Could leaving the oil cap off have caused my car to die a month later?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1985 Pontiac Sunbird with 38,500 miles. A couple of weeks ago, my
husband forgot to put the cap back over the oil filler tube under the hood.
About 30 miles later, I was going slow through a residential neighborhood and
noticed smoke coming out from under the hood. I phoned my husband and he came
and put the oil filler cap back on, wiped off the surrounding area with a rag,
and filled the car back up with oil. The car ran fine after that.

Three days later, after about 50 more miles of driving, I came to a Stop sign
and the car went dead. No warning! I phoned my husband, who insisted on putting
a "tow rope" on my car so his car could pull the car home, with me in the
driver's seat. I was against the idea, but he insisted. The tow rope became
tangled up in one of the front wheels on the way home, and damaged a "boot" on
the inside part of the wheel.
After several days of work, my husband replaced the boot, but the car still
won't start. My husband says that no gasoline is being pumped into the engine.
He says the gas filter is dry. He insists this has nothing to do with his
leaving the oil filler cap off, and oil spilling all over the engine. Is this
true? -- Charlotte

RAY: Yes, it is true, Charlotte. Your current problem sounds like a bad fuel
pump or fuel-pump relay to me, which your husband will probably figure out
after six or eight months of playing around with it in the driveway. And it IS
unrelated to his passing a brain-stone and leaving the oil filler cap off last

TOM: We are not, however, prepared to let him off the hook entirely. After all,
he did insist on towing your car with a rope. And that maneuver rates pretty
far up there on the knucklehead scale.

RAY: Although I have to admit, I've done it myself several times!

TOM: I rest my case. Towing another car with a rope is really not a good idea,
Charlotte. While you're being towed like that, you have no power steering and
no power brakes. And you're probably jerking along, 15 or 20 feet behind him,
praying he doesn't have to stop short suddenly and send you smashing into his
rear end. I'll bet it was pretty scary, right?

RAY: So while I'm sure your husband is well-meaning, and was just trying to
save a few bucks, we have to chastise him for putting you in danger like that.

TOM: Plus, he didn't really save any money. When you factor in the cost of the
CV boot he ruined, and add in even a modest $1 an hour for his labor time, he's
already spent more "paying" for this rope tow than a year's membership in AAA
(with free towing) would have cost him.

* * *

TOM: Hey, do you think you're taking good care of your car? Are you sure?

RAY: If you're like many of our customers, you may be ruining your car without
knowing it. Yes, even you! Find out how. Send for your copy of our informative
pamphlet, "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!"

TOM: Send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Ruin
No.1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One