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Motormouth: Faulty warning light

Bob Weber, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

Q: I own a 2000 Honda Accord. It constantly shows the red brake light on the dash. Previously, the light would appear only intermittently. I had the brakes checked out two different times and everything is in good condition. How can I correct this?

T.M., Sugar Grove, Illinois

A: Your car has a brake lamp warning system. Should a lamp burn out, a warning is triggered. Sometimes the lamp may check out fine and even illuminate, but a weak ground or dirty contacts will cause a change in the sensed voltage on the circuit similar to a burned out lamp. Sometimes, the problem is intermittent and hard to pin down.

Q: A few months ago, I brought my Nissan in for service and I asked them to check on a problem I was having with the hatchback. They said they would have to charge me a $160 diagnostic fee. Is the diagnostic fee a new charge every dealer service is charging? Does the diagnostic fee go toward the cost of any repair that might be needed or is it just an extra charge?

S.K., Rancho Mirage, California

A: Doctors charge for examinations and diagnoses, electricians and plumbers charge for showing up at your door. Most professional auto service shops charge a diagnostic fee. Heck, they have to pay the technician for his or her time. And, yes, the diagnostic fee is generally rolled into the repair if you decide to have the work done.

Q: I too love your comments about oil change intervals. I drive a 2014 Prius and put on only about 6,000 miles a year. My manual says I only need to change the oil every year or 10,000 miles. However, after changing my oil religiously every 3,000 miles or 3 months most of my life, it makes me feel very uncomfortable to go that long between changes. My car does not have an oil life indicator readout, so I regularly check the oil level and look to see if it is changing color. However, is there any better way to accurately monitor oil quality at home between changes?


S.D., Glenview, Illinois

A: To get an analysis of motor oil, you have to send it away to a lab. It is not terribly expensive, just inconvenient. Plus, your Prius engine doesn’t do as much work as a non-hybrid car’s engine. Back in the olden days, 3,000-mile oil changes were necessary because the oil suffered from gasoline contamination and other stuff. Today’s oils are far superior to the former ones and engine tolerances are much tighter. You are doing the right thing by routinely checking the oil level.

Q I have two 2020 Hyundai Tucsons. Periodically, while driving, I hear a chime and a message appears on the dashboard. The message only lasts for a few seconds. I haven't been able to make out what it says, maybe, "keep hands on the wheel". Dealer has no idea what it says. Apparently, it isn't an important warning, but it is a real puzzler. Any ideas?

D,D., Oviedo, Florida

A: Your car has lane keeping assist. Cameras see the lane lines on the road and, if you drift too far to either side, a warning is issued. On some vehicles, the steering wheel will gently tug to let you know you are drifting wide. The system doesn’t work if there are no lane lines or if weather - such as snow - obscures the lines. One more thing: If you travel in a straight line for a long time, the warning will activate. You may choose to turn the system off. Check your owner’s manual for how to do it.


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