Synthetic oil, dim headlights, All-weather SUV, Odyssey reliability

Q. I have a 2008 Subaru Outback wagon with the 4-cylinder engine that has 114,000 miles on it. I also have a 2006 Toyota Corolla, with 80,000 miles on it. I have always used regular/conventional oil in both vehicles but have been reading about synthetic oil from you and other experts for years and now I have two questions. Can I safely switch to synthetic oil on both cars without any problems? At the mileage and age of both vehicles is it worth switching both in terms of cost and possible reduced engine wear?

A. I have used synthetic oil in my cars and anything else with a gasoline engine for more than 20 years and feel the benefits offset any cost. In just about every case with my own vehicles they didn’t start with synthetic oil and I had no problem switching from conventional to synthetic oil. One of my radio listeners had an interesting take on moving to synthetic oil. He had an older Toyota and switched to a synthetic blend for two oil changes and then to full synthetic oil on the last oil change. During a recent cold snap where we saw temperatures around 10 degrees, he felt that his car never started easier or sounded quieter.

Q: My husband and I own a 2006 Toyota Avalon with 160,000 miles on it. We have noticed our headlights are not as bright as they used to be.  Can car headlights develop cataracts and is there a way to clean the lights?

A. The plastic lenses that cover the headlight can oxidize and discolor due to ultraviolet rays from the sun. A new AAA engineering study revealed that deteriorated headlights – those with a clouded or yellowed appearance, can reduce the amount of lighting produced by nearly 80 percent. In many cases, the headlights lenses can be cleaned, or lower priced aftermarket replacement parts can be purchased to restore better lighting. Headlight bulbs can also dim over time and of course as we age our eyes don’t work as well as they did once. Keep in mind that when we reach 60 years old, we need three times as much light to see as when we were 20 years old.

Q:  What characteristics, other than snow tires, do I look for when purchasing a pre-owned or new all-wheel-drive SUV or crossover that will be great in the snow? Every dealer claims their brand is the best for winter driving. Is it the weight and design of the vehicle, the quality of the all-wheel drive and anti-skid technology?

A. Some vehicles are legendary with their off-road and winter weather performance, Jeep, Range Rover and very popular in the Northeast Subaru all perform well. What makes an all-wheel-drive vehicle outstanding in the winter is what you mentioned, winter tires. The reality is that front wheel drive vehicle is better than rear wheel drive and four-wheel-drive/ all-wheel-drive is much better than front wheel drive. That being said, any of these vehicles will benefit from winter tires. Several years back I drove an AWD Audi that was terrible in the snow, that exact same car with winter tires improved dramatically.

Q: For the last 20 years my wife and I have been devoted fans of the Honda Odyssey.  We enjoy its reliability, fuel efficiency, comfort, and its quiet car-like ride. We need a vehicle like the Odyssey because of our kids, our dog and the fact that we take long trips up to eastern Canada in the summer.  I read recently in a consumer publication that the Odyssey is now the lowest in reliability of all vans. What has happened here, and do you think we should avoid buying a new one?  If so, what would you recommend?  To complicate matters, I’m not a big fan of the Sienna or really any of the other vans out there based on what I’ve read about them.  Is it time to make a switch to an SUV?  

A: I still believe that the Honda Odyssey is one of the best vehicles of its type on the market. It rides well gets decent fuel mileage and is very versatile. Where I believe the Odyssey may have failed some of its loyal customers is with the overly complicated infotainment system. It is not just Honda but some other manufacturers that by eliminating buttons and knobs and relying on touch screens are frustrating their customers and a frustrated customer can result in poor satisfaction scores.

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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