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Auto Doctor: Power chips alter specs but boost performance

Unsold 2008 Outbacks stack up on the lot

Unsold 2008 Outbacks stack up on the lot at a Subaru dealership in the southeast Denver suburb of Centennial, Colo. Credit: AP, 2007

Dear Doctor: My 2008 Subaru Outback with 170 horsepower has very disappointing acceleration. You've mentioned power programmers or power chips in previous columns. Can you please recommend a brand, as the Internet has too many to choose from? -- Jim

Dear Jim: There is no question that power programmers offer many changes to vehicles. This is done by making changes to the factory computer program. The main changes are done to the air fuel ratios, ignition timing, automatic shift point and firmness, as well as the electric cooling fan operation. In some cases the use of premium gasoline is a must in order to gain maximum performance. Some vehicles will also work best with fresh air-intake systems and low restriction exhaust systems. As for your factory warranty and recommending best brands, I advise that you do research in the Subaru clubs and communicate with other owners.

Dear Doctor: I have 1997 Cadillac Eldorado do with 117,000 miles. When starting the engine cold it takes about six or seven turns to get it started and then there's a puff of white smoke. I have used an injection cleaner and the fuel pressure seems fine. Do you have any suggestions? -- John

Dear John: The best way to check a cold-start complaint is to leave the car at the shop overnight, so that the next morning the technician can look at the sensor inputs without starting the engine. The two most critical sensors are fuel pressure and coolant temperature. Carbon buildup on the back side of the intake valves can also be a problem.

Dear Doctor: Last year we purchased a 1994 Honda Accord with 71,000 miles on it for our grandson. Now it has problems starting. When this problem first surfaced the car would start when he yanked the steering wheel hard to the right. Now it won't start at all. We had a mechanic replace the alternator and check the fuel line. Any ideas? -- Jackie

Dear Jackie: For an engine to start it needs to have compression, fuel and spark. If you have a problem with turning the key, then there could be a problem with the ignition cylinder or switch. You should have the car towed to a shop that employs an ASE-certified technician.

Dear Doctor: My grandson is working to save for college and he needs to buy a car to get to work. Can you suggest any used cars that would be the best, while keeping expenses low? -- Bruce

Dear Bruce: There are many good pre-owned vehicles out there. You have to first figure out how much money you want to spend, along with the size of the car. I buy and sell a lot of pre-owned cars and the average used car is 3 to 6 years old. You can look for used cars at any car dealer or rental car company. You should also have a used car checked by an ASE-certified technician before buying it.

Dear Doctor: My 2003 Chevy Astro van's fuel gauge is iffy on accurate fuel readings when down to the last quarter tank of gas. Recently, I bought a pricey new fuel pump for $250 and was somewhat okay with it, since it included a new fuel sensor. But even with the new fuel pump installed the gas gauge now reads a quarter tank not only in the last quarter but from full to empty. What should I do? -- Michael

Dear Michael: For whatever reason GM has had trouble with fuel pumps and dash clusters. Have a technician connect a scan tool to the van to see the signal coming from the fuel sender to the computer. This will pinpoint where the problem with the fuel reading is located. The $250 for the pump module is not expensive. Make sure the gas filter (if external), is replaced on an annual basis.

Dear Doctor: Last year you wrote on your thoughts on the Hyundai Veloster and said it needed more power. Now that there is a turbo model added to the line, have you had a chance to drive it? -- Steven

Dear Steven: I drove the 2013 Veloster Turbo and found it not only to be practical, but also real fun. I especially like the look of the coupe with a third door that allows a person to get in and nicely store bags and stuff. The close ratio, short shift six-speed manual is smooth and easy to shift with light clutch pedal pressure. The turbo model has a wide front grille, allowing maximum cooling while adding the muscle-look of high line imports. -- Junior Damato, Motor Matters

Junior Damato is an ASE-certified Master Technician. Email questions to Mail questions to: Auto Doctor, 3 Court Circle, Lakeville, MA 02347

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