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Monday, October 31, 2011

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Detroit ratings drop in reliability survey By Brent Snavely Detroit Free Press

The respected Consumer Reports magazine on Tuesday gave Detroit’s recovering auto industry a blow to the gut. Chrysler was the one bright spot, moving from bottom of the barrel last year to the middle of the pack this year. Still, the magazine noted that Chrysler has many models it cannot recommend to buyers. “Even with Chrysler’s improvement, Detroit models still have reliability problems,” it concluded after conducting its annual survey of 1.3 million members. The news was damaging to Ford, which had been riding a wave of improved quality that has boosted its image, sales and profits. In 2008, the magazine put a Fusion on its cover and declared Ford “on par with good Japanese automakers,” a reputation that mostly has held up since. Not this year. The Ford brand dropped 10 spots in the rankings, to No. 20 among 28 brands — far below Asian rivals who dominated the top 10 rankings. General Motors posted a mixed performance. Chevrolet held steady at No. 17. Buick and GMC dropped in the rankings, along with Cadillac, which placed 25th. On Wednesday, Ford reported earnings of $1.6 billion, or 46 cents a share, in the third quarter, $38 million less than a year earlier, but better than analysts’ consensus of 44 cents a share. Sales rose 14.1 percent to $33.1 billion as the Dearborn

The Ford brand dropped 10 spots in the rankings, to No. 20 among 28 brands — far below Asian rivals who dominated the top 10 rankings. General Motors posted a mixed performance. Chevrolet held steady at No. 17. Buick and GMC dropped in the rankings, along with Cadillac, which placed 25th. automaker sold 1,346,000 vehicles, or 93,000 more than it sold in the third quarter of 2010. “We delivered solid results despite an uncertain business environment by continuing to serve our customers around the world with bestin-class vehicles,” said CEO Alan Mulally. Ford was profitable in North and South America, but lost money in Europe, Asia-Pacific and Africa.

Japanese lead pack in reliability survey Japanese automakers continued to dominate the top spots in the Consumer

Reports’ annual automotive reliability survey, despite recalls, tsunamis and competitors who had gained ground in recent years. Nine out of the top 10 brands in the annual survey were from Japanese companies. Toyota’s Scion brand was ranked No. 1, followed by Lexus, Acura, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Infiniti, Subaru and Nissan. The German Volkswagen brand placed 10th. “They still lead the pack,” David Champion, director of Consumer Reports’ Automotive Test Center, said Tuesday of the Japanese automakers. “Although the domestics have improved, they still have a ways to go to really get to the best manufacturers that are out there.” Consumer Reports’ survey results are based on responses from 1.3 million subscribers to Consumer Reports or its website. The magazine uses the results to predict reliability for new 2012 models. The flaws in Ford’s MyFord Touch infotainment system go beyond how it functions, Champion said. The design of the touch-screen system causes drivers to get distracted, he said. “When you are trying to ... press the right button area on the screen ... you keep on taking your eyes off of the road,” Champion said Tuesday when he spoke at the Automotive Press Association. Negative consumer survey responses to the system contributed to Ford’s fall from 10th place in last year’s Consumer Reports’ survey to No. See RELIABILITY, Page 2

Eric SEalS/DEtroit FrEE PrESS/Mct

Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally talks to the media in front of the Ford Focus ST during the Ford press conference at Cobo Arena at the 2011 North American International Auto Show held at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, on January 10.


