Car Talk

In older cars like yours, here’s how the electrical stuff works: When it’s time for a cylinder to fire, your 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 what? A spark! A big spark.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The sides of cars used to be slabs. A crease or an indentation was relatively rare, because it was hard to manufacture. We felt fortunate enough that the doors didn’t fall off when we opened them. Making them look fancy never crossed our minds. But as manufacturing got more sophisticated, we started seeing more creases, lines and bulges. Then it was off to the races.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

In order to delay moon roofs from leaking (they all leak eventually), manufacturers create water channels around the moon roof. Those channels usually have four drains, one in each corner. Those drains are attached to tubes that run down inside the roof pillars and drain underneath the car.

Over time, one of several things can happen to screw up this wonderful feat of engineering. Twigs, leaves and squirrel droppings can clog up the drains. The water has nowhere to go but into the headliner and then into the passenger compartment of the car.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

They’re both right, and since this is a V6 engine, it could easily cost you $400-$500 to have the valves adjusted. That’ll include new valve cover gaskets.

You could be cheap and try to put the valve covers back on using the old gaskets, but that’s kind of like taking a shower and then not bothering to change your underwear.

We’ve found that Hondas do require regular valve adjustments. Honda recom-mends it every 105,000 miles, when you change the timing belt. But we recommend our customers check their valves every 75,000 miles.

Here’s why: Honda valves have a unique propensity to get too tight over time, and if valves get too tight, you don’t hear anything.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

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 standard passenger cars (of which we’ll categorize the Hyundai Sonata), there’s a button called “Sport Mode” or something like that. Since 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.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

But you can swap out your horn, Mike. A bigger horn doesn’t take up much more space. And there’re no technological differences between big horns and small horns.

So, go to a junkyard and pull the horns off a 1976 Peterbilt tractor. Then, duct tape those babies to the vent window of your RAV-4 and watch people clear out of the way. People will laugh at you when they see the little car making all that noise, but they’ll get out of the way first.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The Express was the cheapest of the Grand Caravans offered in 2011, Greg. They called it the Express because they made it so fast, they didn’t have time to put any options in it. In fact, there was also the Super Express, which zipped through the assembly line so fast they didn’t have time to install seats or a steering wheel.

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. Like the twist tie that keeps the hood closed.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

While cloth interiors are certainly cheaper than other options, the black cloth is probably no cheaper than, say, gray or tan cloth. But when you’ve got families with kids renting cars for the weekend, and little Freddie eats too many jelly beans at Grandma’s and tries to read “Where’s Waldo” in a moving car and ... Well, you get the idea.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The starter motor’s job 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?

Saturday, June 15, 2019

A good car stereo shop can either add a permanent CD player that they will mount somewhere for you, or they can even replace your Camry’s “head unit” (the stereo controller on your dashboard) with a whole new system that has a CD player built in. If only I could’ve replaced my brother’s “head unit.”

If you’re handy and prefer to do it yourself, just go online and search for “USB CD player for 2019 Camry.” You’ll find a number of options for CD players that plug into your car stereo’s USB port. Then, when you select USB as your “source,” your car stereo system will play whatever’s in the CD player. The player itself can go in the glove box, under the dash, or on the side of the center console, with self-adhesive patches.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

The solution is what your mechanic did. You “tap” a new spark plug hole. There’s a kit we buy that comes 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 this sleeve in there and epoxy it in place. The spark plug threads inside that new sleeve.

They work. 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!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

So, it’s worth taking a trip to your local auto parts store and asking them for a flasher for a 2000 Holden Commodore. Presumably, you’ll get a less confused reaction from them than you did from me. Then, either ask them to show you where it’s located with their parts locator chart, or go home and get under the dashboard with a flashlight and look for a part that looks exactly like the one you just bought. When you find it, unplug it and plug in the new one. If that fixes the problem, I imagine you’ll be the happiest guy in all of Australia.

If that doesn’t fix it, you can return the flasher and get your five bucks back. Then take that money, add a chunk of your last paycheck to it, and drive the car to your mechanic.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

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.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

It’s particularly useful if you have a car that gets parked for long periods of time. So, while you’re at the International Slanket Convention for three weeks, the charger automatically senses a drop in the battery’s voltage and turns itself on and off as needed, keeping the battery ready to go when you get home.

Normally, when you buy a trickle charger at an auto parts store, you open the hood, you attach the clamps on one end of the charger to your battery terminals, and then you plug the other end into a wall socket. When you go to drive the car, you remove the clamps, close the hood and drive away.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

I recently bought a set of NGK spark plugs online at a really good price. Then I had a thought — maybe they were stolen or fakeIt’s not easy, Steve. The internet has made buying auto parts easier than ever. It’s also made buying counterfeit parts easier than ever.

I suppose the best advice is to simply beware of a deal that sounds too good to be true.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

I think it’s to avoid bashing into the car in front of them, James. If you’re driving along and the car in front of you stops suddenly, what do you do?

OK, what do you do after you’ve run through all your four-letter words?

Well, you slam on your brakes to try to stop before you plow into the car in front of you, right? And if there’s any question about whether you’ll be able to stop in time, you steer your car to the right, onto the shoulder.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

The question is whether you got the right Yokohama tires, Anahat. Cars like the Prius, which are driven by people who know their mileage down to the second decimal place, use special, low-rolling-resistance tires. Low-rolling-resistance tires have specially formulated rubber that reduces rolling friction, and therefore, increases mileage.

