Car Talk — New four-cylinder Ford Escape would serve needs of car owner towing personal watercraft
•Q. We do a lot of city driving, but in the summer months we tow a couple of Jet Skis around behind our older Nissan Murano, and it has seemed to do the job just fine. The total weight of the Jet Skis and trailer is about 2,100 pounds. We are considering replacing the Murano with a 2013 Ford Escape with the 2.0-liter, EcoBoost engine. The 2013 Escape claims a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, which is the same as our Murano. We like the idea of a smaller engine (better gas mileage) for when we are not pulling a trailer, but we are concerned about the strain on a smaller engine when we do. Would you recommend the new Escape for our needs, or should we look at something with a six-cylinder engine or larger towing capacity? We live in Minnesota and appreciate the 4-wheel drive, too. If not the Escape, do you have other suggestions for us? Thank you.•
RAY: Get the Escape. Its towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, and you need to tow 2,100.
TOM: Your strategy is correct. You want a vehicle that meets your needs for the vast majority of your driving, not a vehicle that will handle every exception. And if you live in the city, a smaller vehicle with better gas mileage certainly makes sense.
RAY: You’re right to be concerned about the towing. Adding 2,100 pounds of weight to any non-behemoth vehicle makes everything work harder — the engine, the transmission, the suspension, the brakes. But the same was true of your Murano, and it’s done fine.
TOM: You never want to run a vehicle at or near its limit, certainly not on a regular basis. So if you were planning to tow 3,400 pounds on summer weekends, we’d advise you to get some more wiggle room. But 2,100 pounds is well within the capacity of the 2013 Escape.
RAY: You can protect your investment by taking some reasonable precautions. First, drive more slowly when you’re towing. The more gently you accelerate, the less strain you put on the engine and the entire drive train.
TOM: Similarly, by driving at 60 or 65 instead of 80, you reduce the wind resistance significantly, and reduce the engine’s workload, allowing it to run cooler.
RAY: And by changing the oil before and after your summer towing season, you’ll make sure you’re getting the best possible lubrication while your engine is working the hardest, and then you’ll drain out any oil that may have been subject to more heat and disintegration because of that towing.
TOM: Other than that, following the owner’s manual’s maintenance instructions for heavier-duty-type of driving (that includes more-frequent scheduled maintenance for people who drive in extreme hot weather, tow things or deliver pizza), switch to a synthetic oil if your car doesn’t come with synthetic and enjoy your new car and the better mileage.
•Q. My husband and I are at odds on this issue. We have a 2003 Mini Cooper with an automatic transmission. He applies the hand brake before throwing the car into Park. The car then makes a noticeable creak when we get out of the car. I usually put the car in Park, then apply the hand brake. If I’m on an incline, the car will roll a little, then stop — but no nasty creak. Hubbie’s logic is that it’s better to be hard on the hand brake than to be hard on the transmission. The creak just makes me uneasy! Any advice on who’s right?•
RAY: Well, we’re glad this is all you’re at odds over. During my brother’s most recent marriage, they were at odds because he would put the car in Park, and she would HIT HIM with the hand brake.
TOM: The good news is that neither of you is doing any damage with your respective parking methods. But we prefer Hubbie’s.
RAY: When you put the car in Park on a hill, and it rolls a foot or so, that’s because the parking pawl — the device that locks up the output shaft of the transmission and prohibits the car from rolling — is not a precise instrument. It’s a ratchet with some slop in it, and it can allow the car to roll a bit in either direction before it jams into place and holds the car.
TOM: There’s nothing dangerous about that — unless you just parked six inches up the hill from Leadpipe Louie’s new Cadillac.
RAY: We’ve never seen a parking pawl break from rolling, so that’s not a concern. But if the car rolls and jams the parking pawl, it can make it hard for you to get OUT of Park when you try to drive away.
TOM: Applying the parking brake BEFORE you put it in Park eliminates that problem. The brake holds the car in place and doesn’t let the car roll until the parking pawl jams up. You just have to remember — when you come back — to take the transmission out of Park first before releasing the parking brake.
RAY: The creak you’re hearing is just the parking brake grabbing. That’s nothing to worry about.
TOM: No. My brother creaks when he grabs now, too.
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