Manual shifting provides more power

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2016 Hyundai Sonata. It has a “Sport Mode” that is supposed to give you more power. Sometimes, I’ll use the automatic shifter to shift up through the gears myself and get to higher rpm.

It seems like when I shift the gears myself, I get more power than I do in Sport Mode. Is it my imagination or does shifting myself give me more power? – Maureen

RAY: It's not your imagination, Maureen. You're probably getting a little more power by keeping the car in each gear longer. You're certainly getting more noise, and that also contributes to the feeling that you're going faster.

In most standard passenger cars (of which we’ll categorize the Hyundai Sonata), there’s a button called “Sport Mode” or something like that. Since transmissions are electronically controlled now, that button simply moves the shift points higher. So, under normal circumstances, if the transmission would shift gears at 2200 RPM, in Sport Mode, it might shift at, say, 2800 RPM.

The higher the engine rpm (up to a point), the more power you get. Also, the lower mileage you get! Which is one reason the car doesn’t run in Sport Mode by default. The other reason is the noise. Most people prefer quiet and higher gas mileage to a little zippier acceleration. But if Sport Mode causes the car to shift gears at 2800 RPM, you can certainly wait longer than that when you do the shifting.

So, if you’re shifting at 3500 or 4000 RPM, the car is going to feel (and definitely sound) like it’s going faster than it does in Sport Mode. If that still doesn’t feel fast enough for you, Maureen, try chiseling a hole in your muffler. That’ll make it sound like you’re flying.

Has my Chevy lost its spark?

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2002 S10 Chevrolet truck that very often won’t start when the weather is damp – summer and winter, in the garage or out.

Blowing under the hood with a hair dryer sometimes does the trick, but it’s not convenient.

I have had it in to a couple of shops for repair, but they can't find the problem. I have had the battery and the distributor cap replaced. Any other suggestions?– Caroline


You need to install one of those big, car wash car dryers in your garage, Caroline. Then, you’ll just flip the switch, and the car, the garage, and probably the whole driveway will dry out in no time. To save time in the morning, you can even stand under it and dry your own hair. As long as you’re OK with a severe “down-do.”

I’m going to suggest you try a new set of spark plug wires. That’s the most common culprit when it comes to older cars that won’t start in wet weather. The distributor cap was a good guess, but obviously that wasn’t it.

In older cars like yours, here’s how the electrical stuff works: When it’s time for a cylinder to fire, your distributor directs a high-powered jolt of electricity through the spark plug wires, to the appropriate spark plug.

The spark plug uses that electricity to create what? A spark! A big spark.

That spark is hot enough to ignite the fuel and air in your cylinder, and that’s what makes your engine run.

What typically happens with older spark plug wires is that the insulation surrounding them breaks down. And since water is conductive, when there’s moisture in the air (or perhaps even condensation on the wires themselves), electricity leaks out on its way to the spark plug. If enough of it leaks out into the moist air, there’s not enough power left to make a good spark, and your car won’t run.

In fact, if you open the hood and get a friend to try to start your car on a damp evening, you can sometimes actually see a blue glow of electricity coming off of old plug wires. That’s your power leaking away.

So, try a new set of spark plug wires. And don’t be cheap. Either go to the dealer, or ask your mechanic to get you a set of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) plug wires. They’re worth the investment.

If that doesn’t fix it, then a bad coil would be my next guess. But at that point, you’d be guessing, which can get expensive.

You’ll want to seek out a mechanic who’s a little more interested in helping you than the last two shops you visited. If you can’t get a good recommendation from a friend or family member, pick a top mechanic from, where our readers and listeners have shared the names of their favorite repair people.

Good luck, Caroline.

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