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Motormouth: Paying tolls

Q: The Illinois Tollway recently announced that cash tolls will no longer be used. People who don't have a transponder and/or out-of-staters must pay within 14 days. And they must figure out what they owe. My question: Why doesn't the tollway use machines that accept credit cards? The whole world has come to accept credit and debit cards as a result of COVID. It would make life much easier.

— A.F., Evanston, Illinois

A: The tollway system does accept credit cards, but not at toll booths, which are history. You don’t even have to sign up for a transponder. The tollway will bill you and send you an invoice (which you can pay online) if you set up a Pay-By-Plate account. Your license plate is read by a camera. I have a Pay-By-Plate account and live out of state (Virginia). My EZPass will also work.

Q: Back in the old days when we had to buy an aftermarket GPS that sat on the dashboard, we were cautioned that thieves could break into the car while we were at sporting events. They could steal the GPS, push “HOME” and drive to our house and steal our stuff at their leisure. My GPS never was stolen, but just in case, I had programmed in the address of a near neighbor who was a firearms dealer. He and his wife and daughter carried weapons with them at all times. It would have been a rude greeting for someone breaking into their house.

— S.S., Boca Raton, Florida

A: I guess that would work, as long as you clear it with your neighbor first.

Q: The fuel economy of my 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder with 151,000 miles went from low 20s to not even in the teens. Shade tree mechanic friends are telling me it is the O2 sensor. About $800 in parts alone to replace four sensors. My Subaru dealer says it’s not the sensors because there is no check engine light. They are suggesting a tuneup to the tune of $400. The spark plugs may be 16 years old with over 151,000 miles on them. Is it possible new plugs double my gas mileage? Were it not for the fact that I’ve spent over $1,600 on new tires and exhaust work less than six months ago, I would, reluctantly sell the car.

— M.S., Bristol, Connecticut

A: As the dealer said, new oxygen sensors are not needed as even one bad one would trigger the check engine light. But it sounds like they are guessing by suggesting a tuneup. I have a hunch it would not help. Find a technician who knows how to interrogate the car using a scan tool and the knowledge to interpret what he sees.

Q: I read your column every week and I am a retired auto tech. I took my 2017 Jeep Wrangler in for an oil change recently and they did an inspection. They told me I needed rear brakes and wanted to charge me approximately $860. I bought a good set of rear pads for $67 and did it myself. Tell your readers that it is much cheaper and just as safe if you go to their local shop.

— S.D., Northbrook, Illinois

A: As a former ASE Certified Master Automobile Technician, I could not agree with you more. Choosing an independent repair shop may also help keep a small business alive.


(Bob Weber is a writer and mechanic who became an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician in 1976. He maintains this status by seeking certification every five years. Weber's work appears in professional trade magazines and other consumer publications. His writing also appears in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest.)



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