One small sweat for mankind

Dear Car Talk:

In our hot, summer climate, my back gets uncomfortably hot and moist when driving distances. I'd like our next car to have cooled seats, but I have heard that some of these don't work very well and aren't worth the money. What do you think? Would I do better to buy an after-market ventilated cushion? Thanks! – Paul

RAY: Have you considered switching to 100 percent pima cotton undergarments, Paul?

We’ve actually come a long way in seat comfort.

If you’re old enough, you may remember the vinyl seats of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. In the summer, if you were wearing shorts, and your car was parked in the sun, you’d sear the backs of your thighs like a tuna steak when you sat down.

Then came cloth and velour, which were improvements.

Finally, heated and cooled seat bottoms, curing us of the terrible scourge of butt sweat. From there, the ventilation moved to seat backs, to try to keep backs dry.

We’ve found that many of the ventilated seats work pretty well – some better than others. You certainly want one that ventilates the seat back as well as the seat cushion.

You can always try an after-market cushion first with your current car. If it does the trick, then you’ve not only made yourself more comfortable now, but you don’t have to worry about what car you buy next. Just take the cushion with you.

If the after-market cushion doesn’t cut it, then you need to embark on some summer test-drives. Make a list of the cars you’re considering. Then, on a nice, sweltering 95-degree day, go do some testing.

Get a friend to help you. Wear a blue dress shirt. And when you get back to the dealership after your 20-minute loop, have him use a Sharpie and mark how far out from your spine the sweat stains spread.

After a few test-drives, the marks on that shirt will tell you which car to buy next. You’ll lose a shirt, but gain invaluable knowledge for mankind, Paul.

With oil and luck, Subaru can avoid the heap

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2009 Subaru Outback with 143,000 miles.

My check-engine light came on while driving. I have a device in the car that told me the engine triggered “Code P0028.” I drove home and Googled the code: “Blah blah oil level, blah blah solenoid …”

I barely know how to do self-service gas, but I do know how to check the oil. There was not a drop on the dipstick. Shocked (because I am faithful about oil changes and other maintenance), I was also puzzled because I was only 8 miles over the suggested mileage for getting an oil change.

The mechanic said I was not leaking oil so I must be burning it. But I’ve never seen any smoke or noticed a burning smell. The car has always functioned perfectly.

My mechanic said to check the oil frequently and carry a quart of oil in my car for those times when my oil is low.

I've driven 860 miles since then and my dipstick registers "full." Could the mechanic have been wrong about it burning oil? – Mary

RAY: I don't think he was wrong, Mary. I think you probably are burning some oil.

If the oil had leaked out (and you would have to lose at least two quarts for the dipstick to register no oil), it would have made a mess somewhere on the engine, and your mechanic would have noticed it.

Imagine if you spilled two quarts of cooking oil somewhere in your kitchen. You’d find it. Even though your dipstick still reads full after 860 miles, that doesn’t mean you’re not burning oil.

The oil change interval for this car is about 7,500 miles. If you lost two quarts in 7,500, that’s only a quart every 3,750 miles. So, it doesn’t surprise me that you haven’t seen any drop in oil in only 860 miles.

Plus, oil burning accelerates as you lose oil. If you start with four quarts, and let’s say you burn a quart over 5,000 miles, now you have three quarts of oil trying to do the job of four quarts. It’s working harder and running hotter. That means it may burn the next quart in 2,500 miles.

Your mechanic is right that you should check your oil regularly and top it up when necessary between changes. It would also make sense to decrease your oil change interval to every 3,750 miles from now on. Keeping newer, cleaner oil in there may help reduce the burn rate too.

But the bottom line is you have now entered the stage of car ownership we call “Heapdom.” You are officially driving an old car, Mary. And at 10 years and 150,000 miles, it’s right on schedule.

With a little luck, you’ll be able to nurse this Subaru for tens of thousands of more miles. It will require some vigilance. And some more oil.

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