Niagara Gazette

June 27, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: What can be done to improve fuel mileage

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A few questions and answers this week.

JUNE FROM BOSTON: I own a 2006 Jeep Liberty with 48,000 miles. This obviously is NOT a fuel-efficient vehicle. I have the oil changed regularly and tire pressures are maintained as well. This little ‘cutie’ maybe gets 13-15 MPG city driving ...YIKES! Is there anything I can do to improve gas mileage now that it costs $70 to fill up? My daughter is using it for college and she has a 25-mile commute with little to no stops to reach the campus. Her friends refer to her as the “old lady driver,” so speeding doesn’t apply here. A side note: My Chrysler Pacifica, which is rated poorly for fuel efficiency, has better mileage!

TOM: Two things come to mind. Install a high-flow air filter like a K&N filter and install an economizer fuel chip. This device modifies the engine management program from the factory (fuel trim is leaned and ignition timing retarded, all resulting in increased fuel mileage). The only tradeoff is decreased engine performance, but you say that you daughter drives like an “old lady” so this shouldn’t be an issue. Finally, practice moderate driving habits: No jackrabbit starts; drive the speed limit; make sure tires are properly inflated; and keep the engine tuned. Best to you.

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JOSIE FROM WASHINGTON DC: What is a “Readiness Monitor” on a car?

TOM: The term “Readiness Monitor” on today’s cars refers to the self-check monitors in the car’s emissions and performance system. When a Readiness Monitors trips, it means that the system has failed a self-test and the emissions systems are not operating up to snuff. In states where an emissions test is performed, if a Readiness Monitor is tripped, it can fail the emissions portion of the state inspection. The Readiness Monitors can only be reset after the offending emissions system is repaired, the system is reset with a scan tool, and a drive cycle is performed.

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PEPPER FROM MARGATE, N.J.: Why do the throttle-valves on injected vehicles get “gummed” up and cause various operational problems? Where does this “sticky stuff” come from? Can it be prevented and, if so, how? It seems to me that this valve is upstream to where the fuel enters the cylinders, so how does the “gum” get to the throttle valve? I’ve cleaned mine and everything is okay. I’m just curious. Thanks.

TOM: The reason the throttle body gets gummed up with varnish is because fuel is injected into the air stream rushing through the throttle body above the throttle valve. The constant injection of fuel results in varnish deposits being left on the throttle valve shaft. Because of this, it’s recommended that the throttle body be cleaned on a regular basis (following suggested maintenance schedule).

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MARIO FROM NEW YORK CITY: My ‘98 Nissan Maxima has a new battery. However, sometimes when I start the car it drags slowly (acts like the battery is dead). When I put the car in neutral and push it forward a little bit to get it to roll, and then put it back into park, then the car will crank again and start. Is the starter going bad, or is there more to the problem?

TOM: Have the starter motor checked for excessive electrical draw while cranking. It sounds like the armature bushings are worn, which would cause this condition. When the armature bushings wear out, the armature drags in the field windings inside the starter motor. This would cause the slow dragging cranking speed you hear. A reputable starter rebuilder can confirm my suspicions. Success to you.

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JOE FROM DALLAS: I own a ‘99 Buick Regal with a 6-cylinder engine. I need to flush the radiator but I can’t locate the drain plug in the radiator. Can you point it out to me?

TOM: Facing the front of the vehicle with the hood open, the radiator drain plug is located on the lower left hand side of the radiator at the bottom of the tank. It’s made of plastic. Make sure you don’t over-tighten it when you reinstall it. Also, make sure you clean the threads of any dirt or debris and wrap the treads with thread sealer tape. Good luck.

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RONALD FROM TROY, MICH.: My ‘99 Cadillac uses a quart of oil every 150 miles. There is no blue smoke coming out of the tail pipe and no oil on the ground under the engine. I use 10 W 30 oil. The car runs fine, and starts quickly. Is there a quick fix, like some type of oil additive?

TOM: First of all, there are no additives that will offer you a “quick fix,” as you call it. Oil consumption is the result of either internal mechanical wear in the engine, or a stuck PCV valve or blocked oil return holes in the cylinder heads from sludge buildup. In either case the fix will involve delving into the problem mechanically, not pouring something into the crankcase. Get it into a shop capable of diagnosing oil consumption.

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RON FROM CHARLOTTE, N.C.: What is the average price to replace the timing belt on a ‘93 Subaru Legacy wagon with a 2.2 engine and air conditioning? It was replaced 9 months ago and I don’t think it was done right. Now I have to have it done again and I want to make sure I don’t overpay. Thank you.

TOM: According to the Alldata labor and parts pricing guide, the cost for the timing belt is $65.95. Labor w/ A/C: 2.6 hours at the shop’s hourly labor rate. If you suspect the belt was incorrectly installed recently, why not go back to the shop and ask them to make it right? That way you don’t have to pay anything. Or, tell the shop you had the timing belt installed at originally that you are going to another shop to double-check their work, ask them if you can bring them the bill for this service? I bet they’ll fall all over themselves trying to fix your car!

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin.’

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.