Dear Car Fix: My Sienna (AWD) van came with run-flat tires. One did go, and shortly thereafter (at about 30,000 miles), I had to replace the other three. Very expensive, but safe. Can I trust the dealer to tell me when I need wheel alignments instead of them trying to sell me services I don't need?
-- D.B., Amherst
Dear D.B.: Your Toyota Sienna comes from the factory with run-flat tires, which can be pricey but they are a safe choice as there is no spare tire. I suggest you follow the owner's manual on tire rotations, alignments and oil changes because automobiles are always evolving. If you don't have a manual, get one for free at www.carcare.org or you can download one.
Dear Car Fix: I like the looks of the new Ford Explorer. Have you driven one yet? What do you think?
-- A.H., Alexander
Dear A.H.: I have driven the new Ford Explorer, so here is a quick review:
The all-new Explorer is one of Ford's goals in reinventing the SUV for the 21st century. Americans still want SUVs but have been dissatisfied with the fuel economy and ride of past SUVs, so many drivers have switched to other forms of transportation.
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Explorer. Ford has produced more than 6 million during that time, and it was time for the company to meet customer needs and wants.
The new refinements are quite impressive.
The vehicle dynamics have changed quite a bit. This SUV has an improved ride, tight steering and controlled handling. Ford's redesigned Explorer has 25 percent better fuel economy (best in class).
The seven-passenger Explorer is focused on utility, drive quality, being green, top safety and smart technology.
Best of all, the Explorer will be built in Chicago.
Safety is a key part of the new Explorer; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have given it a 5-star rating and Top Safety Pick, but Ford took it even further with Curve Control. About 50,000 accidents per year occur when drivers lose control of their cars, so Ford developed Curve Control by applying brakes and balance to keep the car on the road. Plus Ford is the first to offer rear inflatable belts to protect second-row passengers, in addition to blind-spot monitoring, collision warning, active park assist and anti-lock brakes with stability control.
Another plus is the 5,000-pound towing capability and rear-view camera with zoom for easy hitching with trailer sway control. It also has good fuel economy, great interior comfort, connectivity and impressive road traction -- all delivered in a balance that will meet consumers' needs.
Technology is critical to new cars, and in order to compete with others in this segment the Explorer also stepped up with nothing but the best. The Explorer offers My Ford Touch, SYNC, My Key, HD radio, Pandora, Grace Notes, voice activation and navigation -- which is what most drivers want and need to stay entertained and connected.
You can even add Wi-Fi to your car with a mobile USB drive. Best of all, the Sony sound system is top-notch and competes with the best systems out there.
Most drivers don't go off road, but if they do experience sand, mud or snow, the Explorer is ready for that, too. We tested the Explorer on the sand and mud as well as offroad, and the Explorer handled all with ease because of the Multi-Surface Traction Control. Controlled with a dial on the center console, special traction is designed for mud, snow and sand as well as hill descent (vehicle controls it for you up to 30 mph). Going offroad can be accomplished with ease if you choose to attempt various terrains and tough weather conditions. This new control dial was designed with simpler graphics.
*3.5 TiVCT V6 -- 25 percent more fuel efficient than previous engine 25mpg/290hp
*2.0L 290hp and 32 percent better fuel economy
*Price: $28,995 base; $31,995 XLT; $37,995 Limited
The only flaw I found was that my small hands couldn't reach the turn signal without taking my grip off the steering wheel.
Ford claims to use the Audi as its benchmark, and in some areas such as fit and finish they have reached the bar. Overall, it is worth a test drive when looking for a midsize SUV. I was impressed with the vehicle, and it is a significant improvement over the previous generation.
Overall, the Ford Explorer is really out front in the midsize SUV category.