motormouth bob weber
Q: Can you settle a dispute I have with my husband? We have a very rough asphalted road I like to drive as a shortcut. My husband says that riding on this road can crack the battery or cause other damage to the car. Is he right about this?
J.S., Oak Park, Ill.
A: Continuous driving on rough roads can take its toll, but will not crack the battery case. Suspension components such as control arms and ball joints get most of the abuse. The occasional quarter-mile shortcut won't harm anything.
Q: I have a 2008 Infiniti M35X with approximately 78,000 miles on it. At my last oil change I was told that the rack and pinion system was leaking and they would replace it for a mere $4,000. I took it to the local Infiniti dealership, which stated the amount of leakage was normal and it doesn't need to be replaced. Now, 3,000 miles later when I got an oil change at a different shop, they also said the rack and pinion should be replaced. When I said what the dealer told me, I was told it should never leak. My bias is to believe technicians at the dealer since they did not jump at a chance for a $4,000 repair bill, but I would like to hear your opinion.
A: Your logic is sound. A little seepage at the dust boots does not indicate seal failure. If there is fluid dripping on the ground or wetting other parts under the car, by all means, get it fixed. If the steering becomes stiff and heavy, that is an indication of an internal leak that cannot be seen.
Q: I have a 2005 Toyota Corolla with 84,000 miles. Two months ago the front passenger-side wheel started making a grinding noise when I braked. My regular mechanic told me the caliper was frozen. My brake equipment except for brake pads was original so my mechanic suggested I replace the majority of my brake equipment. The brakes work properly, but now they make a mechanical noise — similar to the noise you hear when you press the lever to unlatch the trunk. I have brought the Corolla back to the mechanic twice. He can't figure out what is causing the noise, but says the brakes are definitely safe. Can you solve this mystery?
A: What you describe seems to be a clicking sound. If so, the brake pads may be shifting in the calipers as you apply the brakes. They are safe, but to get rid of the annoying noise, have new anti-rattle clips installed. They are not expensive and should be replaced during every brake job.
Q: I have a safety issue question. We have a 2003 Ford Escape with 93,000 miles on it. We maintain both of our cars obsessively and have very few surprise issues. However, we've had things "age out" instead of break down and I'm concerned that the air bags may no longer be viable. We've had dry rot in the past and I was wondering if air bags could do that and become dangerous.
J.M., Arlington Heights, Ill.
A: For about the first decade after air bags were first installed, some car companies would require annual inspections. They discovered that there was no degradation over time. Your car should be safe for as long as you own it.
Bob Weber is a writer and mechanic who became an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician in 1976. He maintains this status by seeking certification every five years. Weber's work appears in professional trade magazines and other consumer publications. His writing has appeared in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest. Send automotive questions along with name and town to email@example.com.