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Discussion Starter #101


Dear Car Talk:

I have a ’95 Chevy Corsica that I have driven for 21 years. It’s been a pretty problem-free car. About a year ago, my heater quit working, and then, about six months later, I finally had it checked.

Turns out I have a cracked head. My mechanic said to put in Stop Leak, keep the radiator full of coolant and drive till it dies!

What will the car do when it fails? Will it stop suddenly in traffic, or will I have time to pull over? I am 81 years old and don’t like surprises. I could sure use your help. I have been a fan of Car Talk for years. Thanks. — Trava

I think your mechanic gave you the right advice, Trava. The only thing he failed to do was pin a Purple Heart on you for driving this thing for 21 years.

Stop Leak or Bar’s Leak may or may not help. But for $10, or whatever a bottle of the stuff costs, it’s worth a try in your case.

The key is to keep an eye on the coolant level. With a cracked head, coolant will definitely leak into the cylinders and get burned up and sent out the tailpipe. What you need to know is how quickly you’re burning it.

I’d have your mechanic add the Stop Leak for you and then top up your coolant. While you’re there, he can show you how to check the coolant level correctly when the engine is cold.

Then, buy yourself a notebook and make a list of cars you’d like to test drive next. No, use the notebook to keep track of your coolant loss. After a couple of days, check the coolant again, see how much you have to add, and make a note.

Do that for a few weeks or a month, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how fast your coolant is disappearing and how often you need to add more.

The key, if you don’t like surprises, is to keep the coolant from running low. If your engine has sufficient coolant, it’s very unlikely to die on you without warning. At least because of this particular problem.

Eventually, the leak will get worse — despite a third or fourth bottle of Stop Leak. And at some point, you just won’t be able to keep up with it without strapping a 55 gallon drum of Prestone to the roof and running an IV line to your radiator. That’ll be your clue that time’s up.

Even if it does get dramatically worse suddenly, you’ll probably get a warning. One warning is the one you’ve already had. If there’s not enough coolant in the system to reach the heater core, you won’t get any heat. Of course, that clue won’t help you in the summer.

After that, when the car starts to overheat, you should get a dashboard warning in the form of a red light. By the time that warning light comes on, you may not have a lot of time. If the engine is over-heating badly enough, it could seize and leave you stranded.

So, once you see that dashboard light, you’ll want to act quickly and find a safe place to pull over and stop. Preferably the parking lot of a used car dealer. Good luck, Trava.
 

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Discussion Starter #102


https://www.cartalk.com/blogs/dear-car-talk/mechanics-overblown-advice-50-years-too-late

Mechanic’s overblown advice is 50 years too late
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

I love my 2013 Chevy Sonic turbo and it gets great gas mileage. I tend to drive a little on the easy side to maximize the fuel economy and get mpgs in the upper 30s to lower 40s. My buddy, a mechanic, says that I drive too gently and need to periodically “put the pedal to the metal” to “blow out the carbon.” He says this is especially true with a turbo engine, as you need to “make the turbo howl” every once in a while. I know that taking too many short trips can cause problems with the engine not getting hot enough, but most of my trips are in the 15- to 20-mile range. My buddy specializes in hot-rod cars from the 1970s and ’80s, so I think that is affecting his thinking about today’s cars. Or are things different now? — Ed

Your buddy has his headlight firmly implanted in his taillight socket, Ed. Put your fingers in your ears the next time he starts talking to you. There is no carbon in engines anymore. Computer-controlled engines, such as in your Sonic, run so efficiently that they really leave no deposits to “blow out.” The goal of modern engine management is to protect the catalytic converter, minimize emissions and maximize fuel economy. To do that, the engine must burn the fuel as completely as possible, which leaves nothing behind. We almost never see carbon deposits in engines anymore. If we did, they couldn’t be “blown out” by driving hard, anyway. As for the turbo, the more gently you drive, the longer the engine and turbo will last. Period. So yes, I think your buddy is still living in the 1960s and ’70s. Set him straight about modern engines the next time you see him, Ed, and keep doing exactly what you’re doing.
 

