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CAR TALK

by Ray Magliozzi | February 20, 2021 at 1:34 a.m.

DEAR CAR TALK: We have a 2019 Jeep Cherokee with a 10-speed automatic transmission. The car never goes into 10th gear, even at 100 mph.

The dealer we bought it from now acts like he no longer knows us when we try to complain about this or the fact that the Cherokee never gets close to the gas mileage that's posted for it.

Got any ideas? — Denny

DEAR READER: Yes. I can tell you, with 100% certainty, why it never goes into 10th gear, Denny.

Because you have a 9-speed automatic transmission. Mystery solved! All 2019 Jeep Cherokees came with 9-speed transmissions.

So if your Jeep ever did shift into 10th gear, it would be big news at Fiat/Chrysler headquarters. Oh, wait. This just in: They're calling the company "Stellantis" now that they've merged with Peugeot and Renault. My advice is, if you have Stellantis, talk to your doctor.

What I can't explain is why your dealer wouldn't just tell you that you have a 9-speed transmission rather than hide in the men's room every time you come in. Wouldn't that be simpler?

In terms of fuel economy, you're not alone in failing to achieve the Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy rating for your vehicle. The EPA even says that their standardized mileage tests are primarily for comparison purposes, allowing you to see how similar cars stack up against one another. Those tests are performed under what we call "ideal conditions," which most of us will rarely duplicate.

Oddly, some cars we test do manage to get their EPA-rated mileage or very close. But most fall short. Some by a wide margin.

What can you do to improve your mileage, Denny? First, make sure your tires are properly inflated and make sure your car is in good working condition — which we'll assume it is since you just bought it. And then, drive the car gently and at reasonable speeds.

Don't drive 100 mph. Even if you're in high-speed pursuit of the elusive Jeep 10th gear.

DEAR CAR TALK: I have a 2006 Nissan Frontier with about 146k miles on it. Two months ago, the brake pedal started going to the floor after stopping if I kept foot pressure on the pedal. My thinking was that the master cylinder was bad, so I had it replaced.

That didn't solve the problem, so I took the truck to a Nissan dealer. After more than $1,300 for calipers, disc and pads, the pedal still goes to the floor! The dealer says "This is normal" and "All Nissans do this!" This truck did not have this brake problem for the six years I owned it until now. A friend has a Frontier and the pedal does not go to the floor on his truck. Would appreciate your thoughts on this concern. Thanks a lot. — Alan

DEAR READER: Have you considered moving the seat forward?

I think you need to make an appointment to see the service manager at that Nissan dealer. But approach the meeting calmly. Remember, these are human beings, even if their knuckles scrape on the ground and all they say is, "They all do that."

If you come in screaming and yelling about how they're crooks or idiots, human nature dictates that they're going to leave a fish taco in your ventilation system. But I do think they owe you.

As a knuckle-scraping mechanic myself, here's the way I'd like to be approached by a customer in your situation: Ray, I appreciate the work you did trying to figure this out. But I spent $1,300 at your suggestion to fix the sinking brake pedal and, for some reason, it's still sinking. I checked out a friend's Frontier, and his brake pedal doesn't sink like mine, so it does seem like something is wrong. Would you be willing to spend some more time with it and figure out if there's something we missed?

Of course, no customer ever approaches me like that when I screw up. They start by calling me a crook and an idiot. And I have to tell them that I'm pretty sure I'm not a crook.

Anyway, your dealer needs to check his work. He needs to make sure the master cylinder that was installed wasn't defective. We would do that by replacing it again. He needs to check the calipers again, because a sticky caliper slide or piston — even on just one wheel — can cause this problem and can be hard to diagnose. And he needs to bleed the system again to make sure there's no air in it.

He should also check your rear drum brakes. If those aren't adjusted properly, that can create a soft pedal, too. And it could be some combination of those things. But after spending a mortgage payment and replacing much of the brake system, I think the dealer owes you a more satisfying answer.

Just seek it gently, rather than by force. I think you'll have more success by being one of their rare, pleasant, reasonable irate customers. Good luck.

Ray Magliozzi dispenses advice about cars in Car Talk every Saturday. Email him by visiting cartalk.com

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