How can I really clean the interior of my car?


John Paul, car doctor at AAA Northeast, answers a question from a reader who isn’t happy with how his vacuum is performing.

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

P. I hope this is not a silly question. What is the best way to clean the interior of the car? My vacuum cleaner doesn’t do a thorough cleaning. The car wash has a vacuum but I can never get a good clean anyway. There always seems to be some sand or dirt left when I’m done.

A. There are times when you need to use a shampoo and remover to clean carpets. Good detail shops will clean loose dirt and debris and then use a portable carpet cleaner. Soap and water loosen dirt and stains, and the vacuum removes the water. As a DIY approach, mix some water and dish detergent and then use the foam and a scrub brush. You don’t want to get the carpets too wet, just wet. Once you are satisfied that the carpets are clean, vacuum with a wet/dry vacuum. If the carpets are still wet, leave the doors open for a while or run a fan in the car to dry the interior. There is no such thing as a stupid question.

P. I have an older rear wheel drive car with a V-8 engine and automatic transmission. The car only has 55,000 miles on it. The car has a high speed vibration at 40 mph and 70 mph. I’ve had several shops look at the car and they just can’t figure it out. The tires have been checked and are in balance. In addition, I replaced the water pump and fan clutch, and checked the drive belts and harmonic balancer. The engine runs well, and the transmission was rebuilt. The drive shaft was replaced with a new one, which improved the situation, but the vibration is still there.

A. Since the vibration got better after the driveshaft was replaced, I would continue to focus on that area. I would look at the driveshaft angle and also put a dial indicator on the driveshaft to see if it is true. You can also try balancing the driveshaft while it’s in the car. This can be achieved with some large radiator hose clamps using them as counterweights. If you can find someone with a vibration measuring tool or even an old Reed vibration meter, it can help determine the vibration accurately. The problem could be an out-of-balance torque converter or even a poor fit between the engine and transmission.

P. I recently purchased a Cadillac XT5 and found that there was no spare or plug. The Cadillac dealer says a full-size tire won’t fit well in the tire, and the compact tires that used to be an optional purchase are no longer available. I am very concerned about driving a vehicle without a spare, even if these are flat tires. Several tire shops I’ve called say they don’t deal in compact tires. Am I worrying about nothing?

A. A flat tire has a rigid sidewall that allows the car to be driven without air in the tire. Real glowing tires will give you the chance to reach home. Generally 50-100 miles of driving under 50 miles per hour is suggested. Some cars have conventional tires without a spare, but include an air compressor and tire sealant. I drive all kinds of new cars, some without spare tires, and although I would prefer a spare, knowing that I can at least go to a tire shop to get the tire fixed or replaced makes me feel better. Your Cadillac has a mobility bag, air compressor and insulator. This is useful if one of your tires has a slow leak. At least you can pump it up to the correct pressure and hopefully repair the tire. I would prefer a spare tire though. In my opinion even a compact spare is better than no spare tire.

P. I have an unusual problem with my 2012 Mercedes Benz E350 4Matic. The car performs great, drives great and only has 60,000 miles. However, when I’m driving and take my foot off the gas and then hit the accelerator to resume speed, there is a slight whine or vibration that lasts a second or two. This situation is discontinued. It seems to happen at every speed. What could be the cause of this situation? I am afraid to go to the Mercedes dealer because of the possible costs. Do I have a big repair bill?

A. I suspect a problem with the transfer case of the all-wheel drive system, which is an integral part of the transmission. The condition is sometimes referred to as a shudder and will usually occur while turning slightly and accelerating. There is no easy or cheap fix if this is the problem. You have two choices at this point – live with it or fix it. If you can live with it, streaming can last a very long time. If you decide to repair it now, or even when it gets worse, it will be expensive. Just to verify what I suspected, I called a local Mercedes dealer to get a quote and was told to expect to pay at least $5,000 for the repairs.

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s car doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE certified master technician. Email your car question [email protected] Listen to the Car Doctor podcast at

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