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Discussion Starter #103


His Subaru Forester Is Burning the Midnight Oil




Dear Car Talk:

Can you help me identify what is causing a burning oil smell in my car?

We drive a 2011 Subaru Forester X. The engine is leaking oil, and we think it's dripping down on a sensor, which is causing lights to turn on on the dashboard. How can we fix this? -- Mitch



You can fix it by pulling out your credit card, putting a pleading look on your face and handing the card to your mechanic, Mitch.

In our experience, the most common oil leaks on low-to-moderate mileage Foresters come from the valve cover gaskets. The oil leaks down from there onto the front exhaust pipe, which gets very hot. The instant a drop of oil hits that exhaust pipe, it starts to burn, and produces a very strong smell.

That smell wafts into the nearby fresh air vent at the bottom of your windshield, and from there, right into the passenger compartment and up your nostrils, where it causes you to feel lightheaded and seek out brochures for 2019 Subarus. It doesn't take much oil at all to make a lot of smell. A drop or two will do it.

Replacing the valve cover gaskets is not a big deal. It'll cost you a couple of hundred bucks at most. Unfortunately, the higher your mileage, the greater the chance that it's something much worse: the cylinder head gaskets. To replace those gaskets, you have to remove the engine. That's a job that'll cost you over $1,000. Maybe way over.

So, a test is in order. We start by cleaning the whole area because it's always an oil-soaked mess. Then we insert a fluorescent dye into the oil. After running the car for a few hours, we shine a black light on the areas that we suspect are leaking. That usually tells us exactly where the leak is coming from.

If you're lucky, and you've lived a good, clean life, it'll be a valve gasket or two. I've never seen so much oil leak that it shorted out a sensor. So, if you've got dashboard lights coming on, those may be unrelated to the oil leak.

Start by figuring out what's leaking. Then your mechanic can scan the computer and figure out which sensor needs to be replaced.

Once you have the full picture of what it's going to cost to bring this Forester back up to snuff, you can make an informed decision about whether to fix it or grab those 2019 brochures. Good luck, Mitch.
 

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Discussion Starter #104


2001 Expedition’s spark plugs are ready to blow!

Car Talk
By RAY MAGLIOZZI
JULY 21, 2019 5 AM
Dear Car Talk:

I’m having an odd problem with the 5.4-liter V-8 in my 2001 Ford Expedition. For the third time, a spark plug has been ejected from the engine. The first time this happened, my mechanic said he “tapped” it. The second time, he assured me that it would never happen again. I’m not sure if it’s the same cylinder, but it just happened for the third time. What is causing this? — Frank

This is a well-known problem in this engine, Frank. Apparently, the aluminum cylinder head doesn’t have sufficient threads to keep the spark plugs in place. Those spark plugs are under tremendous pressure from the explosions inside the cylinders. Once they start to get loose, it’s just a matter of time before they take off.

The solution is what your mechanic did — “tap” a new spark plug hole. There’s a kit with an insert. It’s a sleeve that’s slightly bigger than the existing spark plug hole and has threads on the outside and the inside. We drill out the new hole, which is a little bigger than the old one. Then, we screw in the sleeve and epoxy it in place. The spark plug threads into the new sleeve.

The tap works. Your mechanic is right that the insert should not fail again. So, I’m guessing you’ve had three different plugs blow out. The good news is you only have five more inserts to pay for!

The bad news is that because each spark plug in this engine has a coil built on top of it, and that coil gets ruined when the spark plug blows out, each insert is going to cost you about $400 a pop.

You can do them prophylactically and replace them all now so you won’t have a problem again. But because this truck is going on 20 years old, you might want to take it a plug at a time.

You might even be able to delay future problems by checking and tightening the plugs on a regular basis. Like once a week. Or twice an hour.
 

