Let’s Talk Wheels August Car Questions

Courtesy photo

Robert writes: My 84 year old Mother has a 2012 Ford Escape with 16,000 miles.

It runs great. However, when I changed the oil I found traces of what looks like coolant in the oil cap–yet the coolant level is full. What is going on?

Mike:  It’s not really coolant, but condensation turning into a mayonnaise-like goo and collecting in the cooler parts of the crankcase, including the inside of the oil-filler cap. This is a problem during cold weather, and in vehicles that are used for short trips and never driven long enough to reach operating temperature, which boils the moisture out through the crankcase vent system.

Every month, take the car for a 30-40 highway run. This will remove contaminants from the oil and help keep the engine from sludging up.

Kevin has a late-model Chevy Silverado. My dealer suggests changing the brake fluid every 30,000 miles. The dealer claims the brake fluid can absorb moisture and become very hot, thus justifying a change. I have never done this before. Should I start?

Mike GM seems to be the only manufacturer that doesn’t recommend periodic flushing of old fluid. The issue, as you suggest, is water contamination, which lowers the boiling point of the contaminated fluid to a level where when hot, could boil, reducing brake effectiveness.

The Car Care Council recommends replacing brake fluid every two years. You can check the condition of the fluid with small disposable test strips. Like the Dealer, I recommend a brake flush every 30k miles.

John is looking at new SUV’s and wants to know if getting the tow package is worth the extra few hundred dollars. It is just a hitch isn’t it?

Mike: There are a few levels of trailering packages, but they all help, even if you aren’t towing a trailer.  

First of all, it is more than just a trailer hitch. All of them provide the wiring needed for trailer lights and brakes. And usually it will include a larger transmission cooler. The higher levels of towing package will include a larger alternator, radiator, transmission cooler, and an in dash brake controller.  Some will also include suspension modifications, and link the trailer brakes with your SUV’s anti lock brake system and stability control. I wouldn’t buy anything without some sort of trailering package.  Don’t forget that once you own a Truck or SUV, everyone asks you to help move. Better be prepared.  

Jenny Asks: You have talked in the past about using smells to find car problems. How do I know my car’s “wet dog” smell is bad or not?

Mike: If your car or truck is giving off a funny smell, follow your nose and locate the source of the aroma. Bad smells can be Junior’s banana under the seat, or something that can cause possible health problem or an expensive repair. In all cases, the faster you find it the better.

The most common is a musty or dirty socks smell when your AC starts up after sitting.

This is from bacteria growing in the evaporator case under the dash. Moisture naturally collects on the cold air-conditioning evaporator, and if any debris makes its way into the intake vent, it becomes a science project after siting in water. Your air intake is located outside at the base of the windshield on the passenger side. Near where the wiper arms connect. If you park near a tree, leaves, sticks, and acorns usually cause the worst problems. Try to clean the grate every few weeks.  

Now, this junk can clog the drain for the evaporator. Thus usually causes wet carpets on the passenger floorboard. This can smell pretty bad too. Usually you can inject a disinfectant into the evaporator case to kill the bacteria. In the old days, I used Lysol. There are special treatments for it now.

Honda AC woes: Chuck writes: I have an 84K mile 2014 Honda Pilot that had an AC compressor fail last January. Since then, I have had it fail again. It starts by getting noisy and a week later, it quits cooling. My repair guy has been great and replaced it under warranty, but I (We) can’t keep doing this. It is starting to make noise. What can I do?

Mike: It the shop is using OEM compressors then most likely the issue is metal particles embedded in the rubber hoses shaking loose and damaging the compressor. Even though your tech is flushing the system, the rubber hoses are holding the metal particles and releasing them with vibration. Think of it like splinters in your skin coming loose after time. These particles travel through the system and damage the new compressor. Have them replace the hoses this time and see if that helps. Adding an in-line filter will also help.

Dennis writes; I have been looking at new cars and they all seem to have electric power steering. To me, they steer funny, and I can’t seem to get used to it. Is this a thing of the future?

Mike: Yes it is. It is a fuel economy issue, and you might as well get used to it. And, with the stop-start feature in new cars, it is the only way to handle steering with the engine off.

Jason has a 2004 Dodge Dakota with a Magnum V8 that he just loves. The problem is that he had to replace the differential and now, after 38k miles, it is getting noisy again. Is there some way to get them to last longer?

Mike: Those V8’s had a ton of power, and most folks didn’t change the fluid at the 15k intervals required by the factory. I recommend using Synthetic fluid and adding PolyDyn TX7 additive. This should solve your problem.