Wife worries about giving the gift of remote start

Dear Car Talk:

I am hoping to install a remote-start system in my 2012 Audi A4. It's actually an anniversary gift for my husband. Anyway, I worry about getting it installed and then having electrical issues with the car later on. We bought the car used from a dealership, if that helps at all. – Mary

RAY: Must be your 11th wedding anniversary, Mary; that's the remote-starter anniversary. If you want to get a jump on next year, I think 12 is the velour seat covers.

If it’s professionally installed, Mary (I’d avoid the guys in the supermarket parking lots), you shouldn’t have any future electrical issues. These things have been around for a while now, and they work pretty well.

One option is to find a reputable car stereo and alarm place. Almost all shops that install alarms also sell and install remote-starter kits. The problem is that stereo and alarm shops really run the gamut in terms of quality of work. So you need to do your homework.

You’ll want to spend some time online, reading reviews of area alarm and stereo shops, and see if you can find one in your area that seems to have an excellent reputation.

It would be even better to get a professional recommendation. If you have a regular mechanic you really like, ask him which alarm shop he trusts in the area.

Or you could call your Audi dealership and tell them what you’re hoping to do. Ask the folks at the parts department or service department if they have an alarm company in the area that they recommend.

They may tell you that they do alarm and remote-starter work. Using the dealer would be a pretty good way to ensure that the work is done correctly. Or if it isn’t done correctly for some reason, at least you’ll know where to find them and get it corrected. Dealerships can’t close up and move quickly.

It’s also possible that your dealer “subcontracts” this kind of work out to an alarm shop. If they do, they may not want to share the name of the shop since you could then go there directly and eliminate the $100 markup that the dealership tacks on. If that’s the case, you’ll have to use the dealership and pay a little more, or rely on your other research.

But it’s not a complicated job for a conscientious, professional installer, Mary. And if worse comes to worst, they’ll set the car on fire, and your husband’s anniversary present will be a brand-new Audi A4. Happy anniversary.

Tacoma truck’s problem is more than ‘idle’

Dear Car Talk:

My wife drives our 2002 Toyota Tacoma. It’s a V6 with 180,000 miles.

She reports that the engine will sometime die when she shifts from park to reverse. It doesn’t happen every time, so it’s hard to pin down. It seems like it’s worse in hot weather, and usually happens when the AC is on. A quick bump to neutral and the truck starts back up fine.

I bought the truck new, and it's in excellent shape otherwise, but now I'm worried about future transmission problems. Suggestions? I always enjoy your column! – Ronny

RAY: I doubt it's your transmission, Ronny. Which disappoints me because I have a boat payment due at the end of the month.

More likely, something is causing your idle speed to drop. And when you put the truck in gear, which puts an additional load or “demand” on the engine, the idle speed drops a little bit more and the truck stalls.

I’d check the operation of your idle air control. When you use a major accessory like the AC – one that also places a big demand on the engine – the computer is supposed to tell the idle air control to boost up the idle speed to prevent it from dropping too low and stalling. It’s like stepping on the gas pedal a little bit.

Your idle air control may not be working the way it’s supposed to when the AC is on. It could just be dirty.

Even more likely, though, is that you have a vacuum leak. Vacuum leaks are very common on older cars and would also cause the idle speed to drop. Since it seems to happen only when you shift into reverse, it could be related to how the engine twists when you put the truck in reverse.

If you open the hood and watch while someone shifts the truck from park to reverse, you’ll see that the engine actually moves a little bit in one direction. When the truck is shifted from reverse to drive, the engine will move in the opposite direction. While it only moves an inch or two, it can be enough to make a crack in a hose open up more or close down more. That’s what I’d look for.

How do you do that? We’ll have one guy plant his foot on the brakes and put the truck in reverse. And when the engine begins to stumble, we have another guy go around with a wand that’s attached to a cylinder of propane. And that second guy will shoot a very small stream of propane gas around the areas where we suspect a vacuum leak.

When the propane encounters a vacuum leak, it gets sucked into the engine through the leak, and raises the idle speed. So when we hear the engine go faster, bingo, we’ve found the leak.

A vacuum leak could be anywhere, but I’d definitely check the fat, snorkel-like hose that connects the air flow sensor to the throttle body. We’ve seen that hose leak before.

And if that doesn’t work, build your wife a circular driveway, Ronny. Good luck.

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