These ‘dented’ doors do no good

Dear Car Talk:

We have a 2017 Jeep Cherokee with the dented-door look. Is this a fashion statement, or does it have a genuine purpose? We live on a dirt road that gets muddy in winter. The shape of the Jeep’s doors splashes mud onto the door handles. We do not have this problem with any other vehicles. Thanks. – Sam

RAY: We call it the “sunken cheeks” look.

Automotive fashion is like every other type of fashion. Once somebody has success with some odd twist or look, everyone else follows.

The sides of cars used to be slabs. A crease or an indentation was relatively rare, because it was hard to manufacture. We felt fortunate enough that the doors didn’t fall off when we opened them. Making them look fancy never crossed our minds. But as manufacturing got more sophisticated, we started seeing more creases, lines and bulges. Then it was off to the races.

Now, pretty much every new car has a rising belt line, a crease under the windows, a huge front grill, bulging fenders and some kind of carved out doors, like your Cherokee has.

Eventually, this trend will get out of hand, and some carmaker will buck the trend and make an old-fashioned, slab-sided car that sells like crazy. Then everyone else will go back to slabs. This is as inevitable as watching lapels widen and thin, or watching your grandmother’s ugly furniture show up on a trendy magazine cover at the supermarket.

I don’t think it has anything to do with aerodynamics. It’s possible a “scooped out” door may have an effect on the handling of a Lamborghini when it’s going 170 miles an hour. But it’s not going to change anything on a Jeep Cherokee doing 70 on the highway.

So, if the only downside is the mud splattering, Sam, you need to go back to your dealer and buy the official Jeep door-handle mud rag for $39.95. Don’t worry; your next Jeep Cherokee will look different.

Who’s right: the dealer or the mechanic?

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2009 Toyota RAV4. The check engine light came on a year ago. I took it to the dealer, and they said it was an oxygen sensor. I had it repaired, which wasn’t cheap.

Everything was fine for a few months, and then the check engine light came on again intermittently until finally it stayed on all the time.

I went back to the dealer and was told it’s definitely the “bank one catalytic converter.” They want $1,200 to fix it. They said if it’s not fixed, it will eventually cause the car to stop.

I checked with my local mechanic who says it won’t make the car stop even if I never have it replaced.

I can’t afford to get it replaced. Who is right? – Gary

RAY: Your local mechanic is closer to being right than the dealer is, Gary.

Your check engine light came on because your catalytic converter’s efficiency has dropped below what it needs to be. It’s not doing its job of cleaning up your emissions anymore, and it needs to be replaced. That could be because you’ve used up your catalyst, or because a piece of it broke off and ended up in your muffler. Or on the interstate.

If your converter ever got completely plugged up and blocked, then it would prevent the car from running. That’s what your dealer is saying. But I think he’s being alarmist. An inefficient converter is not the same as a plugged-up converter. Although it’s possible that if you wait long enough, someday you’ll have both, Gary.

The more pressing issue is that most states have vehicle emissions inspection laws. And your car won’t pass inspection with a failing catalytic converter. So, if you expect to drive this car beyond your next inspection date, you have to get it fixed. But you don’t have to get it fixed at the dealer.

You can ask your local mechanic to get you a price on an aftermarket converter. It may be half as expensive. And it’ll probably last half as long as the factory converter. But that may be good enough, given the age of your car and your repair budget.

The only caution is that, in our experience, some aftermarket converters don’t work well enough to turn off the check engine light. So, ask your mechanic to use an aftermarket converter brand that he’s had success with on other Toyotas.

That may give you a way to keep driving, Gary.

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