Long commutes require a reliable — and comfortable — car

Dear Car Talk:

I love reading your column every week in the paper. Anyway, I got a new job that requires a long commute — 160 miles a day round trip.

I bought a new Toyota Crown because it gets 42 mpg using regular gas and is a great value. However, I’ve only had the car for two months and I’m already at 7,000 miles on the odometer. At this rate, I’ll blow through the warranty quickly.

My question is this: Should I just keep driving this car until it’s dead, or should I get a second used car in order to spread out the mileage?

— Dan

You should drive it ‘til the last letter of the “Toyota” badge falls off, Dan. And based on Toyota’s reputation for quality, that could take quite a while.

I’m guessing that if you’re driving 160 miles a day, a lot of that is highway driving. That’s far easier on a car than stop-and-go city driving. So it wouldn’t surprise me if you get 200,000 or 250,000 miles out of this thing. Maybe more. Especially if you take good care of it.

It doesn’t make any sense to buy another used car just to keep the Crown’s warranty in force longer. First of all, you’ll be spending hours a day in that other used car. Wouldn’t you rather spend all that time in your new Crown instead? Wouldn’t that be more comfortable? More reliable? Wouldn’t it cost less with its higher mpg? Wouldn’t it have better Bluetooth so “Sleepy LaBeef’s Greatest Hits” streams without dropouts?

If running out of warranty coverage is what’s making you lose sleep, Dan, there’s a better solution to that. Instead of spending money on a second car, spend it on an extended warranty for your new car. I believe Toyota has plans that cover you for up to 125,000 miles or 10 years. Or in your case, 125,000 miles or 15 minutes.

Still, that’s a better solution than spending three hours a day in a 2003 Suzuki Esteem. And by the time the extended warranty runs out, you can get a job at the local Starbucks. Enjoy your new car, Dan.

Dear Car Talk:

I live in Fairbanks, Alaska. I drive a 2011 Chevrolet Silverado, 5.3 liter. I noticed the other day that the inside of the cab was not heating up, despite driving for a while. I checked, and my antifreeze level was low, so I filled the reservoir to the “full” line.

I drove the truck this morning, and again, it was blowing cold air, even after 20 minutes of driving. I checked the reservoir, and it was down maybe an inch.

Then I noticed that while I was driving at speed, the heat would be sufficient, but when I stopped the truck to drop my daughter off at work, the air coming out of the vents got colder.

By the time I drove off again to go back home, the air was cold and wouldn’t warm up again until I was about a mile down the road.

Do you think I have a bad water pump? What could cause my truck to go from hot to warm to cold after a brief stop, and then warm up again down the road?

— Joyce

Have you considered relocating to Honolulu, Joyce? I feel certain this problem will bother you a lot less there.

Here’s what’s going on, Joyce: When you’re low on coolant — or right on the borderline between OK and low — the speed of the engine can determine how much heat you get in the cabin.

How? The water pump (which circulates the hot coolant) is driven by a belt from the engine. So the faster the engine turns, the more pressure the water pump produces.

If you’re low on coolant, and the engine is idling, the pump may not produce enough pressure to push the coolant all the way to the heater core in the cabin. And if you don’t get coolant to the cabin, you get no heat.

When you’re driving along at a higher speed, the water pump is turning faster, and unless you’re really low on coolant, that masks the problem, and the heat comes back.

So your problem, Joyce, is that you have a coolant leak. Unless there’s a leak, you should never be low on coolant. What could be leaking? It certainly could be a water pump that’s going bad. Your truck is the right age for that. But it could be a lot of things, from a leaking hose to a bad head gasket.

Have your mechanic pressure test your cooling system and see if he can figure out where the leak is. If it’s a water pump, it’ll probably set you back about $400. If it’s a head gasket, look at the apartment rental listings in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.