First Posted: 12/3/2014

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2010 Smart Car. The Check Engine light would not stay off. I took it to the dealer before the warranty expired. They found nothing wrong and told me I probably had a bad tank of gas, and that I should wait for it to get used up and fill it with “good gas” next time. I did that, and sure enough, the light went off. But a few weeks later, the light was back on. The same thing happened — new tank of gas, light goes off, then comes back on. This scenario was repeated several times (sporadically, not with every tank) until finally the light stayed on permanently. Of course, by then it was no longer under warranty. So the dealer “switched sensors” to see what that would do. I didn’t even make it home before the light was back on. This time, they said they would come and get it (I live 45 minutes away) and bring me a loaner. A day later, they told me I need a cylinder head because I have a leaking valve, and it will cost $3,400. The guy said that, since I have less than 10,000 miles on the car and

I’d brought the problem to their attention while it was still under warranty, he’d already contacted the district manager, who agreed to cover all but $500, which I am to pay. Is this a good deal or not? In my opinion, they should cover all of it. Thanks. — Mary

I agree with you completely. This clearly was a manufacturing defect. The engine failed at less than 10,000 miles — that’s ridiculous. And you brought the defect to their attention while the car was still under warranty.

What possible justification do they have for charging you $500? The whole thing’s on them. If they had figured it out the first time you took it to them, it would have been under warranty, and there would be no $500 charge. So they’re billing you for their ineptness in taking months to figure out what was wrong.

I do think it was nice of them to come and pick up your car after the second time they failed to solve the problem. That, at least, allowed you to avoid the terror of driving this chamber pot for an additional 45 minutes.

In billing you for $500, I think they’re launching what we call a “trial balloon,” Mary. They want to see if you’ll roll over and give them the money. Don’t do it.

Remind them that the defect was reported to them during the warranty period, and that you have that in writing (the service slip). And ask them what possible justification they have for charging you at all for a warranty repair.

If they don’t say, “Yeah, you’re right, Mary,” mention your state’s attorney general’s office, and suggest that you’re going to call to get their opinion before authorizing the repair. Or do what my brother would have done, and just keep the loaner!

And by the way, pretty much whenever a mechanic says that your problem is “bad gas,” that means he couldn’t figure out what’s wrong, or didn’t want to take the time to figure it out.

Or he’s upset that you have bad gas and are stinking up his waiting room.

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Dear Car Talk:

While on a recent business trip with a bunch of fellow engineers, the battery in my 2010 Toyota Highlander with a keyless-start system went dead. Of course, we blamed it on the youngest member of the team, whom we had forced to do the long drive that day. But the reality is that the battery was four years old, and it just died. Luckily, we found a helpful engineer from Boeing who happened to be parked near us — an electrical-power expert, too! He jumped the car for us for about five minutes and got the basic lights and beeps working again, but the car would not start. The green “ready” button was lit up for the push-button starter, but no response. So after checking all the stuff we could think of, we got the owner’s manual out and handed it to the rocket scientist on the team. In time, the rocket scientist found the problem. In order to start the car after jumping it, one has to open and close the driver’s door with the ignition off! Bingo — it worked. Why have such a nuisance safety procedure? Most

folks would have headed for the tow truck or dealer before figuring it out. Please comment! — Steven

Outsmarted by a car. Welcome to my world, Steven.

The reason you needed to open and close the door is because of the way the smart key communicates with the keyless ignition system.

With a push-button start system, the car and the smart key have to talk to each other. Before starting the car, the computer asks, “Are you there, key?” And the key responds: “Yo, dude, it’s me. We’re good.”

But the computer doesn’t know to look for the key unless the driver’s door is opened and closed. That’s its signal to check for the presence of the correct smart key. Otherwise, it doesn’t even ask.

And since the battery died when the door was closed, and then you opened the door while the battery was still dead, the computer never got the (open door/closed door) signal to check for the presence of the key.

But congratulations on saving yourself time and money by reading the owner’s manual and solving the problem. Resorting to the owner’s manual is atypical male behavior, Steven. It’s a humiliation greater than even asking for directions! I’m both proud and ashamed of you.

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It’s NEVER cheaper in the long run to buy a new car. Want proof? Order Click and Clack’s pamphlet “How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows.” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.


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(c) 2014 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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