Is oil synthetic?, off-balance drive shaft, latest and greatest safety features, and LED taillights 

Q. I recently read your answer to a reader’s question about synthetic oil. My question is how do I know that I’m actually getting what I paid for. I recently had the oil changed in My Subaru WRX and the oil looks darker than the last time the oil was changed. I have the oil changed regularly and this time the oil looks different. Is it the oil, should I use a specific brand or am I not getting what I paid for?

A. Different brand oils can look different but perform the same. Over the years I have used Mobil, Castrol, Royal Purple and even Walmart-store brand oil. Some oils are darker than others. In my non-scientific testing I would say that the oils that I have used under normal conditions all perform fine-I tend to shop price of name brand. One possibility is the oil could be darker if the old/dirty oil didn’t fully drain from the engine. Now certainly you could have the oil analyzed but that would cost as much as changing the oil. You could always supply your own oil when it is getting changed professionally. I have found that building a trusting relationship with the shop that services your vehicles eliminates this type of questions and stress.

Q. During one of the severe snowstorms this past winter, I got hung up on a snow bank with my 2014 Ford F-150.  It has 4-wheel drive and I lost the drive shaft to the rear wheels.  I managed to get the truck off the snow bank with the help of a plow driver and was able to drive the truck to a mechanic. He was able to weld the broken part of the driveshaft and put it back on the truck.  It seems to run fine but I was talking to someone recently who asked if I had it balanced.  Now I’m not sure if I should continue driving the truck like it is or if I should have the driveshaft balanced.  Also, who would be able to balance a driveshaft, if needed?

A. There are specialty shops that balance driveshafts although most shops either replace the driveshaft with a used unit from a salvage yard or replace it with a new one. As a rule, if a driveshaft is out of balance, the body of the truck or the seat will vibrate. If you are not feeling any vibration and the welding was performed correctly I wouldn’t be concerned. If you still have a concern, you could have your shop take out the driveshaft and send it to a machine shop to check the balance.

Q. I currently drive a 2015 Camry with a rearview camera and warning lights on my side mirrors when cars are in my blind spots. I was interested in driving a safer car with the addition of sound warnings for blind spots when I put my turning signal on as well as automatic stopping to avoid front impact and a front camera to avoid hitting barriers when parking. Are there any similar size cars that have all the above? Are there other safety features currently available that I should be seeking?

A. More and more vehicles are adding these types of features that were once reserved for only luxury cars. Today we see many vehicles with 360-degree vision systems as well as automatic emergency braking. One car that combines many of these safety systems as well as all-wheel-drive are Subaru models. If a Subaru doesn’t fit your style, you might want to consider a small SUV.  A small SUV offers a higher seating position for better on-road visibility and many have all the features you are looking for.

Q. What do you think of adding LED taillights to a vehicle that doesn’t have them? I like the look of the crisper light that LEDs provide.

A. LED bulbs come on quicker and may actually add a slight margin of safety when on the road. One issue I have seen is some LED bulbs will flash quicker than standard bulbs or even turn on a dash warning that indicates a light is out. To remedy this issue you may need to add a resistor to the circuit to compensate for the load that the LED bulbs draw.

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