Q: In your column you gave advice on what to do if someone experienced a stuck throttle. With a traditional key I understand the steps you mentioned. But our next vehicle may be equipped with a push-button ignition. How would we handle an emergency situation like a stuck accelerator or unintended acceleration? Also, one of the vehicles we are interested in has a push-button transmission, not a normal gear shifter. Does shifting to neutral still apply?
A: We currently have a vehicle with electronic rather than mechanical door locks and a fob-in-pocket push-button ignition on the dash. I don't care for either of these. If the car battery goes dead, the doors cannot be unlocked from the outside. You must use an emergency key stored in the fob to unlock the rear hatch and pull a cable to mechanically unlock the front door. If you are inside the vehicle when the battery fails and the doors are locked — exceptionally rare, of course, but still a possibility — you must pull an emergency door release lever to open the door.
As modern and slick as this technology is, I can't help but wonder what the true benefits are. A remote keyless entry system opens doors from the outside and a key-in-the-ignition switch started and stopped the engine. Mind you, these electronic systems aren't necessarily bad but I don't see any real advantage.
In reference to dealing with a stuck throttle or unintended acceleration, the push-button ignition switch does suggest a possible complication. In order to shut off the engine, one must depress and hold in the button for a short period of time — a demanding and difficult procedure when dealing with an emergency.
To deal with a stuck throttle/unintended acceleration with a system like this, shift the transmission into neutral, then steer and brake the car to a safe stop — as I suggested in my earlier column. Again, modern engine management systems will prevent the engine from over-revving in neutral in this situation.
Whether the shift mechanism is push-button, floor-mounted or on the steering column doesn't matter. Immediately shift into neutral and then deal with the situation.
Q: I love my Dodge Intrepid but the headlights have never been adequate. I keep the lenses polished and clear but the lights are worse thsn the 6-volt bulbs in my 1951 Ford sealed-beam headlights. What can I do? I need better lights to drive at night.
A: Age and your eyes may be part of this, but regardless, you can upgrade the halogen bulbs in your composite headlamp assemblies. Probably your best choice would to install a xenon HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamp kit. HID headlamps are original equipment on many newer vehicles and offer a significant improvement in lighting. The installation isn't quite as simple as replacing the standard bulb — it requires a ballast assembly and additional wiring harness. Prices are in the $100-$300 range for the kit.
Q: I have a 2007 Chevy 1500 V8 that can burn E85. I got the flex fuel option when E85 was about 65 cents per gallon less than gas. Now I am seeing a difference of about 25 cents, which means it doesn't make sense to burn E85. Is there a formula for figuring the break-even point? If you use E85 on every fill, will that harm the engine or make it run rough?
A: There's no perfect answer here. E85 prices vary state-to-state from about 10 to 25 percent less than gasoline, thus the economics vary tremendously. The EPA combined mileage estimates for a 2014 Chevy 5.3-liter K1500 4WD are 18 mpg on gasoline and 13 mpg on E85 — a difference of more than 25 percent. Compare this with the percentage difference in cost between fuels and you'll have your answer for that fill-up. While there is no benefit to engine reliability or durability, E85 won't harm your engine.