Hubby doesn’t love the Buick

Dear Car Talk:

My husband drives a 6-cylinder 2004 Buick Rainier. It’s blue – my favorite color – and matches the decor of the house. He got this SUV from a friend who buys totaled cars and fixes them for re-sale. This is the best one yet, and he wants to trade it in for a Jeep!

Of course, one of the boys at his weekly gathering called Car Night has a Buick SUV and agrees with him that it’s a “pig” and should be traded.

Anyway, he keeps tracking his gas mileage at every fill-up. Recently it has gone down from 17-18 miles per gallon to 16.6. I told him that wasn’t much and he just needs a tuneup. “Spark plugs, Dear.”

Last night on our way to a fish fry he said it again for the umpteenth time, “I’m trading this in.” I calmly answered, “Spark plugs, air filter and gas filter, Dear.”

My problem is I am afraid that someday soon he will come home driving something that I won't like again, when just simple maintenance could solve his obsessiveness with gas mileage. What do you think? – Sharon

RAY: I think you're right to be afraid, Sharon. He is going to show up one night with a Jeep. I can pretty much guarantee it. I also predict that the Jeep is going to get 13 miles per gallon, and he won't care.

He hates the Buick. His friends are mocking him for driving it, and he can’t wait to get rid of it. All the complaining about gas mileage is just “preparing you” for the inevitable trade-in.

And I think you should just let him do it, Sharon. Remember, there are worse things husbands can decide to trade in. In the interests of marital harmony and good will, I’d say to him, “Frank, you know I like that Buick, but you should drive whatever makes you happy.”

Then here’s how you get your revenge: Every week, when he’s not looking, you syphon a little bit of gas out of his Jeep and put it into your car. Take out a little more each week. He’ll be completely confused as his mileage (which you say he tracks constantly) drops from 13 mpg, to 11, to 9.

When he gets down to 7 mpg, you can come clean and tell him about your practical joke. If he’s got a sense of humor, he’ll be impressed with your ingenuity and you guys will have a good laugh together. If he doesn’t have a sense of humor, he’ll divorce you, and then you take your half of the assets and buy your own Buick. Good luck, Sharon.

Solar charge can’t compensate for battery failure

Dear Car Talk:

Hi. I don’t drive my car very much and worry about the battery dying, as it has twice this week. I am wondering what you think about solar battery chargers for my 2008 Altima? It would be great not to waste time worrying about batteries! – Marjorie

RAY: I’ll be glad to demean solar battery chargers, Marjorie, but first I’m more concerned that there’s something wrong with your car. Your battery shouldn’t be dying twice a week if everything is working properly.

So start by having your mechanic test your battery and your charging system. Your battery might not be charging when you drive. Perhaps it’s more than five years old and can’t hold a charge any more. Or maybe something is staying on and draining the battery while your car is parked.

We’ve also seen situations where owners will accidentally hit the “stop-start” button twice when shutting off the car, and put the car into “accessory mode” without knowing it. If you leave your car in “accessory mode,” things like your radio and heater fan will continue to run and drain your battery.

In terms of chargers, solar chargers put out about 500-1,500 milliamps. So even at the high end, under perfect, sunny conditions, it’s adding about twice as much current as your car is draining just by being parked.

And since conditions are rarely perfect, you’ll just barely be replacing what the computer, the emissions system and the alarm are drawing when the car is off.

So if your battery is going stone cold dead twice a week, a solar battery charger is not going to make up the difference.

If everything were working properly, and you were the kind of person who parked your car for weeks at a time and lived in a particularly sunny clime, a solar charger might be enough to keep your battery charged up.

But unlike conventional, plug-in trickle chargers (also called battery tenders) that serve the same purpose, solar chargers have no automatic shut-off switch. So, while unlikely, it’s possible, under certain conditions, to overcharge your battery with a solar charger. You’d have to be extremely lucky to get enough juice out of it to have that happen, but it’s possible.

But start by figuring out what’s wrong with your electrical system, Marjorie. And once you get that fixed, you may find you don’t need any battery charger at all.

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