maintenance schedule, Toyota recommends coolant change at 100,000 miles. For many drivers that would be every seven years. Over time the antifreeze can lose its ability to protect the engine against corrosion and loses its ability to lubricate the water pump. If this was my car and the coolant had never been replaced, I would replace it.


Q. I have a car that is eight years old but is not needed anymore. Rather than sell it, I would like to donate it. The problem is I’m not sure what is a charity and what isn’t, can you help clarify this, so I make the right decision?

A. Many of the country’s major charities accept car donations, including Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, Make-A-Wish, the Salvation Army, and the Ronald McDonald House, to name a few. Another good source is This organization verifies the charity and can help you through the donation process, including the paperwork. One other possible avenue for donations is museums (they sell cars to support the museums and also technical high schools and colleges. The Voc-tech schools that I am involved with are always looking for vehicles for teaching purposes.
Q. I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spider, and it needs a new shifter cable. The repair shop can’t locate one anywhere. What should I do? I don’t want to get rid of the car.

A. The repair shop might be trying the Mitsubishi dealer or local parts store. Perhaps online parts sites or even online salvage yard listings, including Ebaymotors, may offer some success. The other option, which is more time-consuming is removing the cable and having a new cable fabricated. In my time at AAA, I have found that with enough time, talent, and budget, just about anything can be repaired.

Got a car question? Email the AAA Car Doctor for a personal response.

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