Is it possible to determine the make of an older truck (Ford versus Chevy) based on the feel of the door slamming? A friend gave me a ride as a favor. As he pulled away, his truck screeched like he needs power-steering fluid. I'd like to thank him for the ride by surprising him with some steering fluid, but I don't know the make and model of his truck. Apparently, that's important for getting the right steering fluid. Mutual friends also can't remember his truck's make and model, but they laughed at me when I said the door closing felt and sounded like a Chevy, not a Ford. Short of a blindfolded "slam test," we don't know how to settle this important dispute. A large bar-tab bet depends on your answer.
TOM: I wouldn't rule out the possibility that someone with sensitive ears, who pays attention to such things, can make a distinction between cars by the sound of the door closing.
RAY: I usually can tell cars by their starter motors' sounds. And I certainly can remember a time when I could tell, just by the sound of the running engine, what make of car was limping into the garage. Not as much anymore, but they used to have unique engine sounds.
TOM: The same probably is true of door sounds: They've likely become a bit more similar over time because every door now has pretty much the same equipment in it and has to meet the same safety standards.
RAY: So I think it's possible, but not easy. And short of the double-blind slam test, I don't think we can tell you what percentage of the population can identify a car make by the sound of the door closing.
TOM: That said, I'd advise against guessing at all in this case. If the truck was screeching as it pulled away, it's more likely that he needs a belt rather than power-steering fluid. And you need to know more than just "make and model" to get him the right belt for his car.
RAY: So, here's what you do: Next time he's hanging out with you, building up that bar tab, go outside and look near the bottom of the windshield on the driver's side for the 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN). That's a unique identifier that provides all kinds of information, including year, make, model, trim level, engine type, place of assembly and the truck's birth order in the assembly line.
TOM: So if, for instance, you write down your friend's VIN, then call the Chevy dealer and ask for a belt for a truck with "this VIN," they'll be able to look it up for you and say, for instance: "Hey, dummy, this is a Ford. Call the Ford dealer."
RAY: But since belts are unique not only to years, makes and models, but also to different size engines in the same vehicle, you really need the VIN, or all of the other information, to get him the right one.
TOM: Or you could just pay his bar tab and be done with it. Up to you. Happy trails.
My daughter just purchased a used 2004 Honda CR-V with four-wheel drive. My question is: How do you use the four-wheel drive effectively? When do you turn on four-wheel drive, and when do you turn it off? Thanks.
TOM: There are several types of four-wheel-drive systems. Your daughter has the best kind - it's completely automatic. All she has to do is ignore it.
RAY: Like I try to do with my brother.
TOM: Some, mostly older, four-wheel-drive systems require the driver to turn them on and off with a button or a lever. And while some hard-core off-roading nerds and snowplow drivers may still want that system, most of us are glad it's going the way of Miley Cyrus' good-girl image.
RAY: The problem with a manually engaged four-wheel-drive system is that if you engage it at the wrong time, like on dry roads at higher speeds, you can cause the wheels to bind up, and then you can lose control of the vehicle. It can be very dangerous. And even many people who own vehicles with these systems don't know how to use them properly.
TOM: Fortunately, now most cars and even most SUVs come with what we call "all-wheel drive" (Honda calls it "real-time four-wheel drive," and some manufacturers have different brand names for it). Mechanically, they work in different ways. But they all have one thing in common: The car figures out how much power to send to each wheel on a second-by-second basis, and does it without you having to do anything.
RAY: It's not only a much safer system, but it's more effective in everyday road driving, too. Like lots of systems on your car these days, a computer can detect the need for an action, and turn stuff on and off a lot faster, and more efficiently, than you or I can.
TOM: There are some maintenance issues your daughter should be aware of, like changing the CR-V's rear differential fluid every 30,000 miles (and you might want to do that soon, since you don't know whether the previous owner did it). But other than that, she can just forget she even has all-wheel drive and just drive the car.
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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