Q: I have a 2002 Buick Century with 58,947 miles. The indicator light for the gear position and odometer is out (dark). I was told that the dash must be replaced at a cost of $300. I’ve been driving it like this since this occurred. Should I repair this car or buy a replacement new or used car?

A: With under 60,000 miles on the vehicle and assuming that this is the only issue, I would hesitate replacing the vehicle at this point. Due to its age — almost 14 years — the trade-in or sale value (as found on Kelley Blue Book’s Web page) would be between $3,000 and $3,500 in “very good condition.”

But before you do anything, make sure the problem isn’t the automatic headlamp control of the PRNDL (Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Low) lighting. If the vehicle has been parked in a garage, it will take a minute of so for the automatic headlamp system to adjust the display for daylight conditions. Also, the level of illumination can be adjusted with the headlamp switch dimmer control.

Individual lamps for the instrument cluster can be replaced by pulling the dash forward to access the lamps. That shouldn’t cost $300.


Q: Does the timing belt on a 2002 Lexus GS300 with 46,000 miles need replacement? This is my wife’s baby, nicknamed “The Whip” because she whips around in it generally way over the speed limit. The car is garaged from the first road salt application till spring, when it reappears. It has been dealer-serviced since new and with a recent brake job she was told that the timing belt needed replacement.

We have talked to auto repair mechanics and searched online but are confused. We are hearing that the belt shouldn’t need replacement until 100,000 to 110,000 miles. However one service manager said it “could be” a combination of miles and age.


A: He’s correct. In this vehicle’s owners maintenance manual the recommendation is for timing belt replacement at 90,000 miles or 72 months. Seventy-two months is six years, so at this point the car is way overdue based on time. I do think the low miles and no winter driving would tend to stress the timing belt less, but the 3-liter engine with variable valve timing is an “interference engine,” meaning major mechanical damage can occur should the timing belt fail.

Since your wife appears to really love “The Whip” and likely wants to keep driving for the foreseeable future due to the low mileage, I’d be inclined to protect your marriage and have the timing belt replaced soon.


Q: No doubt automobile manufacturers spend a lot of time and money determining the optimal OEM tire fitments for their cars. And from a decision as to the ride/handing qualities desired comes recommended tire pressures. But what happens when the OEM tires are replaced? Say you replace the OEM tires with a tire carrying a different speed or load rating. Or fit summer tires in place of all-weather tires. Is there a way to determine what the tire pressures should then be? I suspect most people assume original recommendations are still valid but I’m not so sure.


A: Assuming replacement tires of the same size — P225/55R17, for example — and without a specific recommendation from the replacement tire manufacturer to operate the tires at pressures different from the OE spec, stick with the pressures specified by the carmaker.

That said, I have no problem with adjusting tire pressures to optimize ride quality, performance, handling — whatever characteristic you’re interested in improving — within reason. If the vehicle seems sluggish to change directions quickly, increase tire pressures to stiffen the sidewalls and improve handling response. If the vehicle seems to chatter or jolt sharply over bumps, lower the tire pressures to soften ride quality.

What’s “within reason”? Perhaps 3 to 5 pounds up or down — enough to “feel” the difference but not enough to cause a problem — then make your decision based on the results of your test drives.