Dear Doctor: I cannot remove the oil dipstick from the engine on my 2011 Honda Pilot. I'm afraid to use a pair of vice grips to pull it out, as the dipstick handle is made of plastic and I don't want to break the handle. If the handle broke would the rest of the dipstick fall into the engine? Any ideas on how to remove it? -- Joseph
Dear Joseph: I see many late model Honda four-cylinder plastic oil dipsticks with a sticking top. I sometimes use a heat gun to help warm up the stuck area and use a pair of pliers. Should the plastic break, you will be able to remove the metal portion of the dipstick with a pair of needle nose pliers. To prevent breakage in the future, remove the dipstick monthly, clean the mating surfaces and apply some oil to the sealing area. The Honda dealer parts department has plenty of dipsticks on hand. You should also clean the transmission dipstick.
Dear Doctor: I own a 2001 Ford Explorer Sport with 115,000 miles on it. When the "check engine" light came on I purchased a CARMD device and used it to diagnose my own vehicle. It came back with Error Code P0171. I ran the software and here are the results: Replace the Brake Booster; Replace 6 Intake Manifold Gaskets; and Fuel System Too Lean (Cylinder Bank 1). What do you recommend I do next? -- Jones
Dear Jones: The P0171 is a lean code condition. (There can also be another lean code, P0174, which can also set). These codes indicate there's too much air and not enough fuel. Look at the memory in freeze-frame to see when the fault code appeared. If the code set when the engine was cold and at idle, then you'll need to examine any intake seal area. If the code set while the engine was warm and above idle speed, then review the fuel pressure and check all vacuum ports connected to the engine. We see a lot of dirty mass air flow meters that set lean conditions. A tip for the brake booster check is to let the engine idle briefly, shut the engine off and see how many times you can pump the brake pedal before it gets hard. There should be two to three pumps before the brake pedal is hard. If the pedal is hard in the first pump, then the brake booster is not holding vacuum and that could be the cause of the lean code.
Dear Doctor: The battery on our pre-owned 2009 Infiniti G37X conks out when we let the car sit for two or three days. The dealer says we are not driving the car much (1,700 miles in 18 months) and as such, the battery does not get a full charge. I obviously would not have bought a car where I have to drive more than I want to just to keep a battery charged! We are now on our third battery -- all replaced by the dealer. I suspect something electrical is draining the battery when the car is not in motion. Do you agree? -- Marty
Dear Marty: The battery should be able to retain enough power for 30 days without going dead. If I were working on this car, then my first step would be to check for parasitic drain. If there is more than 75 milli amps of current draw, then there is a problem. If the car checks out fine and you do not drive on a regular basis then a battery tender may be required.
Dear Doctor: I have a 2007 Toyota Avalon -- a terrific automobile, but I have a problem with the Dynamic Laser Cruise Control. From the day I purchased the 2007 car, the cruise control worked as specified in the manual, until now. The cruise control works on the speed I set it at, but when I'm closing in on the car ahead, my car will not decrease in the speed I set in for. Have you heard of this problem? -- Mike
Dear Mike: There's not a lot of information on the laser sensor, which acts like a radar up sensor. When dirty or blocked it will not function as designed. It will take a Toyota scan tool and factory Toyota service manual to trouble shoot the system.
Dear Doctor: What can you tell me about the Ford Flex? We are thinking about buying a Flex, as we need a vehicle that will hold six people and get good gas mileage. We do not want a minivan. -- Susan
Dear Susan: The Flex will carry up to seven people. I spent a week in a 2013 Flex AWD with the 3.5-liter V-6. My wife and I took two other couple to dinner -- and if we could criticize anything it would be getting into the last row seating. But otherwise, there is no question that Ford has done a great job on this 2013 model. Our gas mileage was 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway. The Flex has plenty of power, the suspension is tight and there are NO noises or body twisting over broken pavement. -- Junior Damato, Motor Matters
Junior Damato is an ASE-certified Master Technician. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail questions to: Auto Doctor, 3 Court Circle, Lakeville, MA 02347