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Car Coach / by Lauren Fix

Dear Car Coach: Please advise me. I own a 2009 Mazda 5 automatic with 33,000 miles on it. My dealer says the transmission fluid needs to be replaced as it is discolored. My maintenance schedule in the manual does not show when to do this nor does Goodyear's computer show when. I would think it should have lasted longer as the vehicle is driven very calmly never abused with heavy loads or extreme conditions. Should I spend $220 for a complete flush and fill or just drain and fill for $125. I bought it brand new. - A.C., Tonawanda

Dear A.C.: To play it safely and conservatively, replacing the transmission fluid every 60,000 miles should keep your transmission in good shape. Be sure you change both the fluid and the filter. I'd get three quotes on job to make sure you get the most for your money. The average cost is $200-$250 depending on the shop.
However, I do recommend changing the transmission fluid every 30,000 miles under normal conditions. If the transmission has a filter, that should be replaced as well. If you operate your vehicle under severe conditions (e.g. extreme weather, towing, or a lot of stop-and-go traffic), the transmission should be serviced every 20,000 to 30,000 miles.
Many people fail to replace their transmission fluid and filters; not servicing the transmission fluid at the recommended service intervals can result in extremely degraded fluid. Automatic transmission fluid is lightweight oil that is used to operate the hydraulic mechanisms in an automatic transmission, provide lubrication, and act as a coolant for the transmission. When new, it's usually a cranberry red color.
Dear Car Coach: What are the rules about vehicles with room for three occupants in the rear seat, with seat belts for each but no head restraint for the middle passenger? - F.N., Buffalo

Dear F.N.: The Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Rule 49 CFR Part 571 states that "Rear outboard head restraints are optional. However, if a manufacturer chooses to install head restraints in rear outboard seating positions, these head restraints must meet certain height, strength, position retention and energy absorption requirements . We note that even where rear outboard head restraints are provided, many vehicles do not provide a head restraint in the center seating position." Some vehicles do not have shoulder belts in the rear center position, which can be very important if you have a passenger or booster in that spot. Seat belt designs, especially locking retractor mechanisms and LATCH plates, can also affect the installation of child safety seats. Some designs are optimized for adult passengers. Your best bet is to use this seat as the last choice.
Dear Car Coach: What do you think of after-market installation of cruise control on a model (Subaru Impreza) on which cruise control was not available? - D.S. and P.S., Niagara County

Dear D.S. and P.S.: I really like the new 2012 Subaru Impreza with its much improved gas mileage, but the base model doesn't include cruise control. I know after-market cruise control options exist. There are a few companies even locally that can install them for you.
Dear Car Coach: I have a 2007 Honda Accord with 40,000 miles; not a ding in it and up-to-date on all suggested maintenance. The problem is the wheels. They are pitted and ugly. Can they be cleaned/sanded or something? - C.C., Niagara Falls

Dear C.C.: Aluminum wheels are coated with a layer of clear coat paint for protection and added shine. Aluminum is a soft metal, so clear coat on aluminum wheels can eventually become dull or develop a yellow film that can make the wheels look old or dirty. You can actually bring back the clean shine of your aluminum wheels. You will just need to learn how to properly clean and polish them. Check with your local auto parts stores to see the proper repair and cleaning solutions they can offer you. As an option, check with local collision shops and get quotes for them to repair the wheels.
Chrome wheels are can be damaged from salt and road grime. Always wash chrome wheels with soap and water after they have been exposed to salt, dirt or other damaging elements.