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Questions and answers from the ‘Car Doctor’

May 22, 2023May 22, 2023

Q. I enjoy your column and have a question of my own regarding my 2013 Ford Escape with 41,000 miles. Recently I had the annual state vehicle inspection, tire rotation and fluid changes at my Ford dealer. Everything passed inspection but the service manager advised that some of the car’s lug nuts were swollen. He said if I had a flat tire the lug nut may not come off and the car would have to be towed for service. (I have AAA 100-mile towing) Never heard of this problem before and did some research on the internet. It is apparently a common occurrence with my model vehicle and some other Fords from the same time period. Ford was contacted by several owners but gave no relief. Is this something that I should pursue through Ford channels or just suck it up and pay the price for replacement myself? They did not tell me how many lug nuts were involved but I would replace all of them at the same time.

A. This is quite common on lug-nuts that use an aluminum or chrome cap over the steel lug-net. I have seen these designs used on a variety of vehicles including my own little boat trailer. Rust forms under the cap and causes the lug-nuts to become swollen. When this happens, a standard socket is in some cases impossible to get on the lug-nut. My suggestion would be to replace all the lug-nuts with a one-piece design. You can find one piece lug-nuts online, a custom wheel and tire shop or Dorman corporation that develops repair solutions for just these kinds of problems.

Q. I need a remote starter install in my 2020 Toyota RAV4. The dealer quoted me a very expensive price and warned me about possible warranty issues if someone else installs it. Where should I take it to ensure that I have the installation done right?

A. Any quality automotive electronics shop should be able to install a remote starter in your RAV4. Some independent repair shops will also do the installation, but I prefer the electronics shop, since they normally will have additional wiring harnesses, relays or switches on-hand for a professional installation. Regarding warranty, you are protected by the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act. The law clearly suggests warranties by vehicle manufacturers cannot be void if a consumer uses another manufacturer’s parts.

Q. My 84-year-old husband’s 2005 Dodge Dakota will not pass inspection at the end of September due to rust underneath. A local body shop will look at it and let him know if it is worth fixing. The mileage is under 85,000, and when he bought it in 2007 it had about 23,000 miles on it. So, you can see how little he drives it. It is not garaged; we live on Long Island, and the truck came from Michigan. My first question is it worth fixing a 2005? My second question is what the estimated cost would be (ballpark figure)?

A. Without inspecting the truck, it is hard to determine the cost of a repair. But if I had to guess. You are probably looking at $2-3000 to repair the rust if sections of the frame can be capped and welded. If the entire frame needs replacement, $10,000 or more and that is if a frame is even available. I would try a welding shop to see if they can patch it or a body shop for a full frame replacement. Regarding is it worth it, if the rest of the truck is outstanding, maybe yes, but if it is a typical Dodge Dakota, with age related mechanical issues and body rust, this may be a case of throwing good money after bad.

Q. My 1988 Lincoln Town Car, door lock control will not open back door locks, also the ventilation fan does not work and lastly there is a gas smell. I replaced all the gas lines and the gas tank. The car has only 68,000 miles on it and needs bodywork. What should I do?

A. Well, it sounds like age is certainly affecting your 35-year-old car much more than mileage. The gas smell could be an over saturated evaporative emissions canister or a leaking throttle body (part of the fuel system) or fuel pump. The window issue could be wiring, or the master control switch and the fan could be a faulty fan, fuse, wiring or the switch. At this point if it were my car, even with the low mileage I would take it to a trusted shop and spend an hour or two worth of labor and have an overall evaluation of the car to see what else is going on. If the gas lines rusted out, it is possible the brake lines and transmission lines are also very rusty and even the frame could be starting to rot away. It may be time to let your Town Car go.

Q. My 2008 Suzuki XL7 has nearly 200,000 miles but runs great. The issues are the check engine light is on, the RPMs dip and vary. I am thinking of a good tune up and maybe the timing belt could be changed? The car resides and is registered in Florida, so I am not concerned with state inspection, but would like the car to run properly and be safe. Where should I bring it for repairs?

A. The engine in the Suzuki XL7 uses a chain not a belt, not saying it could not be worn, but it is not normal maintenance. If the timing chain does need replacement, it is expensive, taking nearly 12 hours labor to complete. The idle speed variation could be worn plugs, lazy oxygen sensor or a vacuum leak. If you need a garage in Florida or anywhere, go to to find a local AAA Approved Auto Repair shop near you.

Got a car question, email the Car Doctor for a personal reply. [email protected]

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