Dear Tom and Ray: I have an issue. OK, not so much an issue, more of an argument between me and my fiance. I just bought a 2008 Dodge Caliber. My new toy has everything I love, including cruise control. I do a lot of highway traveling, and I love my cruise control. My fiance says it’s no good that I use cruise control all the time, and that it’s bad for the engine or transmission. Is he right? Is using my cruise control too often bad for my car – will I break my cruise control if I use it too much? If so, why, and when should one use cruise control? Love you guys! – Sara
Ray: If you think of the engagement period as a sort of test drive, Sara, your fiance just backed into a tree.
Tom: Yeah. He doesn’t have half a leg to stand on here. Using the cruise control won’t wear anything out. In fact, because it helps you maintain a constant speed, it actually prevents a certain amount of wear and tear that comes from accelerating and decelerating more frequently.
Ray: The engine and transmission couldn’t care less whether the electronic inputs are coming from your right foot or the cruise control system. And neither should your fiance. So, tell him if he doesn’t offer more fact-based advice in the future, he’s going to lose his male automotive-pontificating privileges for the duration of the marriage.
Tom: Plus, highway driving is exactly the time you DO want to use cruise control – when you’re maintaining a constant speed for a long period of time, when traffic is thin and moving predictably, and when there are few unexpected obstacles that get in your way (like pedestrians, bicyclists, crossing traffic or aggressive squeegee guys).
Ray: The time you don’t want to use cruise control is in dense traffic, or in stop-and-go traffic, where you could be expected to have to slow down or stop frequently or unexpectedly. But even that’s a safety issue, not a wear-and-tear issue.
Tom: Right. In the old days, the cruise control used a separate cable that physically moved the throttle. So there were a few small parts that could wear out over time back then. But cars don’t have throttle cables anymore. Everything’s done electronically, through the computer. So there’s nothing to wear out, Sara.
Ray: So, suggest that the future hubby concede defeat on this one. And if he tries to argue that he’s still right because you’re going to use up your lifetime allotment of electrons, run.
Dear Tom and Ray: I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer with about 90,000 miles. Several months back, I was driving home on a rainy night and splashed through a deep puddle. Immediately, a loud whining noise came from the car, which grew louder when I pushed on the gas. A minute later, it stopped. Then about a week later, on another rainy day, it happened again. It happens for only about a minute, then stops. It now happens even when it’s not raining, when I just step on the gas for more power. The whining is very loud and scary, and it makes me think the car is going to explode. My husband thinks it’s nothing and that I should continue to ignore it; however, I am pregnant and don’t want to head into motherhood worrying about my safety and the safety of my baby. Please help! – Moon
Ray: It sounds to me like a slipping belt, Moon. I’m guessing your splash guard fell off, and that allowed water to splash up and temporarily lubricate your belt. Belts aren’t supposed to be lubricated; they’re supposed to be sticky. When a belt slips and slides on its pulleys, it makes that shrieking/whining noise.
Tom: And all that slipping wore out your belt even more, so now it slips even when it’s not wet.
Ray: It makes noise when you step on the gas, which is a classic symptom of a loose or worn-out belt. Eventually, the belt will get so bad that it’ll squeal all the time. Then one day it’ll break and fall off, and you’ll lose your power steering and alternator, among other things.
Tom: But the noise will be gone!
Ray: True. But my advice would be, before that happens, to take it into a shop and tell them you have what you think is a belt noise, and ask them to check it out. You want to get this fixed, Moon.
Trust me on this – there will be more than enough squealing and whining in your future. You need to enjoy and savor all the peace and quiet you can get in the next few months!