Don’t spin out this sum­mer, keep trac­tion con­trol on

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Puzzles - BY RAY MAGLIOZZI

Dear Car Talk: Is it good to keep the trac­tion con­trol switch off in sum­mer driv­ing? — Sean Why would you do that, Sean? Trac­tion con­trol is kind of the flip side of anti-lock brakes. The anti-lock brak­ing sys­tem (ABS) measures the speed of each wheel. If you’re stop­ping the car, and one of the wheels sud­denly goes slower than the oth­ers, the ABS con­cludes that it’s locked up — which can cause you to lose con­trol of the car. So, it pulses the brake many times a sec­ond to give you max­i­mum stop­ping power just short of lock­ing up the wheel.

Trac­tion con­trol uses that same sys­tem to de­tect if one wheel is spin­ning faster than the oth­ers.

If it is, the sys­tem con­cludes that the wheel has lost trac­tion and is spin­ning, which can also lead to loss of con­trol of the ve­hi­cle. So, it uses the ABS to slow down that wheel un­til it re­gains trac­tion.

Nei­ther of th­ese sys­tems work un­less and un­til you need them. They’re al­ways on standby. And that’s the way you want them.

While snow or ice would be the most ob­vi­ous rea­sons for a wheel to spin, they’re not the only ones. A sum­mer rain, some leaked oil, or a patch of loose dirt or sand can cause a wheel to lose trac­tion. And when that hap­pens, you want your trac­tion con­trol to work.

Plus, there’s ab­so­lutely no down­side to leav­ing it on. You’re not “wast­ing” any­thing or wear­ing any­thing out. It’s in­ac­tive un­til it gets a sig­nal that a wheel is spin­ning. Turn­ing it off in the sum­mer would be like turn­ing off your home’s fire alarm when it’s rain­ing. Sure, you could. But why would you?


Dear Car Talk: I bought a Saturn Ion new in 2003, and it has been re­ally good to me.

Dur­ing one pe­riod of time, I ne­glected to check the oil or change it when I should have. I then no­ticed it run­ning a lit­tle rough, so I started chang­ing the oil reg­u­larly again.

Now, I no­tice that when I come to a stop in traf­fic and take off, smoke comes out of the tailpipe for a sec­ond or two. I hate to get rid of the car, be­cause, other than the smok­ing, it runs well.

I tried over-the-counter prod­ucts that are sup­posed to stop it from smok­ing, but they have not. Are there any stopsmok­ing prod­ucts that ac­tu­ally work? — Jesse

Ni­corette gum?

I’m not op­ti­mistic that you’re go­ing to find a $10-in-acan solution for this, Jesse. It sounds like you’re burn­ing oil. And the “mir­a­cle” prod­ucts at the auto parts store are re­ally de­signed more for leaks than oil burn­ing.

When they work (which is only oc­ca­sion­ally), they work by soft­en­ing up stiff, dried out rub­ber seals and — hopefully — get­ting them to seal again for a while.

I think it’s likely that a dozen years ago, when you ran the car out of oil, you did some dam­age to the pis­ton rings. And there’s noth­ing you can add to the crank­case that’s go­ing to fix those now.

Plus, the car is 16 years old. Even if you hadn’t had an oil “in­ci­dent” in the past, sim­ple old age and high mileage might have caused this by now.

So, don’t get down on your­self, Jesse. You got more years and miles out of this car than any­one at Saturn ever ex­pected you to. In fact, it’s prob­a­bly a rar­ity when you see an­other one of th­ese on the road. When you do, flag down the driver im­me­di­ately and form a sup­port group.

If you want to keep this thing on the road as long as pos­si­ble, the most im­por­tant thing you can do is the ex­act op­po­site of what you did in its early years. You now want to pay ex­tra at­ten­tion to your oil level and oil changes. Check your oil reg­u­larly, and top it up when it’s down half a quart. Also, change the oil ev­ery 3,000 miles or so, be­cause newer, cleaner oil will burn less quickly than old, dirty oil.

When that puff of blue smoke even­tu­ally be­comes a steady stream — like a con­trail from an F16 — that’ll be your cue that the end is nigh for the Ion, Jesse. Got a ques­tion about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Fea­tures, 628 Vir­ginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by vis­it­ing the Car Talk web­site at

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