Car Talk: Dashboard clock that gains time could be faulty timepiece or sign of instrument-cluster breakdown
ē Q. My car time-travels into the future. I have a 2004 Volvo XC70 station wagon (I know itís dowdy, but itís better than a minivan, right?) that for some reason does not keep proper time. I can set the clock to the correct time, and within days it will be running fast. Within two months, the clock is fast by 20 minutes. I can understand losing time because of a weak battery or something, but advancing in time? Any thoughts?
OK, let me clarify that: Any thoughts pertaining to my question? ē
TOM: We actually do have a few of those.
RAY: If youíre the kind of person who is chronically late, you may have a spouse who is surreptitiously nudging your clock ahead in an attempt to get you to be on time.
TOM: Several of my ex-wives used to try that on me.
RAY: Oh, I donít think they wanted you to be on time. They were just trying to make the day of the divorce settlement come sooner!
TOM: Most likely, the clock itself is faulty. And, unfortunately, the clock in this car is part of the instrument cluster.
RAY: And when you find out that in order to replace this clock, you have to replace the whole instrument cluster for $1,000, youíll embrace the time-honored solution for malfunctioning automotive clocks.
TOM: Youíll go to the hardware store, and for four bucks, youíll buy yourself one of those stick-on digital clocks. Youíll peel off the backing and slap it right onto the instrument panel, over where your current clock sits.
RAY: Now, itís possible that your entire instrument cluster is beginning to fail. If something crucial in the cluster stops functioning -- like the speedometer -- you may be forced to replace the whole thing at that point.
TOM: Or, if youíre lucky, your regular mechanic will know one of the places that fixes these panels for a few hundred bucks, and heíll be able to send it out for you.
RAY: But I wouldnít bother just for the clock. Even if youíre a Volvo owner and youíre used to leaving the dealership with angina after seeing the estimate, thatís a lot for a clock. Especially given the age of the car and the price of the alternative. Good luck.
ē Q. I love your show. I recently got a 2001 Audi A8L that now has 130,000 miles on it. The only other owner was my dad, and he took extremely great care of the car. Recently, the check-engine light has been coming on, saying that my catalytic converterís efficiency is too low. My mechanic tested it and said the level is just barely above what I need for the car to pass its emissions inspection. He said to wait as long as I can to replace it, but that some people choose to get rid of their cars at this point because the repair is $5,200, and the blue-book value of the car is only $6,000. So, what should I do? Keep the car and pay $5,200 to replace the converters when the time comes, or sell it now, while it is still passing its emissions tests? ē
TOM: You have to relocate to somewhere with no emissions testing. Have you considered the Democratic Republic of Congo?
RAY: A lot of people donít realize that when you buy a high-end car, itís not only the purchase price thatís high -- the parts and service are ďpremium priced,Ē too.
TOM: But the price you got sounds a little high even for Audi. This car uses two catalytic converters. According to our sources, the converters themselves cost about $1,900 if you buy them from Audi. Then you probably should replace all four oxygen sensors, at about $200 a pop. And then add labor. Still, I donít see how they can charge you more than about $3,500 for this job. So I think the estimate you got is high.
RAY: Not that $3,500 is cheap! But if someone offered you this car, right now, with new catalytic converters, for $3,500, youíd probably buy it, right? After all, whatís your alternative? You could sell it for $6,000 and get what? A 2004 Dodge Caravan?
TOM: Or, if the buyer finds out why your check-engine light is on, youíll sell it for $2,500 and get a í94 Caravan!
RAY: You also can research aftermarket converters. There are people who actually rebuild converters and ship them to you. You can find these guys online. Of course, you donít know what kind of quality youíre getting when you go that route.
TOM: Weíve had some rebuilt converters that worked well, and others that didnít do enough ďconversionĒ to keep the check-engine light off (which means you canít get an inspection sticker). So you can save some money that way, but youíre taking your chances.
RAY: Since this is still a nice car, and itís been well cared for, and you seem to enjoy driving it, Iíd say bite the bullet and replace the converters. But shop around first and see if you can get a better price.
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