I need advice on improving my 16 year old car


John Paul, AAA Northeast’s car doctor, answers a question from a reader whose 2005 Toyota has brake and headlight problems.

The Associated Press

NS. I have a 2005 Toyota Corolla that I’ve inherited, and it’s the most boring, but also the best car I’ve ever owned. The rear brakes are drum brakes and I have to rustle the rear brakes from time to time because they make a distinct noise when I slow down and stop. Since the brake drums are very rusty, I was wondering if I could replace the rear brake drum without replacing the brake shoes, as the shoes are fairly new. Also, the headlights of the car are not as bright as I would like. I’ve replaced the halogen bulbs with Original Equipment bulbs and with little improvement cleaned up some haze of the headlight assembly. I was wondering if there is an aftermarket bulb you can recommend that would improve the efficiency of the headlights.

a. I like to match new drums with new brake shoes. Using new brake drums and old brake shoes (or vice versa) can cause brake squeal. One option is to resurface the current brake drum to clear any accumulated rust. With regard to headlight bulb some people have added led replacement bulbs as an option. The issue is that these bulbs do not conform to the Department of Transportation. You can add a brighter DOT compliant bulb (Sylvania Silver Star Plus is one). These bright bulbs add light but are designed not to annoy oncoming drivers. One downside is a shorter lifespan. While a typical headlight bulb may have a typical life of four to five years, performance bulbs may only last two years. You may also consider replacing the entire headlight assembly with a quality aftermarket product. The lenses will be crystal clear and provide better light than reconstructed lenses.

NS. I have two general questions. Firstly, can E3 brand spark plugs be used with aftermarket electronic MSD ignition systems? Second, is the power steering oil cooler beneficial to the old car?

a. Holly (MSD Ignition’s parent company) recommends using regular spark plugs with your MSD ignition instead of special hotter plugs. Stay away from multi-electrode spark plugs like Platinum and E3 based on what I’ve seen. I would use traditional copper plugs and maybe thicken them up a bit and after running them for a while, check the condition of the plugs. Some people will run a slightly cooler plug to offset the hot spark somewhat. As far as adding an aftermarket power steering oil cooler, I don’t see a need for it unless you’re auto crossing the car and actually using the power steering system.

NS. I took my new 1958 Buick to a car show recently, and it generally drives quite well. The people at the local car club that ran the show suggested that I should switch the ignition system to electronic style and the generator to an alternator. What is your take on this?

a. With a solid-state ignition system, you never have to worry about malfunctioning or burning points, and the ignition spark is generally strong and starts quickly. The problem with generators is that they don’t do a good job of charging the battery at idle. Replacing the generator with a simple-to-install General Motors alternator with a built-in voltage regulator will solve any potential charging problems. That being said, cars performed just fine with this old technology for almost a century, and if it’s working well you can certainly keep using it.

NS. My 2011 Mercedes Benz GLK 350 A Power Steering Hose Needs Replacement. The repair seems easy enough, but my question is about the power steering fluid. The owner’s manual states that Dexron III is an acceptable liquid to use. My question is can I use Dexron IV, V or Vl? My second question is, how long do sealed containers of oil last?

a. When I looked up the specifications for the power steering fluid in the database I used, I found conflicting information. One database said only Mercedes Benz fluid to be used and did not show an equivalent. When I looked at it, the other agreed with the Mercedes owner’s manual and said that the Dexron III was compatible. According to AC Delco, which markets the Dexron fluid, they say the Dexron VL is backwards compatible with previous Dexron automatic transmission fluids and can be used as a replacement for older vehicles. Regarding the shelf life of oil, the last time I had someone from an oil company on my radio program, I asked that question and he said five years is the number they use. I don’t believe the oil goes bad (although the additives can precipitate out). This is a requirement of newly designed products in case of new vehicles.

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s car doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-Certified Master Technician. E-mail your car question [email protected] Listen to Car Doctor on the radio every Saturday morning at 104.9 FM or online at Northshore1049.com.

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