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Auto Doc: Timing belt issues pose big threat to Chrysler engines

The 2002 Dodge Neon is among the many

The 2002 Dodge Neon is among the many Chrysler cars with four-cylinder engines that can suffer extensive engine damage if there are issues with the timing belt. Credit: Chrysler Group LLC

Dear Doctor: I recently purchased a 2002 Dodge Neon SXT automatic with 31,000 miles, which runs fine. Should I consider having the radiator replaced as a preventive measure to avoid antifreeze from leaking into the transmission and ruining it? I have read of this happening to other Neons. This is the original radiator. -- Coleen

Dear Coleen: I would have the technician look at the coolant condition, as well as the condition of the radiator. I would start with a coolant drain and fill. More importantly, be sure the timing belt is working properly. On most of the Chrysler four-cylinder engines if the timing belt breaks on the road there is a 90 percent chance of major engine damage. Many car owners do not know how important timing belt replacement is.

Dear Doctor: I own a 2011 Toyota Camry with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that calls for 00w20 motor oil. Is their any other weight motor oil that can be substituted? Not many places carry the required 00w20. -- Walter

Dear Walter: Today's late model vehicles require specific oils per the manufacturer. The engines are designed to operate with the required oil because of the internal clearances and the electronic/hydraulic valves that control the internal valve timing. This also helps the excellent gas mileage these engines deliver. I do not recommend deviating from the recommended oil. I have seen internal engine failure with engines less than 60,000 miles from the use of the wrong motor oil and not changing the oil as required by the manufacturer. It is not uncommon for engines to use a quart of oil every 1,000 to 1,500 miles.

Dear Doctor: I own a 2008 Jeep Liberty that seems to be "possessed" overnight. I started to notice in the morning the Jeep was unlocked, even though I was positive I had locked it the night before. Recently, the exterior and interior lights have been turning on and off by themselves. I have sat in the SUV and listened to the car locks unlock and watched the lights turn on after I have turned them off. My mechanic changed the battery in my key pad, checked the car battery and ran it through the computer system. Please help me with this. -- Catherine

Dear Catherine: Almost all accessory commands in today's vehicles go through a body control module (BCM). When you sound the horn, turn on the radio, heater, or headlights you send a command through the BCM. The problem could be a faulty BCM, poor connection, or a confused BCM. You may just need to reboot the BCM. This is done by disconnection the battery cables for 1 hour, then touch both battery cables together to ensure there is no energy stored in any compositors. If this does not work then you should go to the dealer or an ASE-technician, especially one who works with Identifix and Alldata.

Dear Doctor: I own a 1987 Oldsmobile 98 Regency 3.8-liter V-6 with 128,000 miles. After driving for about 30 minutes and coming to a full stop, the car wants to stall and it has a gas smell plus a rough idle. Do you have any suggestions? -- Jay

Dear Jay: The first step is to check for trouble fault codes, along with a fuel pressure test. Your car has the old OBD1 computer system that is limited on information. You will need to take the car to a shop that has an ASE technician certified in engine performance. It could be something as minor as a leaking fuel pressure regulator causing a rich condition. This is another reason why a fuel pressure test is so important. Removing the vacuum hose at the regulator will be performed as well.

Dear Doctor: My wife and I are buying our first "family car," as our first child is due in October. Right now it's between a used 2010 Chevrolet Equinox from CARMAX or a fully loaded 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited off the dealer lot. The Equinox has everything we want (leather, nav, sunroof), except for dual climate control. Do you recommend one over the other? -- Brendan

Dear Brendan: You are looking at two good SUVs. You need to take both on an extended road test, even overnight. Whoever is the primary driver should be the one to test drive it as the vehicle would be driven every day. Take time and check everything that will be important, such as opening the rear door and placing the car seat in place, open the rear tailgate and check for blind spots. -- Junior Damato, Motor Matters

Junior Damato is an ASE-certified Master Technician. Email questions to Mail questions to: Motor Matters, PO Box 3305, Wilmington, DE 19804

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