Viewer-submitted questions for The Car Doctor:
Q: I have a reoccurring problem with my 2009 Chevy Malibu, in which the headlights are constantly not working. First one will not go on, and then the other one will not work. We have changed the wires and tightened up the bulbs, but it still happens. I know the lights are not dead because if I press the unlock button on the car, both headlights will go on. But when I start the car, one light will usually go out again. Your help would be greatly appreciated.
A: The connectors to the headlights (low beams) have been especially problematic. After checking them for signs of melting, I would check the four fuses, associated wiring, and ground connections. Although each headlight has its own power supply, the four bulbs share two grounding points. I would remove those ground wires and clean the connections of any rust and corrosion.
Q: I am replacing brake pads on my car that are about 75% worn. The rotors look fine, and the car stops smoothly. Is there anything I need to do to the rotors or other components other than installing the new brake pads?
A: If you are happy with the condition of the rotors, I would just knock any rust off the edge. Also, if you are removing the rotors, make sure there is no rust under the rotors up against the hub. It is always best to put the rotors back in the same orientation on the hub. Other than that, lube the caliper slides, and follow the brake pad kit instructions for proper break-in. This procedure is sometimes called burnishing or “bedding” the brakes. Typically, it involves four or five moderate to aggressive stops from 40 mph down to 10 mph in rapid succession without letting the brakes cool. Then, five more stops from 35 miles per hour down to five miles per hour. Finally, drive around for a few minutes without coming to a complete stop which helps the pads cool and cure.
Q: I have a 2011 Lexus ES350. The airbag dashboard light is on and the passenger airbag light flashes “off”. My Lexus dealership replaced the ECU but the problem was not resolved. I was then told I need the cushion assembly (part # 710001-33T20-C2) for the low price of $3,100. An auto cushion company said I can buy a used seat from a junk dealer and have its cushion removed to replace my original. Do you advise this? It is amazing that regular local mechanics won’t even touch this job and I am at the mercy of the dealership.
A: A used seat cushion could be an option, but I worry that it has the same issue as your car and – since the replacement is coming from a car that was likely in crash – it may not be operational. You could try a body shop for replacement; unlike a regular repair shop, they deal with airbags and sensors on a regular basis. The mat inside the seat is not replaceable but there are companies that may repair them. I had a tech on my radio show from a company called www.upfix.com, and one of their businesses is airbag repairs. Your shop would pull out your cushion and send it to them for repair. Perhaps check with UPFIX and see if they work with any shops in your area. Other than that, the very expensive Lexus seat is your only option.
Q: I would appreciate knowing if I can repair or replace the sun visors on my 2014 Nissan Murano. It seems as if the springs won’t keep the visors up all the way and I would like to find out if this problem can be fixed without being too costly. The interior of the car is still in good condition except for this annoying problem.
A: This is a common issue with this model. I have seen people epoxy the plastic piece that rotates in the attachment clip to provide more tension. Although this may work, you can also purchase aftermarket visors for about $30 each which should provide many more years of use. The installation is fairly simple, with just a few screws and a wiring connection for the vanity mirrors.
Q: I am writing to you from Australia, where I reside. I will be 87 years tomorrow and have been retired for the last 35 years. I own an NA MX-5 in EUNOS trim imported from Japan in 1997, and an ND purchased in Australia since 2015. I have always used the local Mazda dealership for all service work, and until last week have never had to contend with any major repairs. However, I had a leak in the air conditioner evaporator, which they replaced at a cost of Australian $2,414. I now appear to have another problem, in which there are some white lines in the bottom left-hand corner of the navigation screen. The dealer has quoted $1,983. (AUS$) for the replacement screen. While I can and do use WAZE on my mobile, I prefer to have everything working as I have kept this car in top condition.
A: First off, happy birthday. Your display is actually delaminating due to heating and cooling. The display screen can be replaced separately, but it will require some research and a specialized repair shop. Just like tablets and phone screens that are cracked, the glass can be replaced without replacing the entire device.
Q: I own a 2017 Subaru Legacy, and sometimes I am unable to pull the key out, and it happens more often than it used to be lately. Could you tell me what could be wrong here? How much will it cost me to fix this annoying problem?
A: Typically, this issue is caused by a worn shifter guide plate. The guide plate will need to be replaced and, according to the flat-rate guide, should take about an hour of labor. The plate runs about $150 and with repair shops charging $125-$175 per hour, the total cost should be around $300. Other possibilities include the ignition switch or shifter, but the shifter guide plate has been the most problematic.
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