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Ask the AAA Car Doctor: Your questions answered by a pro

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John Paul

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Even if you think of yourself as a competent gearhead, there will likely come a time when you’re stumped by something under your hood. John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor, and he’s now part of the Your Test Driver family. You can find his column here each week, and he’s happy to answer your car questions. No problem is too big or too small, so reach out to the Car Doctor with your questions.

Here are this week’s questions.

Q.        I was thinking of buying a small jump pack to jump dead batteries. I don’t understand how something so small can jump a car. Do these little jump-packs really work? If they do work, is there a brand you recommend? 

A.        I have tested several and found they worked as advertised. One area that all lithium-ion batteries can suffer is recharging in extreme cold which is why at AAA we still use a more conventional style larger jump-pack. In case of emergencies, I keep a jump-pack in each of our family cars as well as a portable air compressor, some basic tools and flashlight. I have had good luck with NOCO brand and a combination jump-pack, emergency light from WORX. 

Q.        I would like your opinion, I am thinking about buying a Kia Sportage. Right now, I have a 2019 Toyota Camry with only 9000 miles, I would imagine I should get a good deal on a trade in. I am 78 years old, and I am having a hard time getting in and out of this car. I think it would be easier for me, to get in and out, of the Sportage what is your opinion on this?

A.        Compact SUVs are a great choice. They allow for much easier entry and exit due to the overall ride height. In addition, because you are sitting up a bit higher than your sedan, you will get a better view of the road. Regarding the Sportage by Kia, it is a solid choice in this category of vehicles. I also might be tempted to look at the Toyota RAV4 not because it is a better vehicle, but you may do better trading in your Camry at a Toyota dealer. 

Q.        I own a 2013 Hyundai Sonata with approximately 50,000 miles. When going over a bump it sounded like there was something seriously wrong. I replaced the two gas struts and one stabilizer link which fixed the serious problem. Still, something is wrong. It still sounds like the bottom half of the car is just hitting the bump all at once, instead of independently the side of the car the bump is located on. What do you think is the cause?

A.        I would start by measuring the ride height of the vehicle, over the past nine years the car may be sagging. The other possibility is one or both front springs are broken. Quite common in the model are the front springs crack. Hyundai extended the warranty on the springs to 10 years to 100,000 miles from the standard five-year 60,000-mile warranty. 

Q.        My husband has been leasing his cars for many years, but this is the first time he has this issue. Due to the pandemic, he has only about 8,500 miles on his car. His lease expires in January 2023. He likes his car, it is a 2020 Lexus RX 350 F Sport. His buyback is $39,969, should he buy it or enter into a new lease? 

A.        The buyback price is currently about $10,000 less than typical retail price. Based on this number, the low mileage and the fact he loves the car, it is a good argument to buy it. Now keep in mind with a few years of age you may need to do a little maintenance, such as a battery and even tires. 

Q.        I recently purchased a used Jeep, and it has a AAA battery in it. How do I check the water level and how do I fill it?

A.        Today’s batteries are usually sealed or if they have removable caps are considered low maintenance batteries. In the case of the AAA battery in your Jeep, if the charging system is operating properly, there is no need to check or add water. 

Q.        I have a 2017 Nissan Murano that suddenly started smoking at start up. It was fine one day and the next smoked big time. Not just a little like you see with bad valve seals but a cloud. The dealer said there is sludge in engine and wanted to replace it with a used engine at a cost of $8000. I may have missed an oil change or so but all they did was unscrew oil fill cap and looked in the engine. I changed the oil twice and found PCV valve clogged and changed it, what do you think? 

A.        If there was that much sludge and the PCV system was clogged it sounds like you may have missed more than a couple of oil changes. I suspect the engine has stuck oil-control-rings, clogged oil returns as well as the clogged PCV system. Although I have never personally a used this product, I have heard good results from a pour in chemical, from a company called You add it to the oil, run the engine at 1500-1800 RPM for 15 minutes and change the oil again. I would also check the PCV valve again as well as the engine oil returns. If this doesn’t work, a replacement engine may be the only answer. 

Q.        Is there a list of best cars for short drivers? I have to try various gadgets to keep the seat belt off my neck. I’m about 5′ 3″ tall and it is time for a new car. 

A.        First, I don’t care for aftermarkets accessories that attach to the seat belt. Although they might make the seat belt more comfortable, they could interfere with the belt’s operation in a crash. You had a question about the best cars for short statured drivers. I road test many cars and my wife who is shorter than me will try out some of the cars for fit. I have found the Subaru Outback, Kia Soul and Honda CR-V have enough adjustments in the seat and the shoulder harness height adjustment to find a comfortable seating position. For a little more upscale car the Volvo XC-40 is pretty good. The other thing you might try is go to a big used car lot like Car Max where they have just about every late model vehicle and just try them out to find one that fits.  

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Q.        I recently changed out the battery in my 2017 Infiniti Q50 and now the driver’s side air conditioning sometimes blows hot. Everything was fine prior, and I don’t believe it the blend actuator. I have disconnected the negative cable for 10 minutes to get the HVAC module to re-learn in hope that’s it and it works for a while then goes back to hot. Am I missing something?

A.        Now it could be a coincidence and the air conditioner system is just struggling with the very hot weather. The system could be a little low on refrigerant and the left side of the evaporator is not as cold as the right side. If the A/C charge is correct and it is the climate control, you could try resetting the system. Try disconnecting both positive and negative cables and using a jumper wire connect the two cables together for a few minutes. This will discharge the capacitors that retain the car’s memory features. This will essentially reboot the computer. After performing this “battery magic” you will need to perform a relearn procedure on the power windows, reset radio presets, seat memory etc. If you are not comfortable doing this reset, leave it to a professional. 

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

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