Wednesday, March 28, 2012 06:52
“Put some ice on it and take a double dose of Advil.” That’s my physical-therapist wife’s standard answer to people who request free cures for their pains. Car guys, at least those with fair-sized egos, need a handful of similar diagnoses for car problems.
Before answering any car-advice question, make sure you’re not stumbling into a trap. Ask what repairs have already been made and the results. Many want to compare your answer against a professional’s. If the repairs worked, I say: “That’s just what I was thinking.” If the repairs weren’t fruitful, I recommend taking the car to another shop.
Ask those who haven’t taken the car to a shop how long the problem has existed. Unless they say it started yesterday, know they are unlikely to heed any recommendation. They WANT you to say, “It’s nothing. Just keep driving and I’m sure the grinding and pounds will go away.” Feel safe in telling these people anything.
If you want to offer potentially useful recommendations, here are a few:
- For an older car that’s running poorly or getting bad gas mileage, suggest a new set of spark plug wires. If they can’t remember the last time the wires were replaced, new ones will likely produce good results.
- A “check engine” light could be a loose gas cap or, if the car smells like sulfur, a failing catalytic converter.
- The smell of pancake syrup without a noticeable coolant leak may be a water pump on its last legs.
- For handling or ride problems, make sure their tires are at the proper pressure, and all are same make, model and part number. If the tires are new, suggest they return to the tire dealer and mention the word “uniformity.” A tire can be perfect on the outside but its internal parts are misaligned.
- Saying that a grinding noise could be a failing constant velocity joint might even be the right answer for most front-drive cars.
- For engine problems, my fallback is always, “Maybe it’s a bad oxygen or mass air flow sensor.” Maybe not, too.
My physician father had a smart aleck answer to cocktail-party requests for free advice: “It’s cancer. Inoperable.” That shut ‘em up.