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Discussion Starter #105


Most newer Honda timing chains will not self-destruct
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

I realize that Hondas are considered to be very well-made and reliable cars. However, I have always refrained from buying one because they were known to have “interference” engines and a timing belt instead of a timing chain. I did not like the idea that if I neglected to change the timing belt in time, the engine would self-destruct.

In a recent column you advised a reader that they did not have to change the timing belt on their Honda Accord because it had a timing chain, not a belt.

So, where can a consumer find reliable information such as this when considering a car purchase? — William

You’re right that it’s not easy for a consumer to get accurate mechanical information. Most salespeople will have no idea whether the car has a timing belt or a timing chain — but the parts department will know those details.

Give them a call and ask whether the year and make of the car you’re considering has a timing chain or a timing belt. If the advisers don’t know off the top of their heads, they’ll search the parts database for the belt, and if no belt comes up, they’ll look for a chain. Bingo!

Cars have been going back to chains in recent years. Chains were once seen as less reliable and more complicated and expensive to replace if they did break. But they’ve

figured out how to make them last the life of the car, in most cases.

And because you asked, I looked it up and Honda Civics have had timing chains since 2005. Four-cylinder Accords have used chains since 2002.

The only Accord that still uses a belt is the rare, V-6 version, which they say should be changed at 100,000 miles.

We wish you happy, timing belt-free motoring, William.

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Discussion Starter #106



DIY mechanic can get started on replacing the starter

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

When I go to start my car (normally the engine is cold), after I turn the key and release it, I hear a grinding sound. This used to happen only when it was cold outside, but now sometimes it happens in the warm weather, too. Could this be the starter? I’ve been using my car to learn how to work on cars and I’ve learned about replacing starters but haven’t done one yet. I don’t want to buy a new starter and try replacing it if that’s not the problem. — Don

I think you’re about to get your big chance to change a starter, Don.

Every starter motor has a shaft with a little gear at one end; it’s called the starter drive. When you turn the key to the “start” position, the starter drive pops out and engages with a much bigger gear called the flywheel, which is attached to the engine.

The job of the starter motor is to use that little gear to turn the flywheel until the engine starts running on its own — it usually takes only a second or two. Then, the starter gear retracts and the engine keeps running. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

If the starter drive doesn’t retract — or retracts too slowly — then you’ll hear that starter gear getting ground up by the flywheel. Grrrrzzzzzzhhhhh!

Sound familiar?

So, you’re going to fix this by replacing your starter. It’s a job that is within the reach of most do-it-yourselfers, Don, so I have confidence you’ll succeed — certainly after a few tries.

Just remember to disconnect the negative terminal of the battery before taking the starter out so you don’t set your hair on fire.

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Discussion Starter #107


The case of the missing minivan owner’s manual
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

We just purchased a used 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan Express. It came with a DVD, a user guide, tire information supplement, lemon law booklet and an emissions warranty brochure. But no owner’s manual.

The problem is, the DVD and user guide contain much information regarding features available on more lavishly optioned models but leave out MANY questions regarding the controls, operation and functions offered by this Express model.

I’m hoping you can tell me how to get these questions answered. — Greg

The Express was the cheapest of the Grand Caravans offered in 2011, Greg. Mechanically, the Grand Caravans were all pretty much the same. So, I’m not sure what you’re having trouble figuring out.

The cheaper, manual controls on the Grand Caravan Express are usually easier to use, if anything, because they’re so basic.

But if you need help, I’d suggest the last resort for car owners: The actual owner’s manual.

Go online to the Manuals Library (manualslib.com). Search for “2011 Grand Caravan Express owner’s manual” and you’ll find the 550-page tome.

You can then search and read online or download it for free to keep handy.

