The Car Coach: What Is That ECO Button In My Car?
Lauren Fix answers your questions about fuel economy and more
Dear IK: I have heard of this problem from other owners. Some notice the vibration when the engine warms up. The vibration has been consistent in the 1,600 to 1,800 RPM range. In addition, the message boards have lit up with distressed drivers complaining of their Honda Accord vibration problems. If your Honda Accord is shaking or vibrating, make sure you get to an authorized Honda dealership as soon as possible to have the service adviser diagnose and address the issue. I know your dealer has said this is normal – but it's not.
If necessary, agree to go on a test drive with your service adviser. When the car is repaired make sure you receive a comprehensive repair invoice, which states the problem, the mileage, and what was done to fix the problem. Keep these invoices in a safe place. If they claim they cannot fix the problem, make sure they put that in writing as well. If your Honda Accord is back repeatedly for the vibration issue, it is important to look into your Lemon Law rights. Depending on the repairs, you may be entitled to a new car or a complete repurchase.
Dear Car Coach: I purchased a 2011 Hyundai Sonata, which comes with the ECO system. I didn't understand how it works and neither did the sales person or service manager. When do you use it? For city or highway driving? They said to leave it on all the time. Can you explain it to me? JWF
Dear JWF: The 2011 Sonata has an active ECO system, which changes the operating characteristics of the car to provide improved fuel economy. If you leave it on all the time you will get the best possible fuel economy. That improved fuel economy comes with a trade-off: less power and a more sluggish throttle response.
The "ECO" buttons on most cars does essentially two things:
1. It changes the transmission shift points to better optimize fuel economy at the expense of drivability. In other words, the transmission will usually shift sooner to keep engine speed down. If the engine spins more slowly it (typically) will consume less fuel.
2. For cars with electronic throttle control (such as the Sonata), it changes the calibration of the gas pedal. Generally, in ECO mode you have to push the gas pedal down farther to open the throttle the same amount. This encourages drivers to leave the throttle more closed and keep out of power levels that require fuel enrichment. However, even with the ECO button on the throttle will still open all the way if you floor it.
Some manufacturers will also play around with the air conditioning settings to squeeze out a few more fractions of MPG at the expense of A/C performance and, obviously, interior cooling. Depending on the manufacturer, there may be minor engine calibration tweaks as well. Basically, for stop-and-go city driving the ECO button will make some difference in MPG for most drivers. If you are just rolling down the highway with the cruise control on, any difference in overall MPG would be – at best - incremental.
Dear Car Coach: Does leaving your wiper arms and blades in the up position, so they don't stick to the windshield, during a snowstorm damage the spring in the wipers? DL
Dear DL: I understand the thought process behind leaving your wiper arms up during a snow storm. Some opponents say that leaving the wiper arms in the up position would stretch out the spring, potentially shortening its life, but I have never had an issue with a weakened spring.
Other options include winter wiper blades, which prevent ice and snow from adhering and clogging the wiper action. They're a simple change out. Another option is a "beam" or "flat blade" design, which is different than traditional metal superstructure on the outside. Instead, these premium flat blade designed blades hug the curve of your windshield to provide a clean wipe in any weather. The frameless technology prevents the buildup of snow and ice on the wiper blades.
Dear Car Coach: Three months ago I changed jobs, and now only drive a total of 3.4 miles round trip on local roads, at less than 40 mph. It takes me less than five minutes to get to and from work. Before that, for the last nine years, I drove 40 miles round trip. There's 110,000 miles on my 2004 Saturn Ion with the five-speed manual transmission, and I make sure it stays in excellent condition. I always use Valvoline full synthetic oil, and change the oil and filter every 5,000 miles. Given the major change in driving time, speed, and distance, do you recommend a change in the interval for oil and filter change, or oil type? Also, I note that MPG has dropped from 34-35 to around 28. I assume this is to be expected? Thanks! PM
Dear PM: In order to get the longest life from your engine continue using high-quality synthetic oil and quality oil filters, as they provide superior particle removal and prevent contaminants from circulating. Any high mileage car should use full synthetic oil to lengthen the life of your engine. Oil changes can be at 7,500 mile intervals. And your fuel economy? Shorter trips, along with more stop-and-go driving, will typically have a negative affect on fuel economy.
Dear Car Coach: I've owned a 2005 Acura TL since it was new, and have really enjoyed it. Now I am looking to replace it with a crossover SUV and have narrowed it down to three: an Acura RDX, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Turbo or Kia Sorento. Based on your experience, I would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions. I have driven all three, and the RDX has smooth power and everything seems to fit well. It will definitely be one of these three. Thank you, WC.
Dear WC: I have also test driven all three vehicles. And while all are great choices, here are some things to consider when you are narrowing down a new or used car choice. Besides looking at your payments, check with your insurance agent. That may help you make the final choice.
As for your choices here are my brief thoughts on each:
- Acura RDX has intuitive interior controls, I agree with the smooth engine power, along with comfortable front and rear seats. And you should find both the purchase experience good (especially if you already have a relationship with an Acura dealer) and reliability – with its correspondingly high resale value – excellent .
- Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Turbo offers spirited performance for the price with many standard features. Hyundai provides an outstanding warranty, but you may find the chassis dynamics lacking the overall refinement – and tactile definition – of the Acura.
- KIA Sorento's technology package with larger navigation screen is very easy to like and intuitive to use. I prefer the performance of Kia' V6 relative to their four-cylinder; on the 'four' the power was too modest for my taste. The Sorento continues to supply competitive fuel economy, an available 3rd row seat, a low base price and the long 10 Year/100,000-mile warranty like the Hyundai.
When buying any new car never pay the price on the window sticker; with that, you'll find the Korean brands better geared to significant negotiation than an Acura dealer. Do your homework, compare dealers locally and on the internet to obtain your best price.
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