Question: I am the "proud" owner of a 1990 Subaru Legacy wagon and have been the sole driver of this car (until recently) for 99 percent of its 180,000 miles. Obviously, the key words here are "until recently." For the past year and a half, I've been sharing the car with my sweetheart, who is one of those "two-footed drivers." He claims "Of course I'm not putting any pressure on the brake pedal; my foot is just resting there," and "It's better that my foot be there just in case." Please help me. My face is showing signs of damage from the duct tape I'm required to wear over my mouth when riding with him.
Besides the possibility of causing an accident because of flickering brake lights, could he be causing any damage to the brakes? I have noticed twice the "brake" light was on after he drove, even though the hand brake was not on! - MarthaTom: Oh geez. This is a real can of worms, Martha. Anytime we've taken a stand on this issue, we've gotten tons of hate mail from one side or the other.
Ray: But we're used to it, so here's our position: It's OK to drive with two feet (i.e. one foot for the gas and the other foot for the brake) provided that the braking foot is completely off the brake pedal except when stopping the car.
Tom: Right. There is at least one advantage to two-footed driving. Some people (mostly older folks - and you don't tell us how old your boyfriend is) feel that their reflexes aren't what they used to be. And they don't want to take the time to move their foot from the gas pedal to the brake in an emergency. They feel that having a foot ready to brake improves their response time. And they're right.
Ray: But there are several possible downsides. One is that you use the brake so often (when most people would simply stop accelerating as a first step in a situation) that you make the drivers behind you nuts - and you tempt them to stop their cars and beat you over the head with a tire iron.
Tom: Even if they don't take punitive action, at the very least you confuse other drivers. And you can cause an accident if a person behind you thinks you're going to stop suddenly when you're really not. In fact, we should probably require two-footed drivers to apply a bumper sticker that says "I'm not stopping, I'm just thinking about stopping."
Ray: The other potential problem is also serious. If your foot IS actually resting lightly on the brake pedal (and it's hard to drive this way without resting your foot on the pedal), you can overheat the brakes and cause the brake fluid to boil. And when your brake fluid boils, your brakes won't work at all - no matter how many feet you use (unless they're dragging along the pavement).
Tom: And it's possible that the brake light was coming on in your Subaru because your sweetheart had set the brake fluid boiling by resting his foot on the brake pedal and unknowingly applying light pressure for miles and miles (in spite of his denials and denials).
Ray: It's also possible that the light came on because you were low on brake fluid due to a leak, or your pads are just worn out - both of which are quite possible with 180,000 miles on the car. So we can't jump to conclusions about your sweetie, as much as you would like us to.
Tom: So here's the deal. If pookie is over 65 and wants to drive with two feet, insist that he keep his left foot completely OFF the pedal when he's not braking, and accept that you're not going to change him at this point.
Ray: But if he's under 65, you should immediately initiate some classical conditioning. Get one of those miniature baseball bats that they give away on "bat day" at the ballpark. And every time he brakes with his left foot, crack him in the knee. He'll get the message eventually.
Question: I have a 1988 Plymouth Voyager with an oil-gulping 3.0-liter V6 engine. The old gal has 135,000 miles on her, and runs pretty well, except for all the blue smoke. I've been told by one mechanic that I need my valve guide seals replaced and my cylinders relined to stop all the oil burning and leaking.
I've also seen an ad for a product called Engine Overhaul. It consists of pellets and a mysterious liquid that claims to "help restore fit of worn parts," and "renews seal of valves and rings." Is this for real? Would this stuff be an acceptable alternative? - Sharyn
Ray: I think I've also seen this stuff sold as a hair restorer, Sharyn. In drugstores, it's sold under the name Forehead Overhaul.
Tom: It may provide some short-term decrease in oil burning, but it's not an acceptable long-term alternative. So if you're planning to keep this car more than, say, six weeks, I'd get it fixed properly. The pellets are only for when you've got nothing else to lose or a sale to an in-law is imminent. And you're not there yet.
Ray: The good news is that new valve guide seals may be enough. In my experience, most of the oil burning in these engines is caused by the valve guide seals. And replacing them is much cheaper than having the whole engine (rings and cylinders) redone, as your mechanic recommends. So I'd start with valve guide seals for a few hundred bucks and see how much better it gets. You may be surprised. It may improve enough to keep you going until the transmission dies.
Tom: And if that doesn't cut down your oil burning significantly, you can always toss in some pellets then. And let me know if you see any hair growing on the hood. Good luck, Sharyn.
Question: I own a 1991 Toyota Camry that has never been any trouble until lately. Whenever the weather is humid or wet, the car won't start. At first it just stalled. But now it cranks and won't start at all. I should note that I've made a number of maintenance adjustments in the past year. I've put on a new timing belt, new spark plugs and new spark plug wires. I fear I may have done something to break the car in the process. Did I? - Pete
Ray: I doubt it. This is one of those good news, bad news scenarios, Pete.
Tom: Yeah. The good news is that you didn't do anything to break the car. The bad news is that it might be cheaper if it were something you HAD screwed up yourself.
Ray: Based on the age of the car and my vast (or half-vast) experience, my guess is that you have a bad coil in the distributor. The coil is bad, so the spark is using the moisture as a conduit and is going directly to ground, instead of to your spark plugs. And we've discovered that the best remedy for this is to replace the whole distributor.
Tom: And a distributor for this car costs about $400, plus labor. You could just replace the coil. But if the coil is bad, then other parts of the distributor are probably going to fail soon, too. And by the time you've replaced them individually, you'll spend more than 400 bucks on parts.
Ray: But it just wore out, Pete. Unless you dropped the old one or smashed it with a hammer while you were under the hood, you had nothing to do with this.
Tom: Well, you asked for it, and here it is. My brother and I sat down and wrote down everything we know about how to make your car last forever.
Ray: Get your copy of "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" by sending $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed No. 10 envelope to Ruin No. 1, P.O. Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.
What's one secret of financial success? Driving a used car! Read "How to Buy a Used Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don't Want You to Know." You can order it by sending $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Used Car, P.O. Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.