Page 2 / Monday, October 31, 2011

Tallahassee Democrat / OnTheMOve

Reliability From Page 1

20 this year, as did a new transmission system. Champion said the in-car technology problems go beyond their complexity, too. “It is the fact that the systems crashed, and there were issues with slow performance,” he said. Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood said Ford has already made changes to the system and stressed that MyFord Touch also can be operated with voice commands and buttons on the steering wheel. “The great thing about technology and software-based systems is that we are able to address the issues quickly, and we have been doing that with MyFord Touch,” Sherwood said. Consumer Reports also singled out Ford’s new PowerShift dual-clutch six-speed transmission on the Fiesta and Focus. The transmission, Champion said, doesn’t perform well in low speeds, such as in parking lots, and generates a chattering noise. Sherwood said most of those issues have been corrected by making changes to the computer software that manages the transmissions. Chrysler, which exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2009, is performing best with its new vehicles, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Chrysler 200. “It gives us a good look of where the company is going,” Champion said. Chrysler’s Jeep brand jumped seven spots to 13th, and was the top-ranked domestic brand while Chrysler jumped 12 spots. General Motors received a mixed report card from the magazine. The Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car — its most high-profile new vehicle — is the company’s most reliable, Champion said. But Cadillac — GM’s luxury brand — ranked 25th out of 28 brands and the Cadillac SRX is not recommended by the magazine. The survey also revealed that quality issues surfaced for the Chevrolet Cruze. Terry Woychowski, GM’s vice president of quality, said the problems on the Cruze have been fixed and said warranty claims for Cadillac have declined 21 percent this year. “We are very proud of the Cruze ... there were a couple of minor issues at launch,” Woychowski said. “But we hope that both these vehicles — the SRX and the Cruze — can gain their rightful spots next time around.”

ToyoTa/MCT

The 2012 Scion iQ is officially known as a micro-subcompact.

Scion iQ: A smart alternative to ultra-small cars? By Greg Gardner Detroit Free Press

The niche for ultra-small city cars may be limited, but Toyota’s funky Scion brand believes its new iQ will expand the segment, and based on a sneak peak Tuesday , it has reason for optimism. Positioned between MercedesBenz’s Smart car and the Fiat 500, Scion iQ offers a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine capable of 94 horsepower. But the real draw may be the 11 airbags and a nimble 12.9-foot turning radius that will make parking in congested cities easy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will average 37 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Jack Hollis, Scion vice president, calls the segment premium micro-subcompact. How many cars are sold will depend on

gas prices, which are now down from their peak of last spring. But despite economic headwinds, young consumers are migrating to urban hubs, and that’s the market the iQ is targeting. “The youth of today are much more interested in mass transit, car-sharing and other transportation options,” Hollis said. The iQ’s designers carved out more interior space, especially for front-seat legroom and overall headroom, than a glance from outside the car would lead one to expect. With a height of 59 inches and length of 10 feet, the 66-inch width provides nearly the same space between driver and passenger as the much larger Toyota Corolla. The iQ was slated for launch this summer, but the disruptions caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan

pushed back its production launch. Now Hollis expects West Coast dealers to see their first cars in early December. Showrooms from the Southwest to Southeast should receive the iQ in January and February 2012, and the marketing launch on the East Coast and Midwest is slated for next March. The other challenge for Scion is that the 18- to 29-year-old demographic from which most iQ buyers will come is taking a disproportionate hit from the prolonged unemployment crisis. “The market we’re aiming at has a 20 percent unemployment rate, but they are moving back into cities,” Hollis said. An electric version of the iQ is scheduled for introduction next year, but Hollis said it will be sold primarily to corporate and government fleets.

The iQ will carry a base price of $15,995, including delivery. “It’s definitely an interesting car,” said Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific. “The problem is that Americans like to pay for cars by the pound. You have to give people a reason to want to downsize.” The iQ expands Scion’s lineup from three to four models. Despite the earthquake’s impact, Scion’s sales through the first nine months of 2011 are up 13.2 percent from a year earlier. Sales of the redesigned 2011 tC sport coupe, launched about a year ago, are up 76 percent from last year through September. Last April, Scion showed a concept car called the FR-S at the New York International Auto Show. A version of that is expected to be produced sometime in the next 18 months.


