Get a car you’ll love for a long commute

Dear Car Talk:

My husband and I plan to buy a newer vehicle soon. I commute about 45 minutes to an hour each way. My husband is just a mile from his job. We have a 2014 Fiat 500 with 75,000 miles, but we need a second vehicle because we are both on call for our jobs. If one of us has the car, then the other (my husband) has to walk to work or home in all kinds of weather.

My husband would like me to buy a used Hyundai Santa Fe with low mileage, but I know he would love a truck. He wants me to take the new vehicle that we buy to work every day. I know that a truck would cost more in gas, but I think it would make him happier in the short run. What do you suggest? – Suzanne

RAY: I suggest a used Hyundai Santa Fe and one of those big, golf umbrellas.

The good news is that if you’ve been happy with the Fiat 500, you’ll be happy with anything, Suzanne.

If the Hyundai Santa Fe or something similar appeals to you, that’s what you should get. When you’re commuting up to two hours a day, you should drive something you really like. So, whatever that is, get it.

Meanwhile, the Fiat is perfect for your husband’s commute. It’s only a mile, so if the Fiat breaks down, he’ll never have to walk more than a mile. That’s what the aforementioned, oversized umbrella is for.

Honestly, Suzanne, you’ve been very lucky with the Fiat. While cute as hell and fun to drive, its reliability record is among the worst of all cars rated by that major consumer magazine we all read.

And therein lies the beauty of this plan. When the Fiat dies – or requires its next major repair – your husband should plan to get a truck to replace it.

That’ll make him happy, and because he commutes only a mile each way, even if the truck gets only 15 miles per gallon, it’ll still take him five months to go through a tank of gas. Neither the cost of gasoline nor its environmental impact is of great concern because of how little he drives.

Meanwhile, you’ll be happily cruising back and forth to work in your Lexus RX-350 (or whatever makes you happy), laughing at podcasts of Car Talk.

Get something you’ll really enjoy, Suzanne. Something worthy of spending two hours a day in. And when the Fiat says arrivederci (tell your hubby not to worry, it shouldn’t be long), he should do the same for himself.

Swing and a misfire for this Honda Civic’s engine diagnosis

Dear Car Talk:

I got gas from Sam’s and my 2001 Honda Civic started misfiring.

I changed the spark plugs and air filter. I put HEET, gas treatment and injector cleaner in the gas tank, but the engine is still misfiring. – AJ

RAY: I got gas at Sam's once, too, and I haven't eaten there since.

There’s something law students learn called the “post hoc fallacy,” AJ. I learned it watching Perry Mason. In Latin, it says “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” That’s Latin for “Nuh uh, wasn’t Sam’s fault!”

The translation is actually “after this, because of this.” And it’s called a fallacy since lots of people mistakenly assume that because Event Y happened right after Event X, then Event X must have caused Event Y. But that’s not always true.

If you start dating your secretary and your gutters start to leak, the first event did not necessarily cause the second event. But if you start dating your secretary and then you find yourself divorced, living in a washing machine box and grilling squirrels under a bridge, then X caused Y.

In your case, it’s less likely that the misfiring was caused by getting gas at Sam’s, and more likely that it’s related to the fact that your car is 18 years old.

The first thing I’d hope for is a bad ignition coil. If the car is misfiring continuously (for instance, if it’s misfiring at idle) it’s easy to test for that. While it’s running, try unplugging one ignition coil at time. Each time you remove a coil, the engine should run worse. So, if you disconnect one coil and nothing changes, that’s likely the bad one.

You can test this further by replacing that particular coil. If the car then runs perfectly, you’re all set. If it’s still misfiring, then you could have a valve that’s too tight in that cylinder, or if it’s been too tight for a while, you could have a valve that’s burned out. Another possibility is that you have a timing belt that jumped.

Check the coils first, AJ. And if you end up solving the problem, we’ll conclude that’s a direct result of writing to us. Post Car Talk ergo propter Car Talk.

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