Mechanic’s overblown advice is 50 years too late

Dear Car Talk:

I own a 2013 Chevy Sonic with a turbo engine. I love the car and it gets great gas mileage. I don’t drive like a grandma, but I tend to drive a little on the easy side in order to maximize my gas mileage. I get in the upper 30s to lower 40s mpg.

My buddy, who is a mechanic, says that I drive my car too gently. He says driving the way I do does not let the engine get hot enough, and I need to periodically “put the pedal to the metal” in order to “blow out the carbon.”

He says this is especially true with a turbo engine, as you need to “make the turbo howl” every once in a while.

I know that taking too many short trips can cause problems with the engine not getting hot enough, but most of my trips are in the 15- to 20-mile range.

My buddy specializes in hot rod cars from the 1970s and ’80s, so I think that is affecting his thinking about today’s cars. Is my buddy right? Or are things different now? – Ed

RAY: Your buddy has his headlight firmly implanted in his taillight socket, Ed. Put your fingers in your ears the next time he starts talking to you.

There is no carbon in engines anymore. Computer-controlled engines, like yours, run so efficiently that they really leave no deposits at all to “blow out.”

The goal of modern engine management is to protect the catalytic converter, minimize emissions and maximize fuel economy. To do that, the engine must burn the fuel as completely as possible, which leaves nothing behind. We almost never see carbon deposits in engines anymore. If we did, they couldn’t be “blown out” by driving hard anyway.

As for the turbo, “turbo howl” is something that costs about $1,500 to $2,000 to fix in our shop. That’s nonsense, too. The more gently you drive, the longer your engine and turbo will last. Period.

So yes, I think your buddy is still living in the 1960s and ’70s. And I think he may have been exposed to too much leaded gasoline and exhaust fumes over the years. Set him straight about modern engines the next time you see him, Ed, and keep doing exactly what you’re doing.

News flash: This Commodore needs help

Dear Car Talk:

I live in Australia and drive a 2000 Holden Commodore Executive VX. The car is in great condition for its age, but lately I’ve been having an issue with the turn signals.

When I first start my car for the day, the turn signals work fine. However, once I drive to work and park the car, the next time I start it up, the turn signals don’t work at all. It takes about 10 minutes of continuous driving for the turn signals to start working again.

What could be the issue? I’m reluctant to take it to the mechanic. I don’t want to fork out a lot of money if it’s something I could fix myself. Any advice on what to do would be awesome. Cheers from down under. – Jarrod

RAY: Well, I’ve seen exactly zero Holden Commodores in the shop in the past 30 or 40 years. Looking it up online, I see it’s a run-of-the-mill, turn-of-the-century GM sedan. The equivalent of an old Chevy Lumina or Oldsmobile Calais. So first, you have my deepest condolences.

It could be something really inexpensive, Jarrod. If you’re lucky, it could be the turn signal flasher. The flasher is a little $5 or $10 square or cylindrical thing that plugs in under the dash, and it’s responsible for making the turn signals do what? Flash!

So, it’s worth taking a trip to your local auto parts store and asking them for a flasher for a 2000 Holden Commodore. Presumably, you’ll get a less confused reaction from them than you did from me. Then, either ask them to show you where it’s located with their parts locator chart, or go home and get under the dashboard with a flashlight and look for a part that looks exactly like the one you just bought. When you find it, unplug it and plug in the new one. If that fixes the problem, I imagine you’ll be the happiest guy in all of Australia.

If that doesn’t fix it, you can return the flasher and get your five bucks back. Then take that money, add a chunk of your last paycheck to it, and drive the car to your mechanic.

If it’s not the flasher, then it’s probably the multifunction switch on the steering column. On a car that’s going on 20 years old, you can only imagine how many times that turn signal switch has been turned on and off. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s what you need.

Here in the States, a new multifunction switch will cost you somewhere north of 100 bucks. Or as they say in Australia, somewhere north of 100 bucks.

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