Monday, October 31, 2011 / Page 3

OnTheMOve / Tallahassee Democrat

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Page 4 / Monday, October 31, 2011

Tallahassee Democrat / OnTheMOve

Monday, October 31, 2011 / Page 5

OnTheMOve / Tallahassee Democrat

New Dodge Charger a racy, sophisticated brute By Larry Printz McClatchy-Tribune News Service

The biggest surprise of the 2011 model year is the Pygmalion-like transformation of the Dodge Charger into a car worthy of the name. The new 2011 Charger’s sophisticated muscularity channels the spirit of the 1968 to 1970 Dodge Charger. Without slavish duplication, the new car adapts the old car’s most pleasing attributes: the scallops on the hood and body sides, the graceful Coke-bottle shape of its beltline, the rear roof pillar offset from the fender line and the rear full-width tail lamps. These hallmarks are mixed with new elements: the prominent Dodge cross-hair grille and menacingly aggressive head lamps; the sleek new roof line with thinner roof pillars and the extensive use of LED lighting. It instills the Charger with a suave muscularity, like Rambo in an Armani suit. The design smarts continue inside, though to a lesser degree. The instrument cluster, which looks as if it was lifted from a chronograph, is set in a simple dashboard panel that is dominated by a gigantic touch-sensitive screen. Thankfully, the screen’s large icons

DoDge/MCT

The 2011 Dodge Charger adapts the old car’s most pleasing attributes: the scallops on the hood and body sides, the graceful Coke-bottle shape of its beltline, the rear roof pillar offset from the fender line and the rear full-width tail lamps. are easy to activate, although some of the graphics, especially on the navigation system, seem cartoon-like and crude. Sublime tan Nappa leather seats, with a color lifted straight from Ferrari, give the interior an elegant edge. The seats are part of a $4,000 Rallye Plus pack-

age that stuffs the Charger with gobs of gear: Bluetooth streaming audio, USB port, Sirius satellite radio, security alarm, dual automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, and heated and cooled cup holders, among other options. Other options include a $575 Drivers Convenience

Group, which adds such comfort essentials as a power tilt/ telescopic steering wheel, heated folding outside mirrors and power adjustable pedals. Also appreciated: the $650 Navigation/Backup Camera Group. Despite the generous complement of options, the interior comes off as more sport-

ing than luxurious. There’s plenty of soft-touch surfaces, and a dramatic reduction in hard plastic and coarse edges that characterized the 2010 Charger. Looks aside, you can feel it when you’re in the car. The seats are wide and comfortable. The interior is quiet. The storage bins are lined. The switches lack the cheap, tacky feel of previous models. Interior space is generous, but then again, this is a full-size car. Given the car’s newfound sophistication, you might expect the Charger to still drive like a big, dumb American poser. But here’s the surprising thing: it doesn’t. There are three trim levels: Charger SE, Charger R/T and Charger R/T AWD. The SE has a 292-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 and rearwheel drive. The R/T swaps the V6 for a 340-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8, and a performance-tuned suspension with larger disc brakes. The R/T AWD adds — surprise — all-wheel drive. All engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, although an eight-speed automatic is expected by the end of the year. Of course, just to confuse

anyone outside of Dodge, the Charger can be fitted with what the company calls lifestyle packages, but which sound like trim levels. They include the Rallye, Rallye Plus, R/T Plus, R/T Road & Track and R/T Max. Time spent with a welloptioned SE proved the car to be remarkably poised over the rough roads. Body motions were very well controlled, and the car had a well-bred persona. It rides comfortably, but gets down to business when it’s time to have fun. The steering communicates some of what’s going on; the brakes bring the party to a halt with authority. And while many enthusiasts would prefer a Hemi, the V6 acquits itself nicely while providing good fuel economy. For a car that starts at the same price as smaller sedans whose strongest flavor is vanilla, it’s an impressive feat and quite a transformation. The Charger does something the previous Charger did not. It captures the essence of classic American full-size sedans: it has space, it performs well, it has bold style and it’s sold at a price mere mortals can afford.

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Under The Hood: Diagnosing lukewarm air-conditioning system By Brad Bergholdt McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Q: My air conditioner just went from working great to not at all. It still blows from all the vents but never gets cold. Since it’s the end of the season, it’s not that big a deal to repair now, but I’m wondering how much this might set me back to fix. A: When an air conditioning system fails to blow cold air, there are three general areas of concern. First is refrigeration. A/C systems pump refrigerant through a handful of com-

ponents and connecting hoses to extract heat from the passenger compartment and release it outside. Should a leak develop in one of the components and refrigerant is lost, efficiency will go down until the system shuts itself off. A compressor or control valve fault is also possible, but rare. Next is a control system or electrical fault. Modern vehicles employ complex strategies for A/C operation. If a vehicle condition is out of limits or irregular, A/C operation may be denied.

