Pushbutton start doesn’t always do the trick

Dear Car Talk:

I own a 2013 Honda Accord. It came with a pushbutton start. I put my foot on the brake pedal and push firmly, and sometimes it starts and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't – at least half the time – I get a static-sounding noise. This has been going on for approximately a year now. At first, I felt it had something to do with the brake pedal (where on the pedal I pushed). Sometimes the pedal was a bit mushy, and I had better results if I pumped the pedal until I got firm resistance. It got to where this didn't help, so I moved my finger around the button from the center to all the edges. Currently, this is my method, and as yet, I haven't been stranded. I've tried two respected local mechanic shops, and both said they couldn't find anything wrong. I've discussed it with a guy at the gas station where I get my oil changed, and he experienced the problem but didn't know what was causing it. I called the Honda dealership where I bought the car, and the guy who answered the phone said he had never heard of such an issue. I would like to get a diagnosis and cure. Thanks. – Paul

RAY: Once moving your finger to different parts of the button stops working, I think your next step is three Hail Marys and a couple of Our Fathers, Paul.

Actually, I don’t believe the brakes or your finger position has anything to do with it. Whatever it is, though, the dealer is your best bet.

If anyone has seen this on multiple cars and knows what’s causing it, it’ll be the dealer – who services 2013 Accords every day. And since I presume it’s still under warranty – certainly, the problem began while the car was under warranty – they should fix it for you, whatever’s causing it.

So make an appointment with them. Make sure that the service representative writes on the repair order exactly what the problem is. That’ll protect you in case they can’t fix it this time and you still have the problem after the warranty coverage expires. And if you can get them to experience the non-starting condition with you there, that’s even better.

It could be any number of things: a bad starter, a battery with a bad cell, a faulty brake-pedal interlock or neutral safety switch, or a physical problem with the pushbutton switch. Or it could be that the key fob is not communicating correctly with the immobilizer in the car (this prevents someone without the key fob from starting your car).

I’ve never seen this on a 2013 Accord, so I don’t know precisely what’s causing it. But your dealer needs to figure it out. It’s Honda’s responsibility, under its warranty, and you just need to insist that they give you a solution that doesn’t involve sprinkling eye of newt on the dashboard. Good luck, Paul.

What is Magnasteer, and is it necessary?

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2002 Buick LeSabre that needs a new rack and pinion. Now, I found some that are pretty cheap, but they say they don't have "Magnasteer." I was wondering what this is, and if I need it or not. Some rack and pinions claim to have Magnasteer, and others don't. Is this something that can be repurposed from the old rack? – David

RAY: Magnasteer was an early version of variably assisted power steering. So, when you're driving slow – like when you're maneuvering this QE2 into a parking space – you get the maximum assist from the power steering. And when you're cruising on the highway and are more interested in just keeping the car pointed straight, you get a lot less power-steering assist. Lots of cars now do this via electric power-steering units.

I believe all the 2002 LeSabres came with Magnasteer. And as you’ve probably discovered, the Magnasteer rack costs close to $500. So, with labor, that’s a $700-$800 job.

Can you replace your steering rack with a non-Magnasteer rack? Yes, and the non-Magnasteer rack is quite a bit cheaper. But unfortunately, in order to make the non-Magnasteer rack work, you have to replace both the inner and outer tie-rod ends. And by the time you do that, the price of the whole job ends up being about the same.

So you might as well bite the bullet and buy the Magnasteer rack if you plan to keep the car, David.

One other option is to find out what it would cost to rebuild your current rack. It’s probably leaking, and you can have it rebuilt and have the seals replaced. I don’t know if that’ll save you any money, but you might as well ask around and find out.

Whatever you decide, good luck, and happy steering, David.

Visit the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.