The Hood Honcho

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The Hood Honcho is here to help clear up some of those tricky common mechanical questions.

I just got a new car and it's got "traction control". I leave it turned on all the time but is this the right thing to do?

Yes, you’re doing the right thing. The traction control feature can be a great advantage, especially in wet or slippery conditions.

Traction Control assists the wheels to maintain their grip – or traction – which makes driving safer.

My car has an overdrive button. When do I use it?

The overdrive gear is designed to improve your car’s fuel economy when you’re driving on highways or freeways.

When the overdrive is on it reduces the engine speed (lowers the revs per minute for the more technically minded) and this means you use less fuel.

Don’t use it if you’re towing something or climbing hills, because this could strain your engine.

My brakes are making a squealing noise – should I worry about this?

Definitely. You should always worry about brake noise as most cars these days have a Low-Warning device which causes a squealing noise when your brake pads reach a minimum thickness.

Any squealing/grinding noise made by your brakes normally indicates that there is metal to metal contact and your car's brake pads need to be replaced.

How often should I service my car?

As a general rule, you should service your car every six months, or about every 10,000 kilometers.

Some manufacturers' recommendations vary, so check out what’s suggested for your car.

Sticking with a six monthly service schedule and regularly maintaining your car's engine can reduce the possibility of an expensive repair bill or something serious going wrong.

Should I ever use high-octane unleaded fuel? Is it better for my car?

You don’t need it unless you’ve got a European or high-performance car especially one with a high compression engine or turbo.

Check your car's handbook or with the vehicle manufacturer for a recommendation about which fuel type is best suited to your car.

Is it true that you use more fuel when the air-conditioner is on?

Yes. If your air-conditioner is switched on while you are driving, not only will your car use more fuel but you also may lose a percentage of your engine power.

If you are looking at ways of running your car more efficiently then you can just use your normal air vents or, if it’s really hot and you want to use the air-conditioning, you can use the ‘cycle’ system to re-circulate the cooler air or turn it off once the car has cooled down.

I’ve got some spots of rust on my car’s bodywork. Should I worry or do anything about them?

Rust should be treated to stop it from getting worse, although spots of surface rust aren't a problem for registration.

Most rust starts when the car’s paintwork has been damaged (scratched or chipped) leaving the bare metal exposed. Small rust problems can quickly turn into major structural rust because the metal used in cars is quite thin. You can stop small spots of rust spreading by retouching the area.

Products for treating rust are available from most auto products stores and some car manufacturers sell small tins of paint to match your car’s paint colour.

If you’re worried about rust, ask a mechanic or smash repairer to check it out.

My car sometimes doesn't start. It’s like the battery is dead but I replaced that recently. What could be wrong?

Your car’s alternator may not be charging properly or you may have a power drain (eg a light left on inside the car due to something like the glove-box or boot not closing properly).

Other possible causes could be a faulty starter motor, ignition switch or a bad connection with the wiring. As a first step, check the battery terminals – they should be clean and quite tight. Remove any white powder on them (pouring hot water over the affected area will dissolve any build-up) but be careful not to get it on your hands or clothing and wash your hands afterwards. If the problem persists, get your car looked at by your mechanic or an auto-electrician.