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Car Coach: Is dealer overcharging for squeaking belt?

Dear Car Coach: I have developed a strong fear of dealer service departments, and as a result will never again purchase a new vehicle. Their whole approach seems to be directed toward fleecing their own customers by using their self-proclaimed "expertise" to discover nonexistent problems, which of course need to be "fixed immediately".

While having my Subaru in recently for a no-charge "recall," the dealer noticed my sometimes squeaking serpentine belt. "Power steering pump is binding: $538 - would have to order part" is what they advised, even writing it on the recall invoice. Left the dealer, then bought $40 worth of new serpentine belts, put them on, and 3,000 miles later there are no squeaks, no tugs and no problems.

When will dealerships begin to see what true "customer service" is all about?

- G.C., Amherst

Dear G.C.: First, let's address the power steering pump. Yes, they can bind. If you have changed the belts and the problem is fixed, you are lucky. The usual situation is that when the belts are replaced (or the timing belt), almost instantly the power steering pump starts to make noise and the car can be hard to steer.

Doing your own automotive work can save you quite a bit of money, as you can see. However, if you don't have the correct tools, knowledge or work with someone who does, then do not attempt to do anything other than basic maintenance and repairs.

As for the dealer or any repair shop; their job is to sell services; however only if they are needed. This shouldn't stop you from buying a new car, but you should follow the owner's manual for basic maintenance and for repairs beyond that if they are recalls or technical service bulletins - always check with the dealer prior to paying an independent technician or repairing it yourself.

Many dealers and brands do understand customer service, but remember that each dealer is a franchise. This is a defined as an auto seller that sells new and used cars for auto manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors, Honda and other major brands. So if you are unhappy with your dealer, talk to the service manager, general manager or find another dealer.


Dear Car Coach: I have a 2011 Kia Soul. I love my car, but for the past few months, the horn intermittently stops working. I recently took it to the dealer for routine oil change and told them about the problem. The horn was working at the time of my service appointment. I was told they cannot fix the horn unless it stops working. The problem is that it works and then a few minutes later it stops working! I feel this is a safety issue. I have an extended warranty. Do you have any suggestions?

- R.C., Buffalo

Dear R.C.:This should be covered under warranty, and I agree it's a great car. The problem is what's called a clock spring, which is under the air bag, under your steering wheel cover. The horn contacts go through the c/spring. The c/spring is what triggers the air bag. It rotates as the steering wheel does, it sees a lot of movement, it can sometimes fail. The horn wires go through it, hence why I think, it's your problem. Kia should cover this under warranty and the work should be done by one of their technicians.


Dear Car Coach: I just saw a deer in the road and thought how dangerous this could be for the deer and drivers. What are some tips so we both survive?

- K.S., Clarence

Dear K.S.: Deer-car collisions can be a very serious situation for drivers. Recent growth in deer populations has led to an increased frequency of deer-car collisions, especially in areas where new construction is taking place.

To avoid becoming a statistic in a deer-car accident, follow these important tips:

. Be aware of posted deer-crossing signs as they denote unusually high deer populations or frequent deer crossings.

. Keep in mind that deer generally travel in herds, especially during the mating season. If you see one deer, assume more will follow.

. Do not rely on devices such as deer whistles, deer fences and reflectors to deter deer. Many of these devices have not been proven to reduce deer-vehicle collisions.

. Brake firmly when you notice a deer in or near your path, but stay in your lane. Many serious crashes occur when drivers swerve to avoid a deer and hit another vehicle or lose control of their cars.

. Two-thirds of all deer-vehicle collisions happen during October, November and December. Daily deer activity peaks at dawn and dusk.