Looking for low miles is good car-shopping strategy

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND
  • Updated: April 13, 2012 - 3:56 PM
Q My sister is looking for a 2004 or 2005 Toyota RAV4, but she will not look at one with more than 40,000 miles. She is convinced that the lower the miles, the more desirable the vehicle, no matter what. I told her that a vehicle with that low miles might have issues associated with having been driven so infrequently and that it may need a bunch of maintenance given its age and mileage. What do you think of her strategy?

A I like your sister's strategy, particularly if her plan is to keep the vehicle for many years. I wouldn't expect any significant problems with a vehicle driven about 6,000 miles per year. The higher price for a newer model with the same mileage would be considerably more than the cost of any scheduled maintenance that hasn't been done. Beyond specific inspections, Toyota only calls for replacement of the air cleaner every 30,000 miles and oil and filter changes at 5,000-mile intervals. The vehicle may need routine tire and brake replacement, but most dealerships will have already done this before offering the vehicle for sale.

Q I have a 2003 Honda Accord with 173,000 miles on it. In past six months, I've replaced the starter, spark plugs and battery and had the intake system cleaned. The engine light has been going on and off for the last few weeks. Otherwise, the car is running well. A diagnostic test indicates the catalytic converter and both sensors need replacing at a cost of $1,000. I plan to keep the Accord as long as it runs. Do I spend the $1,000 or run the car as is?

A Do the diagnostic fault codes specifically identify a failed catalytic converter? Unless the exhaust is restricted by a failed catalytic converter, I'd be inclined to replace just the oxygen sensors first -- particularly the front sensor. The original may be slow to react to changes in the percentage of oxygen in the exhaust and might not keep the fuel-air mixture as precise as it should. With a new sensor, the converter may be able to catalyze the smaller percentage of unburned fuel well enough to keep the engine light off. If not, you can always decide to replace the converter at a later date. If you do, consider an aftermarket converter at a significantly lower cost.

Q My husband and I own a vehicle with an automatic transmission. He drives with his left foot on the brake pedal and his right foot on the accelerator. Is this safe, economical, quirky, or what?

A As long as he's not "riding" the brake -- keeping some pressure on the brake pedal while accelerating or cruising -- left-foot braking is perfectly acceptable. In fact, from a performance point of view, it's better. There's never a delay in switching from gas to brake or vice versa. Looking at left-foot braking from a safety perspective, he should be able to get to and apply the brakes quicker in an emergency situation than drivers who have to move their right foot from the throttle to the brake pedal to apply the brakes.

Motoring note

Here's a wonderful follow-up to GM's "batting order" [March 17] from Rick in California: "GM had a longstanding branding strategy that was summarized in Fortune magazine as 'Chevrolet [is] for the hoi polloi, Pontiac for the poor but proud, Oldsmobile for the comfortable but discreet, Buick for the striving and Cadillac for the rich.' This fit with the GM slogan of the time, 'a car for every purse and purpose.' This brand distinction was strong into the '60s. Although GM blurred the lines a little with platform and component sharing, and advertising (like Pontiac as the performance division), the distinction between the models remained as envisioned in the '30s, particularly among the older generation."

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