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Q AND A: Drive newer cars once a week to prevent battery drain

QUESTION: Last fall we purchased a 2008 Lexus ES 350. During winter we drove our older car and used the Lexus infrequently. On multiple occasions we found the battery in the Lexus dead after sitting 15 to 18 days. The dealer checked the electrica...

QUESTION: Last fall we purchased a 2008 Lexus ES 350. During winter we drove our older car and used the Lexus infrequently. On multiple occasions we found the battery in the Lexus dead after sitting 15 to 18 days. The dealer checked the electrical system current draw and found it normal. The dealer indicates the car must be used at least every 10 to 14 days to keep the battery charged. Is the dealer correct?

ANSWER: For many newer vehicles, yes. Current draw to maintain memory and functionality of many computer controlled systems on today's vehicles can drain the battery in a couple of weeks to the point it won't start the vehicle.

Your options include starting and driving the vehicle more frequently, mounting a battery master disconnect switch or disconnecting the battery -- with the hassles of losing presets for the radio, seats, HVAC system, etc. -- when the vehicle will be sitting more than a week or so, or connecting a "float" charger or battery maintainer to the battery to keep it charged. Driving the vehicle once a week is the easy answer.

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Q: I have a 2007 Ford Explorer. Wet or dry, when you push on the brakes they squeak. It is a horrible sound and very embarrassing. We took it to a Ford dealer and had the brakes checked and they are OK. What causes the squeak and how can we stop it?

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A: According to Ford, brake noises such as intermittent squealing, groaning, moaning and clicking sounds are considered "acceptable" conditions, with the exception of continuous squealing caused by uneven brake pad wear. By the very nature of disc brakes, where a rotating iron rotor is squeezed between two brake pads under extremely high hydraulic pressure, noises created by vibrations between pads and rotor are common, relatively normal and do not affect or reduce braking ability.

First, inspect the pads and rotors for taper, wear or scoring. If all components are within specs, try having the surfaces of the rotors scuffed with a non-directional finish pattern to facilitate mating pad to rotor. The pads can also be lightly sanded on a glass plate to roughen their surface to aid the mating process. Then, a series of very firm brake applications from 30-40 mph down to 5 mph -- in a completely safe environment, of course -- will help seat the fresh surfaces of pads to rotor. The concept is simple -- reduce the vibrations between pads and rotors to reduce the noise.

If all else fails, upgraded or alternate brake pads with different friction material can often reduce annoying brake noises.

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Q: What is the best way to clean and prevent carbon build-up, especially in the EGR system? I found a photo online similar to what happened in my 1999 Expedition.

A: The photo included with the question shows small areas of heavy carbon build up in the exhaust port for the EGR -- exhaust gas recirculation -- valve. Some residue of combustion carbon on valves, tops of pistons, spark plugs and exhaust ports is normal. Heavier deposits can occur due to lower-quality gasoline, too low an octane rating, cold engine operating temperatures and excessively rich fuel/air mixture.

How to remove the carbon? In the "good ol' days" of carburetors, several full throttle blasts up to speed to "blow out the carbon" was popular sport. Today, a professional induction cleaning with special chemicals or the DIY "tune-up" with a fuel system cleaner can remove existing carbon and, used periodically, help keep combustion chambers clean.

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