An example is a faulty power steering pressure switch or switch connection. If the engine control computer thinks the vehicle is turning sharply, the A/C compressor clutch may be ordered to stand down, as the combination of these two accessory loads at the same time can affect idle stability. In addition, a typical vehicle has perhaps a dozen electrical connections and switches related to compressor clutch operation, and a poor connection in any of them could result in an inop-

erative compressor, and no cold air. The final category is the HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) network behind the instrument panel. It is possible cold air is being generated by the refrigeration components but is being accidentally mixed with warm air, providing incorrect output. This is rare, but worth considering. How about trying this: Open the hood and stand to one side as a helper starts the engine and then engag-

es and disengages the A/C mode switch several times, pausing a few seconds in between. If a fairly loud click is heard each time the switch is thrown, this means the compressor clutch is engaging, which infers adequate or better refrigeration operation. If a click is not heard, shut off the engine and look around the engine compartment for signs of recent wetness — such as a clear, slimy residue — on or near A/C components and

hoses. A sudden, large leak would likely expel a noticeable quantity of refrigerant oil, leaving a visual clue. A slow, long term leak typically leaves a dirty area, as refrigerant oil attracts dirt like a magnet. It’s difficult to put a number on repair cost. Your best hope is an easy to find electrical connection fault or hose connection leak. This might be in the $200 to $300 range. A leaking component, failed compressor or HVAC metering problem could be a lot worse.

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Page 6 / Monday, October 31, 2011

Tallahassee Democrat / OnTheMOve

Is your car ready? Be thorough when winterizing By Larry Printz McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Is your car or truck up to the challenge of driving in inclement weather? Now is the time to make sure it’s ready for the onslaught. Here’s what you should check: n TIRES: People ignore their tires until one goes flat. But nothing else affects your car as much as an underinflated tire. Cold weather causes tires to lose air pressure, so it’s a good idea to check. The proper amount is not listed on the tire; it’s posted on the driver’s side front door jamb on most newer cars and trucks. While you’re at it, check the tread. Take a penny and place it upside down into several places across the tire. If the top of Abe Lincoln’s head is showing, it’s time to replace the tire. Also, check the state of the tread itself. If a tire is worn on both edges, it is underinflated. If it’s worn in the center of the tread, it’s overinflated. If you spot cups or

dips in the tread, it is usually a sign of worn parts. Have the suspension or steering systems checked. Finally, if your car has summer performance tires, consider replacing them with winter tires. n BATTERY: As the temperature drops, more juice is required to get your car or truck started each morning. Replacing your battery ahead of time is beneficial in two ways: You can buy a new one on sale, and you won’t be left stranded. Deciding when to replace it is simple. For example, if you have a 36-month battery, you can expect three years of trouble-free charging. But as the 36-month mark approaches, think about replacing the battery a bit shy of that point instead of waiting until the last minute. Also, have your car’s alternator, voltage regulator, belts and connecting cables checked. n WINDSHIELD WIPERS, WASHER FLUID: If the wipers are streaking,

replace them. Also, if you dilute windshield washer fluid with water, use it up. Replace it with pure washer fluid that won’t freeze below 32 degrees. n COOLING SYSTEM: If you can’t remember the last time your vehicle’s cooling system was flushed, check your records. Then, look at the owner’s manual. Flushing the system removes sediment and rust particles to prevent clogging. Be sure to use a 50/50 mix of antifreeze to water. Also, be sure to use the proper antifreeze. Many newer vehicles specify a new, longer-life engine coolant, not the traditional green type. Finally, replace any dried-out, cracked hoses. n LIGHTS: Seeing and being seen is important in nasty weather. Have a family member or friend stand outside the car, to make sure all the vehicle lights work: headlights, fog lamps, tail lamps and turn signals. n BRAKES: When roads are coated with rain, sleet

