Dear Car Talk:
I’m in a long line of cars at a stop light. The car at the front of the line creeps forward. The next car does the same. It’s my turn. The light is still red.
My concern is the brakes. My thought is that I’m using brakes unnecessarily, adding wear and tear to them and shortening their life.
I feel like once I’m stopped, I’m done; the brakes have done their job. And if I just sit there and wait until the light turns green, I’m saving my brakes from further wear.
My husband, on the other hand, feels that creeping forward, which almost requires riding the brakes, is not hurting the brakes at all and keeps the idiot behind me from beeping his horn.
What say you, Oh Great One? – Janeen
RAY: Janeen, you’ve made my day. It’s been ages since we’ve gotten a letter in which a husband is actually right.
The wear and tear on the brake pads and brake rotors is directly related to how hard the brakes have to work. And how hard the brakes have to work depends on the speed of the car.
And the truth is, at one or two miles per hour, the speed at which you creep forward at a traffic light, the brakes are barely working at all.
In that way, they’re very much like my late brother.
It’s the equivalent of worrying about the wear and tear on your biceps from picking up a paper clip.
When you’re trying to stop a 4,000-pound mass from 70 mph, it takes a lot of friction. And that friction is what wears away the pads and rotors. It takes very little friction to stop a car that’s barely moving.
And here’s another reason to keep up with the car in front of you: It helps you stay alert to when the light does turn green.
Have you ever been in this situation? You’re at a red light, and the light turns green. But the guy in front of you is busy picking lint off his cashmere boxer shorts, and he doesn’t move. Finally, you tap your horn, and he looks up, and realizes the light has been green for 20 seconds and there’s no one in front of him. He floors it, and as he makes it through the light, the light turns red, and you’re stuck again. Then you have to curse him and his progeny for all eternity.
Don’t let that happen to you, Janeen. So, consider me pro-creep.
Is not fixing my car bad for the environment?
Dear Car Talk:
My mechanic says my 1999 Altima needs a new charcoal canister at a cost of $512. Most of that cost is for the part, not the labor, he says.
He also says it won’t hurt to drive the car without having this part replaced. I’ll just continue to experience two irritating reminders of the problem: 1. The “Service Engine Soon” light never goes off. 2. When I refuel, the gas pump shuts off early and I can never fill it up all the way, even with multiple squeezes of the nozzle.
Neither of these problems is enough to make me drop $512 on a car with almost 200,000 miles.
So, I just want to know what are the potential problems in the next 50,000 miles if I leave things the way they are? And how bad of a person, environmentally speaking, am I for driving the car in this condition? – Bill
RAY: Well, one problem you’ll have in the next 50,000 miles is you won’t know when your “Service Engine Soon” light is trying to tell you something new. If it’s always on, you won’t know when you have a second, or third, problem.
As far as how bad a person you are, I think I’d defer to your poker buddies on that. But I wouldn’t want to live next door to you, Bill.
The charcoal canister captures raw gasoline vapors so they don’t escape into the air. Gasoline vapors are the source of smog, which damages people’s lungs, and is particularly hard on kids and people with breathing difficulties.
So, you’re saving $500 at the expense of everyone else’s health.
Your mechanic is right that it won’t harm the car if you drive with a non-functioning charcoal canister. But since it will harm your family and friends, why not consider looking for a used one?
If your mechanic is willing, have him call some local junkyards and see if he can find you a charcoal canister from an Altima of the same era.
Maybe you’ll find a working one with 100,000 miles on it. Then you’ll certainly be good for another 50,000 miles (although if that’s your goal, you might want to have him pick up a used engine and transmission while he’s there, too).
Since the bulk of the price for this repair is the part, buying a used part might cut the cost by more than half.
And then with all the money you save, you can fly across the country on vacation and pollute the upper atmosphere. Good luck, Bill.
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