Car Talk

Q.

My car is a 2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue with 80,000 miles on it. About five months ago, the car would not start. I just got a "click" when I turned the key. The lights, horn, etc. worked fine. I had the car towed to my mechanic. He turned the key and the car started right up. He checked the starter and found nothing wrong. He suggested I have the battery checked where I purchased it, as it was still under warranty.

The dealer tested the battery and found nothing wrong. I've used the car for the past five months and have had no starting problems. I start it an average of six or seven times a day for short trips.

The problem reappeared this past week. And while I waited for AAA, my neighbor (not a mechanic) suggested leaving the lights on. Lo and behold, the car started before AAA arrived and I have been using the car every day with no problem. Any ideas about what's wrong? Thanks.

A.

Oh yes, the magic light trick.

We've seen some cases where, if you have a weak connection at the battery, sometimes drawing power (like from the lights) will improve that connection a bit over time. And if it improves the connection enough to start the car before it runs down the battery, you might get lucky. But I wouldn't count on that working all the time. You have to find and fix what I think is a bad connection.

The most likely problem is that you have a loose or corroded battery terminal end. That's where the cable attaches to the battery. We see this a lot on older cars. And on a lot of older GM cars, like your Oldsmobile, the terminal ends are on the side of the battery where they can be hard to see and examine. So even though your battery was checked, that could have been missed. I know, because I've missed it.

If you want to test this theory, next time the car fails to start, have someone turn the key while you jiggle those two battery terminal wires, one at a time. If that makes it start, you've found the problem. Then you can have somebody remove, clean and tighten the terminal ends, and you should be all set. If the terminal ends are tight and perfectly clean, then you could have a bad ground.

A good ground between the battery and the chassis or engine block is necessary in order for electricity to flow from the battery to the starter. And if your ground cable or clamp is old and corroded, that could intermittently prevent the car from starting. Rather than try to find the problem and fix it, it's often easier in these cases to simply run a new ground wire from the negative battery terminal to the engine.

It could be a bad starter, but I think if it was the starter, the problem would have recurred more often. So I think you have a bad connection. And a good neighbor.

Q.

I recently bought a 2018 car that I love driving. However, my new car, and every other car that I test drove, has far more gadgets, lights and symbols than my old (2006) car had. Do you have any ideas on the best way to master all these new gadgets?

A.

It's not easy. We are going through a technological revolution right now. While it's resulting in safer cars, it's also creating a learning curve for lots of new car buyers. Unfortunately, we're in the phase of this revolution where humans still need to interact with and control the technology. At some point, it'll all be invisible, and just work perfectly in the background.

You may be old enough to remember when computers required you to "program" them for specific tasks. Now, you just point and click. And eventually, you'll just be driving along with your husband, daydreaming, and — poof — your high school boyfriend's Facebook page will just automatically pop up on your phone.

But for now, we have two recommendations. One is to find the person at your dealership who specializes in technology. Almost every dealership has one of these people now, because the car salesmen are naturally inclined to make something up when they don't know the answer. And that wasn't going well.

So there's usually one specialist who's assigned to give you an overview of all your new car's technology before you drive off the lot. Unfortunately, for most people, it's overwhelming.

Our suggestion: Make an appointment and go back. In fact, go back as many times as you need to. It'll cost nothing. And now that you're familiar with the car's basics, you'll be able to absorb more details about the new stuff.

Our other recommendation is something most people haven't had to do in ages: Read the owner's manual. But don't read it in your easy chair with the new "Queer Eye" on in the background. Read it while sitting in the driver's seat.

Take an hour at a time, start at the beginning, and read through the manual, going as slowly as you need to. As you get to explanations of features that are new to you, try them out. You'll be more likely to remember them if you do that. We wish there were a faster way to do it, but until Audible comes out with best-seller owner's manuals as "books on tape," you're stuck plowing through it yourself.

And finally, just because all the technology is there, doesn't mean you have to use it all. If adaptive cruise control, which makes the car slow down and speed up in highway traffic, isn't important to you, don't use it. But you should get familiar with all the safety stuff. And your dealer's technology specialist and the owner's manual are the two best ways to do that.

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.