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Cold, Winter Engine Issues Starting to Trouble Car Owners

By Junior Damato, December 21st, 2009

strong>Dear Doctor: I own a 2006 Chevy Equinox. The heat blows cold air. I went to the local mechanic and they said the problem is in the heater box and the job is too big for them. I checked with the dealer and they said the most common problem is a broken plastic blend door. The cost of the repair is $1,000 to $1,200. Is this price correct? Why so much money for a piece of plastic? I need the heater to work for my kids. Sherry

strong>Dear Sherry: The dealer is correct about the problem and the price is in the ballpark. To gain access to the small plastic door and electric actuator, the entire dash and steering wheel assembly have to be removed. The actual job time is 8 to 10 hours, depending on the vehicle and problem. If this was a high-end import car the replacement of heater parts is 24-plus hours. If the blend door is broken there is no easy fix. This is not just a GM problem -- we see a lot of Jeeps and Ford SUVs with heater box and actuator failures.

strong>Dear Doctor: I own a 2000 Chrysler minivan. The heater only works on the high-speed setting. I looked for it and could not find it. I checked the Haynes manual and could not find it. Can you help? R.Y.

strong>Dear R.Y.: Look on the passenger side engine compartment at the firewall. You should see it. Check with the local auto parts store for availability and price of a blower resistor.

strong>Dear Doctor: I own a 2002 Toyota Corolla with 34,000 miles. Recently I checked my fuel economy mileage and found that I lost almost 10 miles per gallon. I had a scan test performed and no faults were found. They said I must have made a mistake. What are you thoughts? Milton

strong>Dear Milton: Make sure the engine has had a recent tune-up. Spark plugs, air filters and air filter inlet must be checked. Full-synthetic oil increases gas mileage in cold weather since it does not thicken in cold weather like regular petroleum engine oil. A lot of considerations come into play with gas mileage, especially during the cold weather season. We use the headlights and heater more often. Both use electricity and cause the alternator to work harder and it takes engine power to turn the alternator and charge the battery. The engine also runs at a colder temperature longer and that will make the engine run in a richer fuel condition longer. Have your technician monitor the actual operation of the front air ratio sensor and rear oxygen sensor. These and other sensors will cause a loss in gas mileage without causing drivability issues.

strong>Dear Doctor: I own a 1995 Chevrolet Lumina with only 64,000 miles. The shifter is hard to move out of park and into drive, especially in cold weather. Do you have any idea what the problem is? Diane

strong>Dear Diane: I see a lot of older vehicles with stiff shifters. The main problem is worn shift cables and rusty connectors and bushings in the shift linkage. Have a local technician start disconnecting the shift linkage at the transmission and check for binding.

strong>Dear Doctor: I own a 2005 Ford Escape with all-wheel drive. When traveling on the highway at 65 to 70 mph, the ABS light comes on and occasionally the transmission light comes on. Should I be concerned? Bob

strong>Dear Bob: I suggest that you take the SUV to a shop and have them scan the computer for both brake and transmission trouble codes. This must be done with a high-end scan tool in a vehicle specific mode, not in a generic mode that most big auto stores use. When the ABS light is on it means the ABS system is not operational. As for the transmission light blinking, something in the electronic system is picking up a problem and should be checked before it becomes a big problem.

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