Car Doctor: Carefully inspect used vehicles for tell-tale signs of flood damage

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Be extra cautious with cars coming from Texas or Florida.

Q: I’m going to need a new car soon and I’m concerned about buying one of the cars that was involved in the Texas and Florida hurricanes. As I’m shopping, is there something I should be extra careful of?

A: I would start by using a company that can do some research on the title. If the car is coming from Texas or Florida, I would be very cautious. There are some reports that have stated that well over 500,000 cars were damaged by the recent hurricanes, and, if history repeats itself, half of these cars could end up on the used car market.

When inspecting a used car, use all of your senses. If the car smells moldy or over-sanitized, this could be a clue. Feel for  dampness and look for staining. Look under the hood, in the trunk, under the spare tire, and in any nook and cranny in and under the vehicle for accumulated sand, dirt and silt.

If you have any doubts about the car, this is certainly one of the times you would want a qualified repair technician to do a complete inspection.

Replace cylinder head

Q: I have a 2011 Buick Enclave and I like the vehicle, but recently it had a check engine light come on and the engine starting running rough. When I took it into the repair shop, they performed a temporary fix and told me I would need to have some major engine work done. They told me that the cylinder head is porous and that it is causing fluid to leak into the spark plug area, causing an engine misfire.

Right now the vehicle runs great. Is this possible?

A: Some of the 3.0- and 3.6-liter V-6 engines in some General Motors vehicles had a problem with oil or antifreeze getting into the spark plug tubes. This fluid would cause a misfire and the check engine light to flash. If the fluid is not leaking from above the spark plugs, it is leaking through a spot in the cylinder head.

With many engine designs, the spark plug tubes are removable. This is not the case with these engines and the cylinder head will need replacing.

Noisy Saturn Outlook

Q: I have a Saturn Outlook and it makes a noise while going over bumps that will sometimes change with intensity, depending on the temperature and how much I drive. The noise seems to be getting worse. Interestingly, the car just passed the state inspection.

Any guess what the noise could be? Since it is a Saturn, will I be able to get the parts needed to fix it?

A: I would start with a complete inspection of the steering and suspension components. Even though the car was just inspected, they could have missed something. Common to this model — as well as many vehicles — is that the top strut mount fails and makes noise. When this happens, the strut can rattle or slip and stick and make noise. If the strut mount is faulty, the parts are readily available at GM dealers or traditional auto-parts stores.

“Paintless’ dent removal

Q: I have a couple of golf-ball-sized dents on the hood and roof of my car. I remember that years ago you had some reservations about “paintless” dent removal. Has your opinion changed?

A: You have a great memory. Years ago I was concerned that some of these tools would cause damage to the inside of the panels and possibly lead to premature rusting. Today the tools and procedures have been refined and work quite well.

Technicians use a combination of special tools that massage the dent from the inside out, or in some cases use a glued-on tool to pull the dent out. As long as the paint isn’t cracked and the dent is less than 3 or so inches, I would certainly have a paintless-technician take a look at your car.

— John Paul is the AAA Northeast Car Doctor. He has over 30 years of experience in the automobile industry and is an ASE-Certified Master Technician. Write to John Paul The Car Doctor at 110 Royal Little Drive, Providence, RI 02904. Or email jpaul@aaanortheast.com and put “Car Doctor” in the subject field. Saturday mornings at 8:30, tune into John Paul The Car Doctor at wrolradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnfpaul or on Facebook.

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