Talking Cars: Even cars get morning sickness

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Q: I am considering a small car and have narrowed my choice to either a Chevrolet Aveo or Ford Focus. We read your column every week. Which would you prefer?

A: I have driven and serviced many Ford Focus vehicles over the years and even sold a few. My choice is the Ford Focus by far.

Q: My question is regarding the check engine light on my car. The light used to come on repeatedly. My mechanic said to make sure I tighten the gas cap until it clicks. I did this, and the check engine light has not come back on. Is this true of all cars?

A: All gas powered light duty vehicles from 1996 and on have an advanced on-board diagnostic computer system that monitors all aspects of engine management, and automatic transmission operating conditions and evap systems for leakage. A loose or worn out gas cap will set a check engine light trouble code. There are also many other reasons that can set on the check engine light. If the check engine light does come on, a simple computer scan code test is all that is needed.

Q: I own a 1998 Chrysler Sebring convertible. After a year of driving in a hard rain, the car floor now gets flooded on the driver’s side only, front and back. How can I find the source of the water leak?

A: The way we test and find water leaks is by running water over the wet side areas with out the squirt nozzle in place. You may need an additional person to look under the dash area with a light to locate the leak source. Once the leak is repaired it is a good idea to lift up or remove the rug to dry. A wet rug will produce mold, rust and smell.

Q: I own an old 1980 Cadillac Coupe Deville. The cruise control no longer works. Both the amber and green light come on when I press the cruise button on. I replaced the switch and controller. Any help would appreciated.

A: When we had a cruise control problem we used an OTC brand cruise control tester. Without the tester it is hard if not impossible to simulate the cruise control operation without the car moving. There are many fail-safe items in the circuit. You will need to find a shop that has the OTC tool, or find a technician that is willing to spend lots of time and your money to test the system.

Q: I own a 1985 Pontiac Fiero four-cylinder automatic transmission. When the engine is started cold it idles up high for about three minutes. The idle is so high that I do not want to shift the transmission into either drive or reverse. I have replaced the idle motor, thermostat coolant sensor and checked for vacuum leaks. If I let the car sit for 15 minutes it will start up and idle high again for a short time.

A: The old throttle body fuel injected engines did have a fast idle when started cold. There are no tricks in the book to solve the computer set idle speed. You must have a technician follow the proper idle setting procedure. That includes using a special air block off tool that fits into the actual throttle body. This is used to set the curb idle speed and throttle position voltage. An out of adjusted TPS will cause excessive idle speed. Did anyone break the sealed idle cap on the throttle body? This will also cause high idle when cold.

Q: We purchased a 2003 Subaru Outback and had it parked for three weeks. When we did start the engine there was a rattle sound from the engine. We took the car back to the Subaru dealer and they said it is a normal sound from the opposed flat engine design. Because the crankshaft does not sit in the engine oil. I then tried the engine oil additive that was on TV for many years. The additive worked and now 30,000 miles later there is no engine rattle when started after sitting. I asked the dealer about oil additives and they do not recommend the use of them. Is it true the Subaru engines are loud? What about the oil additive that worked?

A: It is no secret that the opposed piston Subaru four-cylinder engine does have a sound of its own. Some people are turned off by the sound of it. Another complaint is the lack of power from non-turbo charged four-cylinder engines. As for the use of oil additives, the only oil additive we use on high mileage problem engines is an oil viscosity improver. I only use and sell synthetic blend and full synthetic oil at my shop.

Q: I own a 1992 Honda Civic with two problems. The first is when the temperature gets below 30 degrees the power steering is hard to turn until the engine warms up. There is also a screeching noise from the brakes, which have been replaced. What are your thoughts?

A: Back in the early 1980s GM front drive cars had the same problem; it was called morning sickness. The problem was the seals in the power steering rack unit were hardening up and allowing the power steering fluid to pass by. Honda also had similar problems with some power steering rack units. It is unlikely the problem is the power steering pump. You should bring the car to the shop and leave it overnight when the temperature starts to fall below freezing. As for the brake noise, the use of factory Honda brakes should eliminate the noisy brakes.

Junior Damato writes weekly about cars. You can send questions to him care of the Old Colony Memorial, 182 Standish Ave., Plymouth, MA 02360.