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Discussion Starter #108


How to safely handle a ‘medical event’ while driving
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

What can a passenger do to bring a car safely to a stop if the driver should die while driving on a highway? My wife, Barbara, rides in the front passenger seat, but she cannot drive or safely move from her seat without help. But she can reach the ignition key, steering wheel and console gearshift with her left hand. What do you suggest motorists do in the event of a “medical event” while driving? — John

It is an unpleasant thing to think about, John, but there are things Barbara can do in such an emergency.

Let’s say you’re driving, and you suddenly choke on a beef jerky at 65 mph. We don’t know the details. Is your foot still on the gas? Are you using cruise control? Are you slumped onto the steering wheel?

Let’s say all of those are true.

What Barbara wants to do is avoid driving off the road or into a bridge abutment. So, the first step is to grab the wheel and keep the car going straight. Next, she has to get the car to stop accelerating. She’ll do that by putting the car in neutral.

Whether your foot is on the gas or the cruise control is set, shifting into neutral will cause the car to coast to a stop.

You can have her practice putting the car in neutral a few times while you’re driving.

Once she has the car in neutral, she’ll want to steer the car out of harm’s way. With her left hand on the wheel, she should be able to slowly edge the car to the shoulder of the road.

If she really has her wits about her, show her where the emergency flashers are, and she can turn those on to alert other drivers that there’s an emergency.

When the car is safely on the shoulder of the road and stopped, or almost stopped, she can put the car in park and call for help.

Hopefully, a Heimlich maneuver will bring you back so she can look forward to doing it all over again someday.

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Discussion Starter #109


2007 Mercury Marquis has mixed-up AC air flow
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

The air conditioning on my 2007 Mercury Marquis can never make up its mind as to where to direct the air flow. It comes out the dashboard vents, then changes its mind and sends the air out the defrost vent. Then to the floor. There’s no real pattern. I’ve spent $1,800 at a Ford dealer and the problem never changes.

— Herman

The first thing I’d check would be the vacuum reservoir. The “blend doors” that direct the airflow under the dash are controlled by vacuum motors. And the vacuum needed to operate them is produced by the downward motion of the pistons inside the cylinders.

Every engine produces plenty of vacuum at idle and at low speed. But when the engine runs faster — as you begin to open the throttle — vacuum drops.

To make sure the blend doors don’t go crazy when the vacuum drops, lots of cars use a vacuum reservoir, which is a simple plastic container, about the size of a Nerf football, that stores vacuum. Its job is to provide vacuum to keep the blend doors from closing and opening haphazardly when the vehicle accelerates.

If that was not replaced, it could be something as simple as a bad connector, hose or check valve. The easiest way to find the vacuum leak (which I suspect is the problem), is to use a smoke machine. In our shop, we will introduce smoke into the system instead of vacuum. If there’s a leak, we’ll see it.

That’s what your Ford dealer, or next repair facility, should do next.

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Discussion Starter #110

Manual shifting of automatic brings more power, noise
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

My 2016 Hyundai Sonata has a “Sport Mode” that is supposed to provide more power. Sometimes, I’ll use the automatic shifter to shift up through the gears myself and get to higher rpm. It seems like when I shift the gears myself, I get more power than I do in Sport Mode. Is it my imagination or does shifting myself give me more power? — Maureen

It’s not your imagination, Maureen. You’re probably getting a little more power by keeping the car in each gear longer. You’re certainly getting more noise, and that also contributes to the feeling that you’re going faster.

In most mainstream passenger cars (such as the Sonata), there is a Sport-mode button or something similar. Because automatic transmissions are electronically controlled now, that button simply moves the shift points higher. So, under normal circumstances, if the transmission would shift gears at 2,200 rpm, in Sport mode, it might shift at, say, 2,800 rpm.

The higher the engine rpm (up to a point), the more power you get — and also, the lower mileage you get. That is one reason why the car doesn’t run in Sport mode by default. The other reason is the noise. Most people prefer quiet and higher gas mileage to zippier acceleration. But if Sport mode causes the car to shift gears at 2,800 rpm, you can certainly wait longer than that when you do the shifting.

