John Paul, AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor, answers a question from a VW owner curious about his vehicle’s engine.

The 2017 Volkswagen Passat. Volkswagen

Q. I was wondering whether my car has a timing belt or a timing chain. I own a 2017 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium with a 1.8 Liter Turbo. It is an absolutely great vehicle and has been a joy to own. 

A. Over the years Volkswagen has gone back and forth between timing belts and timing chains. In your vehicle with the 1.8-liter engine, it uses a timing chain. Volkswagen did have some issues with timing chain failure in earlier years due to the timing chain guides. With your car, if the engine is well maintained, there is no reason to think the timing chain shouldn’t last the life of the car. 

Q. I have a 1986 Dodge Aries that is running poorly. I’m trying to get a scan tool for this engine, but all I find is the OBD 1 (on-board-diagnostics) to OBD 2 adapter wire. Can I use that with the OBD 2 scanner for 1996- 2022 cars on my Dodge? My mechanic already changed the computer and cap, rotor, and spark plugs. Although that did not fix the running condition, it has a high idle, and bad fuel mileage. 

A. These cars had pretty good on-board diagnostics that didn’t require a scan tool. Cycle the ignition key ON-OFF-ON-OFF-ON within five seconds. Then count the number of times the “check engine” lamp flashes on and off. The number of flashes represents the code. A code of 55 is the end of the code string. If you only get a code 55 there are no hard error codes stored in the computer. It has been my experience that if there are no vacuum leaks and the idle speed control motor is operating normally, the issue is a poor electrical ground. The main grounding point is near the thermostat housing, and over time these connections get corroded and cause a host of drivability problems. 

Q. I’m looking for a big SUV for my growing family – not something quite as big as a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition XL. I have narrowed my choices to the Nissan Armada, GMC Yukon or Chevy Tahoe, and the Toyota Sequoia. Any thoughts on these? 

A. They are all good choices if a large SUV is what you are looking for. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have only driven the 2023 Sequoia a short distance. The hybrid drive seemed to work smoothly but I found the ride a bit stiff. The Armada is a good choice and a bit cheaper than the competition. Recently I evaluated the 2023 Tahoe which is very similar to the Yukon. I found the performance from the big V-8 engine impressive and the 10-speed transmission was a great match to the engine. There is seating for up to eight and even in the third-row adults can be comfortable. The second and third rows fold flat, and the cargo space is cavernous. Fuel economy with the 6.2-liter V-8 was, according to the EPA, 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 on the highway. My road test was mostly city driving and I averaged 15.2 miles per gallon, according to the on-board computer. Also, premium fuel is recommended. Like all new vehicles it is important to road test the tech, and I found all of the controls simple and easy to use. Of the vehicles you are looking at I would put the Tahoe/Yukon first, the Sequoia second, and the Armada third.

Q. I own a 1991 Ford Mustang ragtop with only 91,000 miles. I keep it garaged in my winter home in Florida. I installed four new Cooper Cobra tires about 3,000 miles ago. I returned once in summer and once in fall to check on things. When I got there, two tires were flat. I went to two different tire shops to check for leaks and northing was found. Could the original rims be the problem? Can I add a sealant to stop the leak?

A. Although tire sealant may work, it would be my last resort. I would rather the tires were removed from the wheels, then the wheels cleaned and a bead sealer used to get a better seal. Corrosion on the wheels over time can be a problem, and sometimes the cleaning and sealing solves the issue. But yes, at 32 years old the wheels could even be starting to get porous or could be beyond the point of sealing, thus needing replacement. 

Q. A mechanic recently replaced my car’s two front wheel bearings and hub assemblies. When I picked the car up it seemed okay, then I started hearing a slight whistling sound. Within 10 minutes, as I was slowing to a stop to take a right hand turn, I slightly pressed on the brake as I was taking the turn and it just started clanging and rocking really loudly. I never had any issues of that nature prior to bringing my car into the garage. What should I do? 

A. Don’t drive the car and have it towed back to the garage to be inspected. From your description it sounds as if the mechanic may have not secured a brake caliper. When the brakes are applied the caliper may be jumping off its mount and hitting the inside of the wheel.  

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to [email protected] Listen to the Car Doctor podcast at johnfpaul.podbean.com.


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