The Engine is a Stinker, But Have They Exhausted All Options?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 11, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

I live in California, and my husband has a '46 Ford. It has a terrible exhaust smell that permeates the area, and every time he starts the truck, I feel like it's harmful to our health. It comes through the windows in the house, and our clothes smell like it. Is this dangerous to our health?

-- Lola

Of course it is. What that truck is sending out its tailpipe in the first five minutes probably is equivalent to about 100,000 Toyota Priuses. What you're smelling probably is burning oil, unburned hydrocarbons and perhaps some vaporized free-range dinosaur cartilage mixed in there. It's more commonly known as "air pollution."

I would guess that the truck has one of two problems -- or, more likely, both of them. The first problem is that it's probably burning oil at a faster rate than the Saudis can pump it. That creates a bluish-gray smoke with a very acrid odor.

The other problem is that the carburetor could be pouring way too much gasoline into the cylinders, causing the engine to run rich and send unburned gasoline out the tailpipe. That usually creates black-colored smoke and a gasoline odor.

Now, we don't want to be punitive here and take away the pleasure your husband gets from his '46 Ford, Lola. Besides, if we did, he might take up a hobby that wafts something even less pleasant in through your windows -- like the sound of him learning to play the trumpet. But he really should figure out what's wrong with the truck -- with the help of a mechanic if need be -- and then fix it. Even fixed, the tailpipe emissions will be much worse than those from a modern-day car, but it shouldn't smoke you out of the house.

If it's burning oil, he probably can fix that with a ring job. In fact, the truck may have already needed a ring job when he plucked it off the set of "Green Acres."

And if the carburetor is flooding, he can have it rebuilt: He can simply remove it from the manifold and ship it out to a rebuilder. Then you can surreptitiously change the return address so he never gets it back!

But if you guys are lucky, and he rebuilds the engine and the carburetor, you could cut down the tailpipe emissions to something in the range of 25,000 Priuses. And you might be able to live with that.

The fixes -- especially the ring job -- will be expensive. But you might point out that the cost of losing half of his assets (including half of the truck) to you in a divorce settlement will be much greater than that. Good luck, Lola.

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