So, if you’re shifting at 3,500 or 4,000 rpm, the car is going to feel (and definitely sound) as if it’s going faster than it does in Sport mode. If that still doesn’t feel fast enough for you, Maureen, try chiseling a hole in your muffler. That’ll make it sound like you’re flying.

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Discussion Starter #111


Valuable valve knowledge for a V-6 Honda engine
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

I’m hearing a clicking or tapping noise from the engine in my 2010 Honda Pilot, with 110,000 miles. The valves have never been adjusted, nor has the timing belt been replaced (I know it’s time). I understand that when an engine’s valves get noisy, they are in need of adjustment. But I have also heard that when valves get tight, that is when they need adjustment. So which explanation is right and why, and how much should I pay for a valve adjustment?

— Gordon


They are both right, and because this is a V-6 engine, it could easily cost you $400-$500 to have the valves adjusted. That’ll include new valve cover gaskets.

We’ve found that Hondas do require regular valve adjustments. Honda recommends it every 105,000 miles, when the timing belt is changed. But we recommend that our customers have the valves checked every 75,000 miles.

Honda valves have a unique propensity to get too tight over time, and if valves get too tight, you don’t hear anything. But valves that are too tight won’t close all the way, and if they remain open during the combustion process, hot gases will blow past the valves and eventually melt them. Pretty soon, you’ll have a five-cylinder Pilot. Then a four-cylinder Pilot, etc.

If you think a valve adjustment is expensive, just wait until you need 24 valve replacements. That’s thousands of dollars.

Having valves that are too loose is a problem, too. But at least with loose valves, you get a warning clattering noise, if you pay attention to such things.

It is possible for some of the valves to be too loose (that’s when they make noise) and some of the valves to be too tight (when they don’t make noise, but they’re even more apt to be damaged).

Go to a mechanic who knows Honda engines. It is important for the technician to check for tight valves as well as loose valves. But get it done soon.

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Discussion Starter #112


Seize this opportunity to learn about your engine
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk

I was told the engine is seized in my 2012 Hyundai, with 3.5 V-6. How does one check to confirm this conclusion? — Blair

I assume your car suddenly died on you, and the engine would not restart. The first thing we’d do is check the engine’s oil level.

Running out of oil is a frequent cause of engine seizing. So, if it’s out of oil, that’s a big clue that it ran out of lubrication, and the engine parts rubbed themselves together into a permanent sculpture, rather than a functioning engine.

If checking the oil is inconclusive, or if there is still sufficient oil in the crankcase, we’ll try to turn the crankshaft with a wrench.

Every crankshaft has a pulley, which is held on by a bolt on the front of the engine. You can put a wrench on that bolt and use it to try to turn the crankshaft. So, we’ll put a socket on the bolt, attach a breaker bar and see if the crankshaft will turn. If it won’t turn, that tells you that you no longer have engine parts. You have an engine part.

If you don’t have confidence in the mechanic who diagnosed it for you, you can have it towed to a mechanic you trust more and ask this shop to do the tests.

However, if you know you did something drastic, like never changing the oil, running the car out of oil or overheating the engine, then you may very well have seized it, Blair. In which case, the engine is toast.

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Discussion Starter #113

Stalled for answers about Jeep Cherokee engine issue
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

Our 2014 Jeep Cherokee shuts off when making right-hand, uphill turns. First and foremost, this is dangerous. The dealer says that when oil doesn’t get to the top half of the engine, the engine will stall. They said we weren’t changing our oil on time. They did an oil consumption test and said we were losing four quarts every 5,000 miles. What’s your take on this?

— Rick

It’s not only unsafe, it’s also going to be difficult to diagnose.

Jeep has had complaints about stalling Cherokees, and some owners report that Jeep blames low oil level. But the engine would have to be very low on oil — a minimum of two quarts down — to cause the engine to stop running.

