For road trip to mom’s birthday, not all RVs are created equal

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Dear Car Talk:

My mom’s 100th birthday is next month, and I’d love to be there for it. She lives in New York. I’m in Ohio. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I’m still reluctant to fly or stay in a hotel.

Do you have any suggestions for a vehicle I might rent for travel and living, assuming that I can find a place to park, for four to five days? My 2010 Prius would be good for the former but not for the latter. Thanks. -- Tim

Ray Magliozzi
Ray Magliozzi

RAY: Absolutely, Tim. You need to rent an RV.

Now wait, I know what you’re thinking. You’re imagining something the size of a greyhound bus, with a Ford Expedition hanging off the back for “short jaunts.” But not all RVs are humongous. There are van-sized RVs and even minivan-sized RVs. And you can rent one for a week.

Search online for RV rentals and have a look at some of the options. Winnebago and Cruise America are two of the big RV rental outfits, but you’ll find others.

It’ll cost you more in gas than your Prius would. But it’ll save you money on hotels and plane fare. And think of the adventure; you’ll see a thousand miles of asphalt you’ve never seen before.

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You could do the drive in one long day and just get there. But if you want to break it up, just search online for RV campgrounds. You’ll find places you can stop overnight, use the facilities, rest up and enjoy a $6 snack-sized bag of Sun Chips. Some are in peaceful, rural areas and some are right near major highways for convenience.

I don’t know where to suggest you park the RV in New York. Does your mom live in New York City proper? If so, you could act like a native New Yorker and just double park it with the flashers on for four or five days.

Or pay a guy to drive it around the block for the week.

Actually, I’d use Google Maps and find some parking lots and garages near where your mom lives. Then call them and make an arrangement in advance with the manager to park the RV there. They’ll probably want to know its dimensions to make sure it fits. And get them to agree on a price in advance.

Or you could park in a lot during the day and drive yourself to the outskirts of the city and spend your nights at an RV campground if you’re worried about Mom.

Either way, have a safe trip, and wish Mom a very happy birthday for us, Tim.

Don’t ignore check engine light on rough-driving Volvo

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2004 Volvo S60, grayish-green, with an engine problem that has occurred three times. It happens when the engine is warm. After I’ve made a brief stop (like for shopping), the engine will start, but runs very rough. Then, when I start to drive, I cannot get the car to go more than around 20 mph, no matter how much I press on the gas pedal.

My “check engine” light comes on, and I get a message saying “poor engine performance.” When I come to a stop, I put it in neutral and the engine surges. I’ve managed to get the car home all three times, and the next morning, the engine runs fine, though the check engine light and the performance warning are still on.

Eventually, the light and warning go off, so I haven’t taken it to a mechanic. What do you suggest? -- John

RAY: I suggest taking it to a mechanic, John.

I love it when you can’t go more than 20 mph and the engine is sputtering, and you get a helpful message on the dash that says “poor engine performance.” Well, duh!

But here’s why a trip to the mechanic is essential, John. Whenever your check engine light comes on, your car’s computer stores a fault code.

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With the help of a scan tool, your mechanic can then read that stored code and know exactly what caused your check engine light to come on.

My guess is that your electric throttle module is failing. The throttle is the mechanism attached to your gas pedal that regulates how much fuel and air are sent into the cylinders.

In the old days, the throttle was connected to the gas pedal by a cable. But now it’s done electronically. An electronic signal tells the ETM the exact position of your gas pedal, and the ETM then operates a servomotor to open and close the throttle.

Volvo had a problem where the contacts inside their ETMs were wearing out and causing the exact symptoms you describe, John. They even extended the warranty on those ETMs for a bunch of cars to 200,000 miles. Unfortunately for you, it’s 10 years or 200,000 miles, so you’re about seven years late in getting to your mechanic. Keep that in mind next time you ignore your check engine light, John.

Anyway, once you get the car scanned and confirm that the problem is the ETM, you might want to call your Volvo dealer and ask if you’re eligible for any help in repairing the car. They might tell you to go pound Swedish meatballs, but it’s worth asking. Then compare the repair price at the dealer to an independent Volvo garage and go with whichever is cheaper.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.