Good solutions available for fixing dim headlights

February 28, 2009/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS ASK THE AUTO DOCTOR BY JUNIOR DAMATO

Dear Doctor: I’m a 68 year old grandmother and drive a 1999 Dodge Grand Caravan SE, purchased new. Ever since I’ve had the minivan the headlights seemed dim, but I did not question it since it was brand new. I have moved to a rural area with many dark, unlit roads, deer crossings, etc. I am very concerned that my headlights are too dim. I know it is not my vision because my children recently told me that they feel these headlights are unsafe. Have you any suggestions as to a brighter, safer light that would work on this car? Judy
Dear Judy: You have a few of options. If the headlight capsules are still in good condition, then you can replace the bulbs with a legally approved bright white bulb. Another choice would be to upgrade to High Intensity Discharge headlamps that can be easily installed. The third option is to add an additional set of driving lights attached to the front bumper. I have upgraded a lot of vehicles with the HID lights and customers are very happy with them.
Dear Doctor: I have a 2003 Subaru Forester with 62,000 miles. It is having a second replacement catalytic converter. The first was replaced at only 5,000 miles. Recently, I started getting a “check engine” light and a 420 code. Subaru did extensive diagnostics and has ordered the replacement catalytic converter, which is under warranty. In 8,000 miles my warranty for the catalytic converter will be over. What should I do to avoid the expense of a replacement in the future? Bob
Dear Bob: For a factory catalytic converter to fail indicates the converter is faulty in the first place or there is an engine management or mechanical fault. A full check of all engine functions and oil consumption needs to be conducted. You should also speak with Subaru for getting an extended warranty on the catalytic converter.
Dear Doctor: I have a 2002 Nissan Pathfinder that has been back and forth to the shop since it hit 100,000 miles. I have replaced the plugs and catalytic converter and I still have a loss of power after the truck is running for over 20 minutes. When I first start the truck it is smooth riding, but when it warms up the fan sounds really loud and there is a loss of power. My mechanic isn’t sure why. Do you have any advice? Thomas
Dear Thomas: I have replaced a lot of fan clutches on these vehicles. When you hear a lot of noise coming from the mechanical fan it most likely means the problem is a faulty fan clutch. A faulty fan clutch will also cause a loss of power when the engine is warm. The engine should undergo a performance test, including a check of the exhaust back pressure. You mentioned you replaced the catalytic converter. When a catalytic converter breaks apart the insides can flow into the muffler and cause an exhaust restriction and a lack of power.
Dear Doctor: I own a 2000 Honda Accord. The SRS airbag indicator light is on. I’m told the problem is a faulty seat belt receptacle. The dealer wants $100 to put out the SRS light. Do you know who can put out the light for less money? Pierre
Dear Pierre: I would never suggest to anyone to just put out or remove any safety warning light from a vehicle. There should be a lifetime warranty on a faulty seat belt receptacle due to premature failure. Go back and check with the Honda dealer for warranty information.
Dear Doctor: I have a 1994 Mitsubishi Diamante with 100,000 miles. I get 10 miles per gallon in city driving. I use high octane 92 gasoline and I change the oil three to four times a year with “traditional” oil. Can I switch to synthetic oil? Will this have any impact on gas mileage or the engine itself? The engine burns no oil at all and runs good. I’d just like to increase gas mileage and change the oil two times a year by switching oils. Vic
Dear Vic: Yes, you can actually switch to high-mileage synthetic oil without a problem. The full synthetic oil does cost more money. For the additional expense, however, you get a much better product. In some cases though the engine may use a small amount of oil. Your gas mileage should also improve by up to 1 mile per gallon.
Dear Doctor: I own a 1987 Toyota Van Wagon with 264,000 miles. Initially on start up the idle is very low at 500 rpm, then eventually settles to normal. I also have automatic locking hubs. When I turn off the 4WD, the right side won’t disengage. After turning off the switch, I back up 10 ft. to disengage. The left side works properly but not the right side. Wesley
Dear Wesley: I recommend you check for any stored trouble fault codes and then a look at the idle speed control motor and circuit. As for the front hub problem try switching hubs left to right. These front hubs are basic and simple.

Junior Damato is an ASE-certified Master Technician.

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Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009