According to Jeep’s consumption test, your engine is losing a quart every 1,250 miles. That’s not a ton of oil loss — as long as you check it and add a half-quart every 600 miles or so.

If you’ve been driving the car with a full crankcase and it’s still stalling, that tells me the oil level has nothing to do with it.

The nine-speed transmission had been problematic, which could be another possible culprit, along with the transmission wiring harness.

You can check the wiring harnesses by wiggling them while the engine is running. If you can get the engine to stall, you’ve found the source of what is an electrical problem.

The other problem could be something called the Totally Integrated Power Module, or TIPM. It’s kind of the electronic brain in this car, which could also be the cause of the stalling.

If your dealer is willing to work with you, ask that a new TIPM be installed on a trial basis to see if that solves the problem. If it does, you can take out the requisite home equity loan to buy it (or split the cost with the dealer). If not, you can give it back and go back to wiggling wiring harnesses and crossing your fingers on right turns.

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Discussion Starter #114

Has her 2002 Chevrolet S10 pickup lost its spark?
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

My 2002 Chevrolet S10 truck very often won’t start when the weather is damp — summer or winter, in the garage or out. Using a hair dryer to blow hot air on the engine sometimes does the trick, but it’s not convenient.

I have brought the truck to a couple of shops for repair, but they can’t find the problem. I have had the battery and the distributor cap replaced. Any other suggestions? — Caroline

I suggest you try a new set of spark plug wires. That’s the most common culprit when it comes to older cars that won’t start in wet weather. The distributor cap was a good guess, but obviously that wasn’t it.

In older cars like yours, here’s how the electrical stuff works to make the engine run: When it’s time for a cylinder to fire, the distributor directs a high-powered jolt of electricity through the spark plug wires to the appropriate spark plug.

The spark plug uses that electricity to create a big spark hot enough to ignite the fuel and air in the engine cylinder.

What typically happens with older spark plug wires is that the insulation surrounding them breaks down. And because water is conductive, when there’s moisture in the air (or perhaps condensation on the wires themselves), electricity leaks out on its way to the spark plug.

If enough of it leaks out into the moist air, there’s not enough power left to make a good spark, and your car won’t run.

In fact, if you open the hood and get a friend to try to start your car on a damp evening, you can sometimes actually see a blue glow of electricity coming off of old plug wires. That’s your power leaking away.

So, try a new set of spark plug wires — and don’t be cheap.

Go to the dealer or ask your mechanic to get you a set of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) plug wires. They’re worth the investment.

If that doesn’t fix it, a bad coil would be my next guess.

But at that point, you’ll want to seek out a mechanic who’s a little more interested in helping you than the last two shops you visited.

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Discussion Starter #115

No rush to join ‘little old lady’ club with 2011 Corolla
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2011 Toyota Corolla with 45,000 miles. The service adviser at the dealership has recommended replacement of transmission fluid ($160), coolant ($145), brake fluid ($110) and power steering fluid ($110). Are all of these necessary — all at the same time? — Evelyn

You’re in a bit of a quandary, Evelyn. Based on your Corolla’s mileage, at 45,000, it doesn’t need any of these things. You obviously don’t drive the car a lot. Normally, a 2011 Corolla would be expected to come in with 100,000 miles, not 45,000. Your service adviser is basing these recommendations on time (years) rather than miles.

Unlike rubber parts (tires, hoses, belts) that degrade over time due to exposure to ozone in the air, fluids tend to wear out due to use and heat. The less you drive, the less use they get and the less heat they’re exposed to.

So I’d say these are all optional at this point, Evelyn. It wouldn’t be bad to get these services done if you plan to keep the car for another five years. But that would put you firmly in the “meticulously maintained, driven only to church on Sundays by a little old lady” club.

In other words, you’d be taking very good care of your car and doing maintenance preventively.

There’s no urgency and you certainly don’t have to do them all now. If you decide you want to be proactive, you can do one of these services now and spread out the rest over your next three oil changes — which should be about every six months.

