Handy hints and tips on car ownership
I’ve started towing a caravan with my 2006 automatic Nissan X-trail and was wondering whether I should have a transmission oil cooler fitted. The X-trail has a braked towing capacity of 2000kg, and my caravan weighs 1300kg and has brakes. So far I’ve only done small trips of about 300km but next year I want to go from Brisbane down to Victoria to see the Great Ocean Road. Previously I have been told that if I was going to tow heavy stuff I should get an aftermarket cooler to cool the transmission fluid. Do you think it is necessary? Peter van Sloten, email
It depends on the weight you’re towing and the terrain you travel over. Your caravan is well within the X-trail’s weight limits but, remember, the weight is when fully loaded, not just the bare caravan. If the caravan is 1300kg fully loaded and if the roads you will travel on are relatively flat, then you should be able to get away without a cooler. But a cooler is good insurance against overheating the transmission, and overheating is tantamount to a death sentence for the gearbox. NOTRANSLATION It seems the phrase ‘‘characteristic of the model’’ is the car manufacturers’ favourite reply when quizzed about a problem. I have been in the trade since 1968 and I find this a cop-out. It suggests that a car maker knows about a problem but doesn’t know how to fix it. I took delivery of a 2008 no-name car in August and immediately noticed that the brake pedal felt vague and spongy and tended to creep to the floor if moderate sustained force was applied after the vehicle had come to a stop. Imagine my surprise when, a few days later, I experienced total brake failure. The dealer attempted to find the cause and replaced a couple of major components, but without fixing it. The manufacturer indicated that the brake pedal feel and creep was ‘‘characteristic of the model’’ and was not a problem. My inquiries have discovered that there have been at least three unexplained total brake failures on this particular model. To maintain goodwill the dealership is replacing my vehicle and — believe it or not — the replacement has a vague, spongy pedal that tends to creep if moderate pedal force is maintained after coming to a stop. Your thoughts regarding this matter would be appreciated.
Joe Bloomer, email I couldn’t agree more, the words really mean: ‘‘ We’ve got no idea about what’s causing the problem.’’ Manufacturers spend many hundreds of thousands of hours testing and retesting cars before putting them on the market and they generally do a good job. But it has to be remembered that their testing is done in controlled laboratory conditions and not real life. Sometimes they miss something that crops up after the car goes on sale. When that happens they often fall short of the mark and instead of getting in and fixing the problem they too often go into denial and refuse to do anything. Dealers can then be left in the middle, stuck between an unhappy customer and an unsupportive manufacturer. CAUSINGASTINK I bought a brand new Honda Jazz in 2005 with a five-year warranty. In 2007, after my wife left it parked in the sun all day while she was at the beach, she noticed a pungent smell in the car. Thinking it was her sweaty friends, she didn’t mention it to anyone until months later when she told me. I couldn’t find a cause. I didn’t report it to the dealer because they weren’t very helpful when I had previously reported a problem on my own Honda. I eventually did report the problem but by this time the warranty had expired. I was told to get the car cleaned and the dealership would then investigate it — but it would cost me $2000. They found the insulation material under the dash had been soaked in some foreign substance, which they claimed was caused by a spilled drink. There was no evidence that a drink had been spilled, I believe it happened on the assembly line. They replaced
Within limits: The X-trail’s auto gearbox should be fine for towing but