Treating Rust, all-season tires?, EV buying advice

Q. I have a 10-year-old Ford E250 van and the roof is starting to rust (no holes). I took it to a body shop and they really weren’t interested in trying to fix it. They were nice enough to scuff up the paint and spray it with some Rustoleum (the van is black and didn’t even charge me. I love this van, it carries people, stuff and tows my boat with ease. Any economical alternative ideas that might work?

A. Rust repair is all about the preparation. Could a good body shop sand, repair, prime and paint the roof of your van? I’m sure they can. The problem is unless they routinely do restoration work, many body shops would rather repair crash damage. One possibility that I have seen work is painting the roof with the same material that is used for pickup truck bed-liners. The roof will have a slightly pebble-finish but since you can’t see the top of the roof, to me it wouldn’t matter. The spray-on bedliner if a fairly low cost and virtually permanent repair.

Q. I’m moving to a house on a hill, and I am considering snow tires after I got stuck near my house in a freak snowstorm a few weeks ago. However according to a consumer magazine, though snow tires do better in snow and ice than all-season tires, they do much worse than all-seasons in wet braking. Since a lot of the snow I’d be driving in would be salted, and since rain seems more common in winter now with global warming, would you bother? I drive a 2009 Toyota Prius and it is my only car.

A. If the type of driving takes you out before the snow plows and the hill you live on is slippery, then there is nothing better than four winter tires. All-season tires are a compromise, they have to work year-round and although with most drivers they tend to be okay. In deep snow or very cold temperatures, they are not quite as good. The publication is correct that dedicated winter tires are not quite as good in wet weather, but my experience is they are still quite good. Winter tires excel in very cold temperatures, ice and snow. If this was my Prius, I would install four winter tires near the end of November and take them off mid-April.

Q. For my next winter car, I want to move in the direction of electric but read that electric cars are considerably less efficient in cold weather. Would you consider a front wheel drive electric car with winter tires such as a Hyundai Kona over a typical all-wheel-drive with a gasoline engine for driving in the Northeast? There are few all-wheel-drive electrics, but I see plug-in hybrid vehicles as placeholders albeit a step in the right direction.  Lastly, how long before we see fluoride-based batteries replace the current options in cars?

A. Battery development is constantly changing, in just the 30 years or so that I have been involved with electric vehicle, batteries were the biggest issue. In fact, from the turn of the last century until the 1990s batteries for electric cars didn’t change that much. Today it is the combination of new battery designs coupled with sophisticated battery management systems which is making some of the biggest improvements in electric vehicles. Regarding fluoride-based batteries, there is still work to do. Fluoride batteries initially were required to run at temperatures over 300 degrees. There is some development in this area, but I believe it will be some years out before we see this latest battery design in consumer vehicles. Regarding range, looking at arguably one of the best electrics, even the Tesla can experience range issues in very cold weather. AAA testing showed a 50-mile range drop when tested on a dynamometer in a temperature-controlled testing room, when using the heater. I have yet to drive the Kona E/V but expect it to be about the same range issues when the temperatures drop to freezing.  Last year I drove the Kia Soul electric that has about a 110-mile range in the summer. I commute about 100 miles round trip to work. After getting comfortable with the car I could drive the round trip without any problems. Last winter I drove a similar vehicle and if it wasn’t for a charging station at AAA I would not have been able to drive home. If I was looking for a year-round vehicle and had a long commute, I would be looking at a plug-in hybrid. One vehicle to look at is the Mitsubishi Outlander, I found it to be a very competent SUV in all weather conditions.

 

John Paul is AAA’s Car Doctor. He is an automotive expert who has been writing and talking about cars for more than 30 years. He also hosts the Car Doctor radio program on WROL radio in Boston. Email John at jpaul [at] aaanortheast.com.

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