Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2007 Porsche Boxster S, which I love, but don’t take out much for fear of not being able to get home.
When it’s cold, it starts fine and runs great. However, if I am doing a bunch of short trips, with each start, it cranks slower and slower until it won’t start.
If left alone for a while, it will then start. The battery has been replaced, though this is not likely the issue as it will come back to life on its own.
I have mentioned it at the dealership when I have brought it in for annual service, but beyond replacing the battery, they have not had much insight.
It has been like this for the few years I have owned the car, and I have taken to leaving it running if I’m making a couple of quick stops. I’d prefer to not have it stolen. Any ideas? – Stuart
RAY: I don’t see a lot of Boxsters in the shop, Stuart. My labor rates are about $300 an hour too low. But speaking generally, it sounds like a classic case of a bad starter motor.
When a starter fails, it often gets harder to turn, especially when it gets hot. It’ll try to turn at its normal speed by drawing more and more electricity. But as it heats up and binds up, eventually even the extra electricity can’t make it crank at normal speed.
So, I’d certainly start by testing the starter. When the car is good and hot, and it’s exhibiting this behavior, drive it to any good mechanic and have him see how many amps the starter is drawing. It probably should be drawing 150 or 200 amps. If it’s drawing 400 or 500 amps, then it’s very likely that the starter is bad. At that point, you put in a new starter and hope that fixes it. It probably will.
But if it doesn’t, then the news gets worse.
That suggests to me that the engine could be starting to seize up. It could be due to overheating or lack of proper lubrication, but if the pistons aren’t moving easily in the cylinders when the engine is hot, that could also explain slow cranking.
If that’s your problem, I’d go back to leaving the car running when you do errands. Having it stolen might be your most economical solution, Stuart.
Buyers beware of counterfeit parts
Dear Car Talk:
I like to do my own car maintenance, including replacing spark plugs.
I recently bought a set of NGK spark plugs online at a really good price. Then I had a thought – maybe they were stolen or fake.
I did some research and found that they were made in China and were definitely fake. NGK’s website provides details of the fake plugs and how to identify them. NGK warns that the fake plugs can cause serious engine damage and mileage would likely suffer.
The boxes holding the fake and real plugs are the same, and there are very small differences between the look of the plugs.
How do you protect against counterfeit car parts that can seriously damage a car? – Steve
RAY: It’s not easy, Steve. The internet has made buying auto parts easier than ever. It’s also made buying counterfeit parts easier than ever.
I suppose the best advice is to simply beware of a deal that sounds too good to be true.
The term “buyer beware” was first invoked in the Pleistocene Era, when a caveman named Ook sold his neighbor, Grog, a club that turned out to be hollow. Grog went back to try to beat Ook over the head with it, but that had little effect. So, Grog invented the term “buyer beware” and later went on to found the Better Caveman Bureau.
And while the items that are sold and the way they are sold have changed over the millennia, two things have remained true: Humans are suckers for a bargain, and there’s always someone looking to take advantage of the fact that humans are suckers for a bargain.
I assume you were shopping for the lifetime iridium electrode plugs, Steve. You certainly don’t want to install anybody’s cheap, counterfeit spark plugs because if the electrode breaks off or if the plug gets stuck in the cylinder head, the repair will cost you at least 200 times what you saved by finding a “bargain.”
Even if the bogus plugs fail in a non-catastrophic way, you still have to redo the whole job, which is time-consuming on modern cars because the spark plugs are often hard to reach.
My advice is to start by comparing prices at known, reputable sellers. If you look around for the NGKs from well-known auto parts retailers, you’ll find they generally sell online for about 10 or 15 bucks a plug for most cars.
So, if you find a set of four for $12 from Rudy’s House of Spark Plugs, that’s a pretty good clue those are fake. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, Steve. Especially on the internet.
P.S. You might want to check that Gucci handbag you bought online for your wife. Especially if it says “Goochie” on the logo.
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