In terms of priority, I’d start with the coolant flush, then do the transmission fluid, then the brake fluid and the power steering fluid last, if at all.

And if you’re short on funds, the car is in no danger if you put this stuff off.

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Discussion Starter #116


This Saturn with an ‘oil incident’ might be up in smoke
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

I bought a Saturn Ion new in 2003, and it has been really good to me. During one period of time, I neglected to check the oil or change it when I should have. I then noticed it running a little rough, so I started changing the oil regularly again. Now, I notice that when I come to a stop in traffic and take off, smoke comes out of the tailpipe for a second or two. I hate to get rid of the car, because other than the smoking, it runs well. I tried over-the-counter products that are supposed to stop it from smoking, but they have not. Are there any stop-smoking products that actually work? — Jesse

I’m not optimistic that you’re going to find a $10-in-a-can solution for this, Jesse. It sounds like your Saturn’s engine is burning oil. And the “miracle” products at the auto parts store are really designed more for leaks than oil burning.

When they work (which is only occasionally), they soften stiff, dried out rubber seals in the hope of getting them to seal again for a while.

It’s likely that a dozen years ago, when you ran the car out of oil, the piston rings were damaged. And there’s nothing you can add to the crankcase that’s going to fix those now.

Even if you hadn’t had an oil “incident,” simple old age and high mileage might have caused this by now. But you got more miles out of this car than anyone at Saturn ever expected you to.

To keep this thing on the road as long as possible, continue to pay extra attention to the oil level and oil changes. Check the oil regularly, and top it off when it’s down half a quart. Also, change the oil every 3,000 miles or so, because newer, cleaner oil will burn less quickly than old, dirty oil.

When that puff of blue smoke eventually becomes a steady stream, that’ll be your cue that the end is nigh for the Ion, Jesse.

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Discussion Starter #117


Can my new Lexus actually save me money at pump?
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

I recently sold my 2009 Lexus ES350. It required premium unleaded gasoline (even noted on fuel cap), and I never had any problems with it. I then bought a 2019 Lexus ES350. I was told by the salesperson that I should use regular unleaded gasoline (also noted on fuel cap). But the salesperson, and later a service adviser from Lexus, were not able to clearly explain why this new Lexus ES350 should use regular unleaded rather than premium unleaded gasoline. I am hesitant to use regular unleaded gasoline. Do I continue to use premium unleaded gasoline, or do I save money by using the regular? — Lucy

You save the money, Lucy. In 2009, Lexus wanted more power from the ES350 V-6 engine. One way to get more power is to increase what we call the engine’s “compression ratio.” Basically, the compression ratio measures how much pressure is created in the cylinders when the air and fuel mix is compressed.

So, the 2009 Lexus had what’s called a “high-compression engine.” The problem with high-compression engines is that they can cause the fuel mixture to detonate too early — before the spark fires — because of the high pressure. That’s called pre-ignition, which causes knocking and pinging that are bad for the engine.

To combat that, the manufacturer requires you to buy a high-octane fuel. The primary characteristic of high-octane fuel is that it has a higher ignition point, which eliminates the pre-ignition problem. However, it costs more per gallon.

You’re lucky that they figured out how to make an engine in 2019 that’s not only more powerful and gets better fuel economy, but it also runs on less expensive fuel.

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Discussion Starter #118


With oil and luck, this ’09 Subaru can avoid the heat
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:

The check-engine light came on while I was driving my 2009 Subaru Outback with 143,000 miles. I have a device in the car that told me the engine triggered “Code P0028.” I drove home and Googled the code: “Blah blah oil level, blah blah solenoid ...”

I barely know how to do self-service gas, but I do know how to check the oil. There was not a drop on the dipstick. Shocked (because I am faithful about oil changes and other maintenance), I was also puzzled because I was only 8 miles over the suggested mileage for getting an oil change.

The mechanic said the engine was not leaking oil so it must be burning it. But I’ve never seen any smoke or noticed a burning smell. The car has always functioned perfectly.

