Car care tips during COVID

The 110 Freeway heading north out of downtown Los Angeles was very light traffic on Friday, March 20, 2020 due to the coronavirus. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Q: During the past year, we have driven only once a week to our grocery store, five miles away. One person thinks it would be good for the 2011 Ford Escape to go onto the freeway occasionally, up to speed for a few miles. The other person thinks this is unnecessary because on these cold nights he puts the battery charger on the night before. What do you think?

M.P., Minneapolis

A: Although driving the vehicle occasionally is not necessary, I still do it just to get a change of scenery on a sunny day. I consider three car lengths adequate for social distancing and I am helping the economy by spending money ... on gas.

Q: Ford Recall 19S54/NHTSA 19V-904 was opened for my 2008 Ford Fusion’s ABS hydraulic brake (HCU valve) problem. I originally received a letter in January 2020 stating that parts should be available late in the first quarter of 2020, another in October 2020 stating parts should be available late in the first quarter of 2021. On Dec. 30, 2020, my wife tried to brake at a stop light during normal traffic but wet conditions. The brake pedal went down to the floor, but did not immediately stop the car, causing the car to swerve. My mechanic also experienced this same problem but could not repair it without the proper part from Ford. I opened a trouble case with Ford Motor Company and a complaint number with the NHTSA. I also took the car to a local Ford dealership for diagnosis. The dealership said they could diagnose the for $150 but could not fix it until parts are available. In the recall letter, Ford states that: “If the HCU valve is stuck open, this may result in extended brake pedal travel required to stop the vehicle, increasing the risk of a crash. Ford has not issued instructions to stop driving the vehicle under the safety recall.” The car is currently being garage kept. Your thoughts and/or suggestions?

J.L. Mokena, Illinois

A: Don’t drive in inclement weather. I apologize for the glib answer, but the advice is good. We have grown to rely on the ABS system to improve safe braking in poor road conditions. As you know, the system “pumps” the brakes giving the driver better control to steer out of danger. Whenever the roads are clear, the ABS system just waits in the background and the regular brakes usually work normally. There is not much I can add to your endeavors to get the car fixed.

Q: We are very satisfied owners of a 2021 Subaru Ascent with 3,300 miles on it. It has the 2.4-liter turbo boxer engine. We plan to use it to tow a single axle, 3,300-pound travel trailer. We have just learned from a friend who owned a 2019 Ascent with the same engine that he had to trade his due to his dealer being unable to solve an oil dilution issue — apparently occurring infrequently in not only some Subaru turbo vehicles. Any thoughts you could share with us on the overall safety of our vehicle? Any “symptoms” we should be watching for?

S.D., Lombard, Illinois

A: The oil gets diluted with gasoline which reduces its lubricating ability. The quickest way to diagnose the problem is to pull the dipstick. If the level is above the full line, or has a gasoline odor, there is a problem. Simply check the oil at every fill-up.

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