Questions and Answers from the ‘Car Doctor’ – The Saratogian | CarTailz

Q. I’m considering buying a truck from a small multi-state used car dealership and towing my camper, which is so important to be safe. How do I find a certified mechanic? I’m not just concerned with the general condition of the truck, but also that the trailer hitch has been fitted correctly and can tow my caravan. Does AAA have mechanics that I can book for this?

A. Most good garages can do a used vehicle inspection. This should include an inspection of all normal wear and tear items such as brakes, steering, suspension, belts, hoses, fluids, cooling and air conditioning systems and a thorough road test to evaluate powertrain performance. For AAA-approved auto repair shops, go to If the selling dealer doesn’t want you to take the vehicle to a third-party workshop for inspection, I personally wouldn’t buy the vehicle. Once you find a shop, talk to them about your trailer and hitch, as well as your hitch wiring and trailer brakes.

Q. My son-in-law just bought a 2021 Dodge Ram. We’re confused as to why it comes standard with a generator instead of an alternator. Would you know why it comes with a generator and what are the advantages over an alternator.

A. Alternators produce alternating current and old-fashioned generators produce direct current. Alternators are not very efficient at keeping the battery charged when idle, where an alternator will (mostly) charge an idle battery. I think in this case it’s just terminology, the RAM truck of 2021, even the mild hybrid that uses an alternator.

Q. I am interested in this battery that needs to be ordered from a local auto parts store. I like the price but I have some questions. Would they probably send an old one and does age really matter? When I buy a battery from an auto parts store or Walmart, I usually check the sticker. My local Goodyear store doesn’t check the age, they just take one from the display. Am I thinking about it?

A. Batteries typically begin to deteriorate as they are manufactured. At AAA, we typically rotate sold out batteries every six months to keep stock as fresh as possible. I’ve seen other retailers keep batteries on the shelves for a year. I like that you try to buy fresh batteries whenever possible to ensure the longest lifespan. If the special battery you ordered is more than a year old, I would ask for a newer battery.

Q. I read your column weekly and recently there have been several reader inquiries about headlight restoration. My local car wash company offers several services in addition to a car wash. One of them is the restoration of the headlights. You are using a Gliptone product that Gliptone advertises as “Guaranteed To Stay Clear For One Full Year”. The cost of the service is approximately $50.00. Also, Griot’s Garage is touting a ceramic headlight restoration kit that they say is “guaranteed to last a lifetime.” There are two versions, one is advertised to clear moderate deterioration for $20.99 and the other can clear severe deterioration for $29.99. I haven’t personally used either product so I can’t say they live up to their advertising, but these alternatives may be helpful to your readers.

A. As cars age, headlights can deteriorate and tests by AAA have shown that in some cases this deterioration can block 90 percent of the available light output. Therefore, it is important to have properly working headlights. Gliptone looks like a New York-based company that sells to the car wash industry. Griot products can be a little pricey, but I’ve found the chemicals I’ve used work as advertised.

Q. I follow your Car Doctor column in my newspaper and thank you for keeping us informed. Has anyone mentioned a subframe issue with 2012 Mercedes Benz C300? I recently took my immaculate 2012 C300 to my Mercedes Benz dealership for scheduled maintenance. I only have 50,000 miles on this 10 year old car. The technician stopped when he found the driver’s side subframe was rusted and cracked. The part is backordered – six to nine months. If the part is ordered to fix my car, I would have to pay for the part when ordering. We were told the trader would not accept it as a trade. For safety reasons, it is not passable. I researched this issue online and found others facing the same challenge. Could this be the reason why the part is being backordered? Shouldn’t this subframe issue be a recall or be reported to an agency?

A. I’ve seen this issue on a few occasions, usually in northeastern states with a combination of road salt and salty air. As far as I know (from the databases I have access to) Mercedes Benz has not issued any technical bulletins and there are no recalls. I would still file a safety complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The part could be backordered for a combination of reasons – In Europe these cars have a much longer warranty of up to 30 years. So it could be that the parts cover the repairs of the European warranty. The other issue is general parts availability, with almost every car by the time it turns 10 years old parts are harder to come by. To report the problem, go to

If you have a question about the car, send an email to the Car Doctor for a personal answer.

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