Ford Excursion as a Family Vehicle, Necessary Repairs on a Toyota Camry, Vinyl Roof Woes, Rogue AC Trouble?

Q. I drive an older Ford Excursion that I love for a variety of reasons, including a third-row seating, sizeable rear storage, four-wheel drive and towing capacity. This huge truck solves many of my family’s current needs; however, one drawback is the horrible fuel economy. With plenty of family pick up and drop offs I feel that some days I can watch the gas gauge move. Even though gas prices are pretty good is there anything I can do to improve mileage? Online I have seen discussion about fuel additives that can increase mileage by 30-50 percent, but I’ve also read how these additives can destroy an engine. What is your take on these, and do you have any recommendations beyond proper tire inflation and driving the speed limit to increase my gas mileage?

A. Over the years I have tested all sorts of fuel-saving devices and additives and found none that worked as advertised. I would also have the vehicle checked out just to make sure there isn’t a brake dragging or some other mechanical issue, impacting fuel economy. My advice is to maintain your car, drive the speed limit and plan driving as economically as possible. Easy on the gas and brake is still the best advice. With most drivers, if they look carefully at their driving habits, they can easily eliminate 10-20 miles off weekly mileage totals. Although not a huge savings, over the course of a year the savings could run around $150-$200 per year.  

Q. I recently brought my 2016 Toyota Camry in for its 30,000-mile service. The cost appeared reasonable and the dealership even gave me a 10 percent first responder discount, but it is never as easy as it seems. The service assistant came back with several issues that the mechanic thought should be attended to.  The recommendations didn’t seem unreasonable but still pricey. I told the service person I would think it over. The car is only three years old and is driven sensibly is this extra work necessary? 

A. The 30,000-mile service if it included a recommendation of replacing the engine and cabin air filters that is perfectly acceptable. If the dealer is recommending fluid flushes at that mileage I would ask why. All of the fluids should be checked, but unless they show signs of contamination, I don’t see any reason to have them changed.

Q. I recently inherited my grandpa’s 1993 Mercury with a half vinyl roof. The car has low mileage and is in great shape except the roof. The car spent its life in Phoenix and the roof is all cracked and ugly. I have looked online but haven’t found a replacement solution, any thoughts? 

A. If it were me, I would have the vinyl roof removed and the roof repainted to match or even contrast the color of the car. Vinyl/carriage roofs are an acquired taste and to me just don’t look good on any car made in the past 60 years.

Q. I have a Nissan Rogue and it is four years old and has 61,000 miles on it. The problem is the air conditioner. I can turn it on and sometimes the air coming out of the vents is cold and sometimes it is warm. I took it to the dealer, showed them the problem and they set up an appointment. When I came back in, the air conditioner was working fine. The service manager came out and handed me my keys and said they couldn’t fix the problem if it wasn’t broken. Right now, I have the same problem about once per week, what do I do? 

A. The Nissan Roque has had its share of air conditioner issue. Some include updates to the controller and the control unit. Just like nearly every part of a vehicle today, after checking the basics, the system should be checked for fault codes. It seems as if the air door actuator or motor may be failing. This would cause the air temperature to be warm sometimes and cool other times. If this is the case is may set a code to help with diagnosis.

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]

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