My mechanic said to check the oil frequently and carry a quart of oil in my car for those times when it runs low.

I’ve driven 860 miles since then and the oil dipstick registers “full.” Could the mechanic have been wrong about it burning oil? — Mary

I don’t think he was wrong, Mary.

If the oil had leaked out (and you would have to lose at least two quarts for the dipstick to register no oil), it would have made a mess somewhere on the engine, and your mechanic would have noticed it.

The oil change interval for this car is about 7,500 miles. If you lost two quarts in 7,500, that’s only a quart every 3,750 miles. So, it doesn’t surprise me that you haven’t seen any drop in oil in only 860 miles.

Plus, oil burning accelerates as you lose oil. If you start with four quarts, and let’s say you burn a quart over 5,000 miles, now you have three quarts of oil trying to do the job of four quarts. It’s working harder and running hotter. That means it might burn the next quart in 2,500 miles.

Your mechanic is right that you should check your oil regularly and top it off when necessary between changes.

It would also make sense to decrease your oil-change interval to every 3,750 miles. Keeping newer, cleaner oil in there may help reduce the burn rate, too.

With luck, you’ll be able to nurse this Subaru for tens of thousands more miles. It will require some vigilance. And some more oil.

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Discussion Starter #119


One of these summer-spec tires is not like the others
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I purchased my 2017 VW Golf used, with 8,000 miles on it. I noticed one of the tires did not match the others. I figured it had been replaced because of damage. After about six weeks of use, I got a low tire pressure warning. Sure enough, the odd tire was the one that was low. I had winter tires on for five months. The odd tire did not lose any air while it was stored. I switched back to my summer tires and, sure enough, after about six weeks, I got a low tire pressure warning again — same tire. The tire was checked for leaks and none was found. It appears to only leak when driving. It has been removed from the wheel and remounted, same results. Any suggestions? — Roger

It’s not unusual for a tire to only lose air when it’s being driven. When the tire is just sitting in the garage on its rim, off the car, it’s not being subjected to all the forces tires are under when the car is stopping, turning and going over bumps.
At some point, when that tire is deformed in a certain way, it’s slowly losing air. Now, there is a very small chance that the wheel is at fault. If the tire had to be replaced due to damage, it’s possible that damage was from a huge pothole that also bent the rim.
Perhaps the previous owner had the rim straightened, but there’s still a slight irregularity. I trust that your mechanic — having dismounted and remounted the tire — would have seen anything obvious. And the car is too new to have rust or corrosion around the wheel.
You can test the “wheel” theory by moving the suspect tire to another wheel. Swap a couple of tires to different wheels and then see if the leaky tire still leaks. By process of elimination, you can confidently conclude that it’s a bad tire.
If it were my car, I’d skip the further experimentation and just invest $110 in one new tire. I think that’ll fix it.
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Discussion Starter #120


Swing and a misfire for Honda Civic engine diagnosis
Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I bought gas from Sam’s and my 2001 Honda Civic started misfiring. I changed the spark plugs and air filter, then put Heet gas treatment and injector cleaner in the tank, but the engine is still misfiring. — AJ
It’s less likely that the misfiring was caused by Sam’s gasoline and more likely that it’s related to the fact that your car is 18 years old.
The first thing I’d hope for is a bad ignition coil. If the car is misfiring continuously (for example, if it’s misfiring at idle) it’s easy to test for that. While it’s running, try unplugging one ignition coil at time. Each time you remove a coil, the engine should run worse. So, if you disconnect one coil and nothing changes, that’s likely the bad one.
You can test this further by replacing that particular coil. If the car then runs perfectly, you’re all set. If it’s still misfiring, then you could have a valve that’s too tight in that cylinder, or if it’s been too tight for a while, you could have a valve that’s burned out. Another possibility is that you have a timing belt that jumped.
But check the coils first, AJ.
 
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