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Motormouth: What became of emergency brakes?

Q: What became of emergency brakes on cars? Can the parking brake be used in an emergency?

B.K., Riverwoods, Illinois

A: Originally, the service brakes were applied using a lever and cables. Eventually, hydraulic brakes operating brake shoes inside brake drums made the brakes easier to modulate. The lever that hung around in case those old hydraulic brakes faded or failed could be used to eventually stop the car. No more. It has morphed into the parking brake. The parking brake is essentially useless for emergency applications. You can’t rely on it to stop the vehicle.

Q: I have a 2014 Honda Accord with 120,000 miles on it. Recently I had several warning lights come on: BRAKE, ABS, VSA. In looking in my manual, it states that all are associated with the braking system. The problem is that they come and go, and the car runs fine all the time. When I asked about this at my local Honda dealer, I was told the lights must be on for them to check. I can't predict when the lights will be on and make an appointment. My question is: Is there a common sending unit associated with these warning lights?

F.C., Crystal Lake, Illinois

A: VSA, which stands for Vehicle Stability Assist, helps handling during cornering by reducing understeer or oversteer. It also aids traction when launching, especially if the surface is slippery. The ABS system applies the brakes to individual wheels and the VSA is an offshoot of the ABS. They are definitely related. A faulty ABS sensor is most likely the problem.

Q: We have a 2019 Acura RDX that had 15,029 miles on it when we bought it from an Acura dealer in June of 2020. We are retired and love to travel by car and have put on just over 20,000 miles in the last year. I am a stickler on car maintenance and have a question on what the Acura dealer was recommending when we did the oil change last March, when we had just over 30,000 miles. They would like to do a brake fluid flush, but I think it’s more of a 50,000-mile requirement. I should mention we live in Las Vegas, so we deal with hot weather when we are not traveling.

J.L., Las Vegas

A: I get similar questions about add-on services every week. Carmakers use proving grounds to test their vehicles in climates from blazing hot to bone-numbing cold. The auto manufacturers devise service intervals to keep their cars running and their customers happy. Unless the owner’s manual states otherwise, for instance for severe use, follow the schedule.

Q: I own a 2001 BMW Z3 Roadster. Recently someone tampered with the gas cap while it was parked in a parking lot. The gas cap is original, and the person who tampered with it broke the tethering piece that attaches the cap to the car. I have tried to find a locking gas cap for the car to no avail. Are you aware of any locking gas cap that would fit my car?

W.H., Vernon Hills, Illinois

A: Do you really need a locking cap? After all, you have driven the car for over 20 years without incident. Perhaps the tether just broke from age. Just be careful not to let the untethered cap sit on the gas pump or car fender when you drive off or you really will need a new one.

Q: My 2021 Honda CR-V has the automatic shut-off feature when you fully press the brake. When I remember, I disable it because I feel like it adds unnecessary wear and tear to an engine and starter. My husband wants to find the fuse to permanently disable it. What do you think about this feature? Is it really fuel efficient, and does it add wear and tear on the car?

A.A., Glastonbury, Connecticut

A: I am ambivalent regarding the engine stop feature. It doesn’t annoy me, and it does not cause undue wear on the mechanicals. Although it doesn’t significantly improve fuel economy, every little bit helps. If it helps reduce climate change, I’m all in.


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