John Paul is AAA’s Car Doctor, helping drivers understand their vehicles and feel more comfortable making fixes themselves for years. Send him an email with your car questions for an answer today.
Q. I have a 2011 Mazda 6 that just hit 90,000 miles, and it still has the original timing belt; however, I’m getting nervous that it will “go” when I’m driving to visit my daughter, who is 150 miles away. Is there anything a mechanic can see that can give me insight into its condition? I’d rather be safe than anxious and nervous that my car will break down.
A. You don’t have anything to worry about; your car, like many cars today, uses a timing chain. As long as the vehicle is properly maintained, the timing chain should last the life of the car. Typically, engines with timing belts need to have those belts replaced between 60,000 and 105,000 miles depending on the manufacturer. Readers, if you are curious if your car has a timing belt or timing chain, send me an email with the year, make, and model, as well as engine size, and I’ll send you an answer.
Q. I have read how important it is to keep tires properly inflated. My car has a placard on the driver’s door frame and one on the fuel filler door. The problem is that they list very different pressures. Which are accurate?
A. I always follow the recommendation on the driver’s door placard. The only time I would vary this is if you tow a trailer or have the vehicle filled with people and cargo. Even then, never exceed the maximum pressure on the tire’s sidewall.
Q. I own and still finance a 2018 Toyota Yaris iA. The car now has 80,685 miles on it. What maintenance should be performed that will not make a hole in my pocket?
A. Preventative maintenance is the key to keeping repair costs down. Change the oil regularly, and check and change the engine coolant (if it looks good, replace it at 100,000 miles). From this point, routine checkups are important. Check belts, hoses, tires, brakes, steering, and suspension. Once a year, give the car a good overall checkup. Use the owner’s manual as a guide and vary the maintenance based on your driving. If you drive a lot-heavy use (like Uber or Door Dash), change the oil and check the fluids more often.
Q. I’m considering buying a truck from a small used car dealership several states away and towing my camper, so important to be safe. How can I find a mechanic that’s certified? I’m not just concerned about the general condition of the truck but that the trailer hitch was installed correctly and can tow my camping trailer. Does AAA have mechanics that I can book for this?
A. Most good repair shops can perform a used car inspection. This should include an inspection of all normal wear items, such as brakes, steering, suspension, belts, hoses, fluids, cooling, and climate control systems, and a thorough road test to evaluate the drivetrain performance. You can find AAA Approved Auto Repair shops at aaa.com/repair. If the selling dealer does not want to let you take the vehicle to a third-party shop for inspection, personally, I would not buy the car. Once you find a shop, talk with them about your trailer and the trailer hitch, as well as hitch wiring and trailer brakes.
Q. My son-in-law just purchased a 2021 Dodge Ram. We are confused why it comes standard with a generator instead of an alternator. Would you know why it comes with a generator and what the advantages are instead of an alternator?
A. Alternators produce alternating current, and old-fashioned generators produced direct current. Generators are not very efficient at keeping the battery charged when idling, whereas an alternator will (mostly) charge a battery at idle. I think, in this case, it is just terminology. The 2021 RAM truck, even the mild hybrid model, uses an alternator.
Q. I was wondering if you have ever had any dealings with an auto transport company in the past. Truth be told, I don’t need one at this time. However, I know someone in Florida who mentioned that if I ever came across a good deal on a good used car, he might consider having it shipped to Florida.
A. Intercity transport is one company that I see shipping collector cars all around the country in closed carriers and could be an option. A few years ago, I shipped a car from Massachusetts to Florida, and after much research, I ended up with Virginia Transport. They picked up the car near my home and dropped it off at a local Walmart. I also liked the idea that there were no add-on prices and you paid after the car was delivered.