Talking Cars: There is no magic pill; don't buy gas additives

Junior Damato

Question: Can you give me any information on gasoline additives made by various companies that are advertised either in magazines or TV?

Answer: If gas additives worked, they would give them to people like me and other automotive journalists -- the companies would benefit from the free articles that would be written. There are no magic pills, additives or devices that are worthy of mention. Save your money.

Question: While changing the fuel filter on my 2005 F150 5.4 V/8, I broke the small plastic clip that holds the fuel line onto the filter. Ford does not offer a replacement clip only; they want to sell me a new line with clip for $180. Do you know of another way to fix the problem with out replacing the line?

Answer: You are not the first person to not simply press the plastic clip to release it. The new style retainer clips do not come out like the older style line clips. We have taken the old style clips that are cheap and available in any parts store. Take the old style clips and file or grind it down to fit. You should also use a safety clamp like a small hose clamp to ensure the plastic clip does not fall out.

Question: I own a 2002 F250 5.4 V/8 with 49,000 miles. Occasionally I notice some blue smoke emitting from the tailpipe when I start the engine after it has been shut off for a few hours or more. The engine uses a quart of oil every 1,000 miles. I went to the Ford dealer and they said the oil consumption is normal. Is this a normal condition?

Answer: A lot of today’s engines do use some oil. The 1,000-mile oil consumption is not unusual. Combined with thin free flowing oil, hot running engines are perfect for oil consumption. Some engines will use more oil than others. You can try changing the oil viscosity to a slightly heavier one or switching to either synthetic blend or full synthetic. Do not use any type of oil additives.

Question: I own a 1999 Chevrolet Colorado pickup. The gas gauge does not work properly. It goes to half full when the key is turned off, and to empty when the key is turned on. Do you have any ideas?

Answer: In vehicles from 1996 and newer, computers can read what the fuel level is via a factory scan tool. In your case, it would be a Tech II. The factory scan tool has much more capability than generic multi-use scan tools. GM vehicles have had problems with both the fuel sender and dash cluster. A technician with the factory scan tool can identify where the fault lies.

Question: I own a 2001 Buick Regal. The speedometer light stopped working. The dealer said the repair would cost $340. Is this a fair price for the repair and would an independent shop charge less money?

Answer: The bulb that you mention is part of the instrument cluster. The way the repair works is the instrument is removed and exchanged for a reconditioned cluster. There are only a few factory Delco repair centers in the U.S. The dealer will give the repair center the mileage and vehicle identification number, and the reconditioned cluster is sent overnight to the dealer; your old cluster is sent back in the same shipping box. The cost is correct.

Question: I own a 1998 Lincoln Mark VIII with 76,000 miles. About nine months ago, I hit a small bump in the road and the suspension changed. The car feels like it has no shocks. The ride is very hard and uncomfortable. I went to the dealer and they readjusted the suspension and said this is the best they could do. The ride is still very hard. We would like to keep the car, but cannot drive it like this. Can you help?

Answer: We see a lot of air suspension problems on both Ford cars and SUVs. We will usually recommend converting the air suspension over to regular coil spring suspension. There are a few companies that offer conversions. The cost of the conversion is usually half the cost of air suspension repair without any additional problems.

Question: I own a 1999 Lincoln Continental. The car sits low in rear and has air suspension. Are there any inexpensive options to make the repair?

Answer: This is a very common failure. A simple inexpensive coil spring conversion is all that it takes to bring the car back to normal.

Question: I own a 1999 Dodge Caravan with 140,000 miles. I have always changed the oil and filter every 3,000 miles, topped off the oil between changes, and used 10w30. I am starting to hear some knocking noise after driving on the freeway. I assume this is from normal wear. I am wondering if switching to a heavier oil would help? Would you recommend a changeover?

Answer: Considering the high mileage and slight knocking sound, a changeover to a heavier viscosity and high mileage oil would be a big plus. The high mileage oil has a different combination of additives and, in most cases, reduces engine oil consumption with out any side effects.

Question: I am the original owner of a 2004 Nissan Sentra with only 40,000 miles. The car failed the New York state inspection because of a power steering fluid leak. I went to the same dealer I purchased the car from and they had to replace the power steering rack unit. The total cost was $964. Does that seem reasonable? Is this a normal failure with such low mileage? Would a leaking power steering system cause an inspection failure?

Answer: A state safety inspection usually would be for safety and a leaking power steering system would fall into a safety failure. The reasons are if the power steering fluid goes low enough, you will lose power assist and you could lose control and be involved in an accident. Second the fluid leak could also be a fire hazard. Third, play in the power steering rack unit is a safety hazard. The cost of the replacement is correct.

Question: I own a 2002 Chrysler Concord. The engine runs fine, however the check engine light occasionally comes on. I have heard that ethanol causes a problem with the oxygen sensor and is the cause. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Answer: The first step is take the car to a repair shop, have the technician scan the computer for trouble fault codes in memory. Once the code is identified, a repair can be made. As for ethanol causing oxygen sensor problems, there have been a few import vehicles that some gas additives did affect oxygen sensors. Again this was on only a few import brands that require premium-unleaded gas only.

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