and snow, stopping distances increase. If your last vehicle check showed your brakes to be marginal, or the brakes squeal when coming to a stop, now is the time to get them checked and/or replaced. n DEFROSTER: Do all of your defrosters work? This might seem like an insignificant item — until you need it. n CLEAN YOUR CAR: Getting your car cleaned and detailed does more than remove the accumulated salt, sand and grime of summer. A great wax job seals the paint and preserves the finish. Inside, a clean car is a pleasant car. Wipe down all surfaces. For leather surfaces, use a leather cleaner and moisturizer to prevent cracking. Clear out the glovebox, center console and rear cargo area. Vacuum the seats, carpet and headliner. You’ll have the peace of mind that a new life form isn’t spawning under the seat.

Power drain: Leaky battery’s electrons make a break for it By Paul Brand McClatchy-Tribune News Service

QUESTION: We have a 2004 Taurus with 88,000 miles on it. About a year ago we started having problems. After sitting for two days, it wouldn’t start. It would click, and that was it. The dealer replaced the starter, and everything was fine for a few months. Then the same thing happened again. AAA came out and installed a new battery, and everything was fine again for six months. But now, if it sits for two days, it will not start. Do you have any ideas? ANSWER: I’d be looking for electrons. Somehow, while the vehicle is parked, electrons are escaping from

the battery. When enough of ‘em get away, well, the few remaining can’t carry the load of starting the car. A more professiona l description of this problem is “parasitic loss.” Personally, I like “escaped electrons” better — doesn’t sound so creepy. Apparently, an electrical circuit in the car is drawing excess current when the ignition is off. Normal parasitic loss is in the range of 50 milliamps or less, to keep the computer systems and memory settings alive. This minor loss would take several weeks to drag down a good battery and prevent the car from starting. To find the excess parasitic loss, a shop can con-

nect an ammeter to measure current flow from the battery with everything turned off. Unplug each fuse and relay — one at a time — to find the circuit drawing too much current. My homemade ammeter is an old taillight lamp with wires soldered to it. I disconnect one of the battery cables and connect my ammeter in series, meaning all the current flowing from the battery goes through the lamp. Normal parasitic loss won’t illuminate the lamp; there’s just not enough current flow. But a significant loss will cause the lamp to at least glow. As you pull fuses and relays, when the lamp goes out you’ve found the circuit causing the excess

electron loss. Also, make sure to have the alternator’s output tested to make sure it’s keeping the battery fully charged. Q: I have a ‘95 Dodge Ram 1500 with the 318-cubic-inch V8 engine. When it gets below 35 degrees at night, the starter grinds a couple of times before it engages and starts the engine. It’s like the starter is spinning before engaging. I’ve replaced two starter relays and two batteries, and the battery cables are good. What am I missing? A: Here’s the way I would troubleshoot this problem. On a colder morning when you know this will happen, connect a voltmeter to the starter’s (+) terminal and

ground. Check the voltage that is reaching the starter as you crank the engine. If the voltage stays above 10 volts, the problem is in the starter. Perhaps the starter pinion shaft is rusty or gummed up with grease or oil and not sliding cleanly into engagement with the flywheel/flexplate. Flushing with Deep Creep may resolve this issue. Another possibility: The starter’s clutch is slipping. A replacement starter would eliminate both of these possibilities. If the voltmeter shows battery voltage dropping below the 10-volt level, check for high resistance in the start circuit from battery to relay to solenoid to starter motor, and the ground connection

between the drivetrain and chassis. n MOTORING NOTE: In response to a recent column about how to rid a vehicle of skunk smell, James Cappuccilli shared his technique. “I have always had success with charcoal briquettes (non-self-lighting type). I spread them out to get as much surface area as possible. Sometimes in less than 20 minutes the briquettes get replaced with fresh ones. This exchange may go on for quite some time, but it has worked wonders for me. Afterward, when everything is smelling just peachy, I have a barbecue after airing out the used briquettes.” Great idea — but I won’t ask what he’s cooking!


OnTheMOve / Tallahassee Democrat

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Monday, October 31, 2011 / Page 7


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Tallahassee Democrat / OnTheMOve

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