•Q. I’m an old geezer with fond memories of when you could pull into a gas station and tell the kid to fill it up and check the tires, oil (the kid holding up the dipstick so you could see it: “Sir, you’re a quart low”) and water. In fact, at one time, I was that kid. Those days are long gone, but that leaves me with a problem. I’m a bit arthritic, and it is difficult for me to bend over and contort myself to check the air pressure in my tires, and much more so to wrestle that air hose that really wants to contract back into its hole. I suppose I could check the oil and water myself, but I’d really rather not. I’d be willing to pay for this extra service, but I can’t find anywhere that offers it in my neighborhood, maybe not even in my city. I wouldn’t want to pay a lot — it shouldn’t take someone who’s more nimble than I more than five minutes. I suppose I could take my car to my mechanic’s shop, but it seems kind of lame to ask him to check the, you know, air, water and oil. Of course, I am kind of lame! Any suggestions?•
TOM: You’re right, that these sorts of services are rarely provided anymore. What you may not know is that they’re hardly necessary anymore, either.
RAY: In the old days, everything leaked: crankcases, radiators, tires. But cars are much better now, and are much more maintenance-free (on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis) than they’ve ever been.
TOM: And when you do have a leak, there’s often an idiot light now to let you know about it. We had an extra set of idiot lights installed in my brother’s car just to give the lights a fighting chance against him.
RAY: Nowadays, if you lose tire pressure, all new cars have tire-pressure-monitoring systems that will alert you on the dashboard.
TOM: Most new cars have coolant-level indicators now to tell you if you’ve lost coolant. That gives you a heads-up that you’re a little low before the idiot light comes on to warn you that your engine is about to melt.
RAY: For oil, more and more cars have oil-level lights, in addition to the old oil-pressure lights. And car batteries are all sealed now and maintenance-free.
TOM: So, you just don’t need to check those things with every fill-up, like you did in years past. And if you have a well-maintained, modern car with tire-pressure monitoring, you easily can go three to six months between checking that stuff.
RAY: If you have an older car, a high-mileage car or a car with a known problem, obviously, you’ll have to check things more often.
TOM: But whenever it IS time, it’s absolutely fine to go to a repair shop and ask them to look at the fluids and tire pressure for you. We have older customers who come in and ask us to do that all the time. We do it for free, as a courtesy, and then we add a hundred bucks to their next repair bill.
RAY: Not true! Usually, the customer will tip the guy who checks everything five or 10 bucks. That makes everybody happy.
TOM: You also can search online (or beg a grandchild to do it for you) for “full-service gas stations” in your area. There aren’t a lot of them left, these days, but there seem to be at least a few in every city. If you find one of those nearby, take your business there.
RAY: You’ll pay for those services there, too, but it’ll be in the form of a few extra cents a gallon. And you’ll even get your windshield cleaned. Wouldn’t that be a treat?
•Q. I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer with about 90,000 miles. Several months back, I was driving home on a rainy night and splashed through a deep puddle. Immediately, a loud whining noise came from the car, which grew louder when I pushed on the gas. A minute later, it stopped. Then about a week later, on another rainy day, it happened again. It happens for only about a minute, then stops. It now happens even when it’s not raining, when I just step on the gas for more power. The whining is very loud and scary, and it makes me think the car is going to explode. My husband thinks it’s nothing and that I should continue to ignore it; however, I am pregnant and don’t want to head into motherhood worrying about my safety and the safety of my baby. Please help!•
RAY: It sounds to me like a slipping belt. I’m guessing your splash guard fell off, and that allowed water to splash up and temporarily lubricate your belt. Belts aren’t supposed to be lubricated; they’re supposed to be sticky. When a belt slips and slides on its pulleys, it makes that shrieking/whining noise.
TOM: And all that slipping wore out your belt even more, so now it slips even when it’s not wet.
RAY: It makes noise when you step on the gas, which is a classic symptom of a loose or worn-out belt. Eventually, the belt will get so bad that it’ll squeal all the time. Then one day it’ll break and fall off, and you’ll lose your power steering and alternator, among other things.
TOM: But the noise will be gone!
RAY: True. But my advice would be, before that happens, to take it into a shop and tell them you have what you think is a belt noise, and ask them to check it out. You want to get this fixed. Trust me on this — there will be more than enough squealing and whining in your future. You need to enjoy and savor all the peace and quiet you can get in the next few months!
Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
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