Is this idling speed a problem, or just a feature of small cars?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

I recently bought a '94 Ford Aspire, and while I'm a long time Ford owner, I've never owned a small car. While I love my new little car, I have noticed that after starting my car, if I turn on the headlights or the fan, the engine speed decreases for a few seconds, and the display for the clock noticably dims. Power resumes after a few seconds. Should I take it back to the dealer for service, or is this just a feature of owning a small car?

RAY: You should take it back, Jackie. My guess is that one of the gerbils that powers this car fell off his wheel, and needs to be coaxed back on with some gerbil treats.

TOM: Actually, what's happening is that the car is almost stalling. When you turn on a major accessory like the headlights or the air conditioner (is that what you mean by "fan?"), you suddenly need a lot of power. And where does the power come from? From the engine.

RAY: And in your case, since the Aspire engine is about the size of a Singer sewing machine, those accessories demand enough power to drag down the speed of the engine.

TOM: To make sure it DOESN'T stall under those circumstances, there's a device called the idle speed control which is supposed to automatically boost the engine idle speed. And it's supposed to work almost instantaneously. So if yours is taking a few seconds to respond, it's obviously not working properly.

RAY: So the answer is yes, you should ask your dealer to fix the problem. And if he tells you "they all do this," your response should be "then they all need to be fixed, and let's start by putting a new idle speed control in mine."

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