The downside is that you give up a bit of traction (which relies on friction). But since most Prius V drivers aren’t going out for joy rides on twisty mountain roads, pushing .96 g of lateral acceleration while yelling “Yee haw!” most of them happily take the mileage over the traction.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Yeah. I’d go back and reintroduce yourself to your friends at AutoNation. The open-ended wrench symbol is Ford’s “drivetrain malfunction indicator.” The drivetrain is pretty much the engine and transmission. So that doesn’t narrow it down very much. But by scanning your car’s computer, a mechanic can narrow it down a lot more.

Whenever the drivetrain malfunction light comes on, the car’s computer will store a code that tells your mechanic why the light was triggered. From your description, my first guess is that your transmission is not upshifting for some reason. That could explain the “roar” you’re hearing.

Let’s say your truck normally shifts from second to third gear around 25 miles an hour. If it got stuck in second gear, by the time you reached 35 or 40 mph, the engine could be running at over 4,000 rpm. That would make it sound more like an Airbus A320 than a Ford Sport Trac.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

There’s no inexpensive way to fix the valves, Gloria. Bent valves are not like a gate latch that you can straighten out with a hammer and pair of pliers. Valves have to fit precisely in the openings made for them in the cylinder head. And once they’re bent, they’re ruined, whether you bent one of them or all 16.

However, you don’t have to buy a whole new engine. You can simply buy a replacement cylinder head. And by “simply,” I still don’t mean “cheaply.” You’ll either need a used cylinder head from a junk yard (aka auto recycling center), or you’ll have to buy a remanufactured one from a company like Jasper.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

We’ve also seen situations where owners will accidentally hit the “stop-start” button twice when shutting off the car, and put the car into “accessory mode” without knowing it. If you leave your car in “accessory mode,” things like your radio and heater fan will continue to run and drain your battery.

In terms of chargers, solar chargers put out about 500-1,500 milliamps. So even at the high end, under perfect, sunny conditions, it’s adding about twice as much current as your car is draining just by being parked.

And since conditions are rarely perfect, you’ll just barely be replacing what the computer, the emissions system and the alarm are drawing when the car is off.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

I suspect you have a failing air conditioning compressor clutch. The compressor clutch is the electro-mechanical device that turns your AC compressor on and off. The AC compressor will normally cycle on and off while it’s in use, depending on the demand for cool air. And the clutch is what starts and stops it.

So if the compressor clutch is faulty and failing when it gets hot (like after a multi-hour drive), it would essentially turn off your AC. That would pretty well explain the lack of cold air, huh, Charles?

Saturday, February 23, 2019

As a rule, you never want to drive on tires that are more than 10 percent below their recommended pressure (that’s typically when your tire pressure warning light will come on, if your car has one). Underinflation can cause heat to build up and tread to separate, causing a blowout (see the Ford-Firestone controversy, February 2000).

So if your car calls for 33 psi, you never want to let the tires go below about 30 psi. But tire experts say running them at 35 or even 38 or 40 is not going to endanger you or cause any meaningful degradation in braking or handling. At worst, you’d have a stiffer ride, and have a few welts on your head from hitting that pesky dome light.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The problem is that all-wheel-drive cars have something called a center differential. A center differential is a box of gears that allows power to be transmitted to all four wheels, while at the same time allowing the wheels to turn at different speeds when they need to.

When do they need to? When you turn. Whenever you turn left or right, your inside wheels always turn slower (and travel less distance) than your outside wheels. If you don’t believe me, steal one of your kids’ Hot Wheels cars and turn it in a tight circle on the kitchen table.

Here’s the problem: If you have one new tire that’s larger than the other three, that new tire will always be turning more slowly, forcing the center differential to work. And the center differential is not designed to be in use all the time — like when you’re driving at 75 mph down the interstate.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Think about stopping at a traffic light while facing up a steep hill. When you take your foot off the brake, your car will start to roll backward a little bit before the power is transmitted through the fluid and the car begins to move forward. The same thing is happening when you shift before you’re fully stopped.

Is it good for the transmission? No. But at that low of a speed it’s unlikely to be doing much harm, either. If, on the other hand, your husband is backing out of the driveway at 4 or 5 mph, and, instead of using the brakes at all, he shifts into drive to stop the car and move it forward, I think he’s probably shortening the life of his automatic transmission, and you are within your rights to administer a dope slap, Michele.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

There are several reasons why it’s a nonissue. First, the pick-up tube itself has a fine-mesh sock on it. That allows liquid gasoline to pass through, but stops any debris large enough to damage the pump or the injectors.

I suppose if you had enough crud in your tank, you could conceivably clog up that sock. But you’d have to have the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald in there to do that.

Plastic gas tanks also have made a difference. They’re very common in cars now. And increasingly common at gas stations, too, where the fuel is stored. So while old steel tanks could rust and produce flecks of metal when they get old, plastic is forever — fortunately and unfortunately.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

If it’s not producing a code, that suggests it’s something mechanical, rather than electronic. And if I had to take a wild guess — which is usually what I do — I’d guess it’s your harmonic balancer. Every gasoline engine has a harmonic balancer, not just those sold in California.

The harmonic balancer is a big pulley that sits on the front of the crankshaft. It’s made of two concentric metal discs with a piece of rubber between them. And its job is to damp the vibrations created by the engine’s crankshaft. If your harmonic balancer is slipping when it’s cold, it could create lots of vibrations when you first start the car. And then once it warms up, it may start working properly. And that would not set a code.