Q: After weeks of visits to two different mechanics, over $1,000 paid in repairs and three tows in two weeks, I am finally getting desperate enough to write to you guys!
I want to extend the life of my 2002 Buick Rendezvous. I inherited it after the engine had been replaced (in 2007).
We found we needed to add additional coolant about every six months, until a couple of months ago when the temperature gauge suddenly went red.
We added coolant and our mechanic replaced the thermostat and flushed the system. Days later, it happened again, and the car died on me, but miraculously worked fine once it got back to the shop. I was told it had a "bubble in the coolant line."
Two weeks later, it overheated again, and a new mechanic replaced some parts for $700 -- he said the tubes might be clogged in between the radiator and engine. On the way home, it overheated and died. So, back to mechanic No. 1 for a new radiator AND another new thermostat.
All seemed to finally be healed -- for a week. Then, my son drove the car for 2 1/2 hours on the highway, and when he came to a stop at a red light, the temperature gauge went red again, then went back to normal by itself once he started driving again.
It happened twice more on his way home. The car has been sitting unused for a week while we try to figure out what to do next. Any suggestions on how to repair the coolant problem? Kind regards. -- Mrs. Martinez
A: Are you sitting down, Mrs. Martinez? If you're incredibly lucky, and you've lived a good, clean life, you may just have a bad cooling fan.
When the engine is at operating temperature, and you're on the highway, you get plenty of airflow to cool then engine because you're moving. That air that blows in through the front grill keeps the engine from overheating.
But once you're stopped at a red light, the natural airflow stops, and you need an electric fan to blow air through the radiator.
So, check and see if the cooling fan is cycling on and off like it's supposed to. If it's not, maybe the radiator solved the problem, and all you need is to fix the cooling fan. If the coolant fan IS coming on and off, then the news is far more serious.
Mostly likely, you needed a radiator from the very beginning. But, unfortunately, during one of those four (or 14) times you overheated the heck out of the engine, you blew a head gasket or cracked the head. Or worse, cracked the block.
So, start by figuring out if the cooling fan is working properly. If it is, ask your mechanic to test for a blown head gasket or cracked head or block. We use a dye test, or we test the radiator vapors for the presence of exhaust. If the tests come back positive, and the rest of the car is still in good shape, then it's time for engine No. 3, Mrs. Martinez.
And this time, ask them for one of those punch cards, so when you get to your 10th engine, you'll get the 11th for free.
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Q: Why is it that car manufacturers have decided that the smaller the car, the wimpier the horn should be? My pickup has a nice, deep, loud horn. But my imported crossover almost sounds apologetic.
When you have to use your horn to warn someone that they're coming over into your lane, or censure someone for cutting you off, they're like, "Oh it's a little car, no big deal." -- Mike
A: You're right, Mike. It should be the opposite, right? The smaller the car, the more intimidating a horn it needs. It's why little dogs have sharper teeth.
But you can swap out your horn, Mike. A bigger horn doesn't take up much more space. And there's no technological differences between big horns and small horns.
So, go to a junkyard and pull the horns off a 1976 Peterbilt tractor. Then, duct tape those babies to the vent window of your RAV-4 and watch people clear out of the way. People will laugh at you when they see the little car making all that noise, but they'll get out of the way first.
Actually, that's overkill. Funny, but overkill. What you can do is find another passenger vehicle with a horn you like.
Let's say it's your pickup truck.
Go to the dealer and ask the parts department to sell you the horns for that truck. There will be two of them. Horns have two notes, which is what creates that dissonant horn sound.
Then, have your mechanic pull the horns out of your little import and replace them with the bigger horns. He may need to fiddle around with them to mount them, or maybe even change the size of the wires, but it's not rocket science. And they all run on 12 volts, so he should be able to make it work.
When it's finished, sneak up to your least favorite neighbor and give him a friendly beep "hello."
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Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
(c) 2019 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.