Show Rundown

#1404: Great Balls of Fire

Original Air Date: 01.25.2014
Show Open Topic

Meet Tommy Rae--the latest member of the Car Talk family. (Well, sort of.)

Call 1

Jamie (Albuquerque, New Mexico) - Toyota Tercel

Jamie’s car is losing a lot of oil, going through two quarts every 600 miles. She replaced the valve cover gasket herself, but it didn’t help. Next she’s planning to change oil pan gasket. She doesn’t see a puddle under her car, but gets a big plume of smoke when she starts it. Tom ans Ray suspect that the oil pan gasket won’t help as she’s burning oil. Try additives to see if they help, maybe “Restore.” Rings could be stuck.

Call 2

Rick Namey (Orlando, Florida) - Chrysler PT Cruiser

About 10 to 15 seconds after he starts his car there is a backfire under the hood, every single time. Tom and Ray say this sounds like a classic case of backfiring due to a bad coil which is causing a spark plug to not fire--a common problem in these cars. It could also be a bad sensor.

Call 3

Laura Nichols (Kalamazoo, Michigan) - Ford Escort

Laura left her car sitting for three weeks over the holidays and was worried about getting it re-started. A professor told her his brother was in the military in the Himalayas where they would keep a car running all night, attach a tube to its exhaust, run the tube to the the exhaust of another car, and that would start it. Is this possible? Tom and Ray think it is--could be a couple of cylinders open in the second car. It would only work if the battery wasn’t dead.

Call 4

Barry (Greenville, North Carolina) - 1984 Dodge Pickup

Barry was driving down I-95 when his radio died and the lights began dimming. He pulled off to the side and his wife noticed flames coming out the rear of the truck, setting the roadside on fire. They had the truck towed, a new alternator installed, and the truck has been fine since. But what caused the fire? Tom thinks it was coincidence. Ray thinks the failing alternator indirectly led to unburned gas getting into the exhaust system.

Call 5

Deanie (Richland, Washington)

Deanie’s dad and husband disagree over when it's the best time to check a car’s oil. Dad says when the engine is cold, husband says when the car is warmed up. Tom and Ray side with Dad. When the engine is cold, the oil is all in the pan which is where you want to measure.

Call 6

Diane (Tucson, Arizona) - Chevrolet

Diane swears that when her car’s gas tank is full, there’s more resistance in the gas pedal. Her husband thinks she’s nuts. Tom and Ray think Diane’s husband is probably right, but suggest she try a test. Wait until the car is down to 1/8 of a tank, have her husband go off with it, and when he comes back, she gets in blindfolded so she can’t see the gauge, and see how the pedal feels. Tom and Ray will check back in three weeks.

Call 7

Wolfgang Rueckner (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Our on-call physics professor Wolfgang calls to follow-up on the drafting call from last week. Caller wanted to know if the car being drafted has its gas mileage suffer. Ray said it would suffer but Tom said it wouldn’t. Wolfgang says both are wrong--both cars mileage would improve.

Call 8

Margaret Martin (Annapolis, Maryland) - 1993 Mazda Miata MX-5

Margaret bought her Miata over the summer and she’s just learned how poorly it handles in the snow. What can she do to improve it? Tom and Ray say she needs to buy four good snow tires.