Latest Reader Qs (Sept. 20, 2017)

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Here are the latest reader questions, along with my reply:

Bob asks: Ran across a 1995 Saturn SC with low miles, pristine condition for sale. Bad idea?

My reply: With any used car, it’s condition that matters most. This includes the obvious – high miles, lots of wear and tear – but also the not-obvious, which is chiefly not enough use. Cars that are parked and sit for long periods of time can have as many problems as cars with very high miles.

This is why I strongly recommend a thorough going over by a competent mechanic you trust prior to the sale.

Assuming this car checks out – and the price is right – I’d jump on it. The ’90s-era Saturns were great little cars. Excellent mileage, fun to drive and and pretty simple relative to the current crop. The SC’s chief deficit, if it is one (this is subjective, it depends on what you like) is that it sits low and the ride is a little bouncy.

Personally, I like these cars a lot. They were among the first cars I test drove professionally, back in the Beginning!

Gary asks: I enjoy your writing. If it’s not an imposition, please permit me to ask a question, as your writing makes me consider you will answer honestly and accurately. I am 59 years old. My first car was a 1970 Plymouth Duster. My parents always schooled me that when I went to turn off a car, it was good judgment to make sure all the accessories were off: radio, AC, heater fan and windshield wipers. And of course headlights. My understanding was leaving them on meant it was possible they would be damaged in the effort later to restart the car. Or a fuse would blow. Or the battery drain. Or make for extra wear and tear on the starter. I asked my own children to obey these guidelines. They did so for years, but now insist it is not necessary to do so. They challenged me to find such instructions in the owners’ manual for our 2016 VW Jetta, but alas, I couldn’t find it. May I please learn your view? Thanking you in advance.

Hi Gary: There is some truth to this in that accessories draw electrical (and in the case of AC, mechanical) power and so add load to the system. However, things like the blower motor and other electrical accessories will (or should) automatically cut off when you actually try to start the engine. And with the ignition in the off position, all electrical power to these accessories should be off, too.

Caveat: I have found that some cars have 12V power points that remain “hot” (on) even with the ignition off. If you have an accessory device connected  to such a “hot” power point, it could, over time, draw down the battery and so I recommend being sure not to leave powered devices connected to a “hot” power point when you park/leave the car.

If you leave the ignition switch in the run position – with the engine off – all electrical accessories (e.g., the radio, fan, lights, etc.) that are on will run and will draw power. And if the engine is not running, the alternator is not producing current to power them. Instead, they are being powered by the battery, which is another way of saying the battery is being drained. This is why it is not advisable to run accessories for more than brief periods (five or ten minutes) with the engine off as doing so discharges the battery and that will make the alternator work harder – once you start the engine –  to recharge the battery to full charge; also more frequent discharge/recharge cycles will usually reduce battery life.

Once the engine is running, though, adequate current to power all electrical systems should be provided by the alternator and the engine will provide the necessary mechanical power to run the AC compressor.

Note: Some new cars (mostly hybrids but not exclusively) have electrically driven AC compressors and so running the AC with the engine off can add significantly to the load on the system, deplete the battery, etc.

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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