The Truth About Cars » Piston Slap The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:30:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Piston Slap Piston Slap: The Straw that broke the Hybrid’s Back? Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000

Marc writes:

Hi, I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere.

I have 2006 Lexus RX400H with 106,000 miles. The vehicle is bulletproof never having a repair, it even has it’s original brakes. I traded in a 2000 RX 300 for it. The 300 also never had a repair.

My question pertains to the hybrid batteries. Multiple Toyota and Lexus dealers have stated to me, that they have seen few hybrids if any needing replacement batteries yet some Prius’ have been on the road for over 10 years but there doesn’t seem to be much said about the expected life of the battery packs. My battery warranty just expired. Is it time to trade it in to avoid the eventual high battery replacement cost or am I worrying about a problem that could be many years down the road.

Sajeev asks:

Hi there. Where do you live and how many electronic items on the cat do you regularly run? (A/C, stereo, heated seat, etc.)

Marc replies:

I live in Southern California. The AC is almost always on, music always on, NAV always on.

Sajeev concludes:

The series has indeed covered hybrid battery fail, Toyotas in particular.  Your location’s warm climate shall be easy on hybrid batteries, not taxing them with a ton of power robbing heater load. Or, to a lesser extent, the A/C load of hotter parts of the country.  But your battery will fail, and there are companies willing to help.

If you want the help.

Considering the lack of needed repairs (original brakes? Impressive!) on this RX, selling it while the going is good is quite logical. If you want a new vehicle! If not, find a hybrid battery vendor, get a brake job, fluid changes, etc. that will eventually be needed.

All this work could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, yet none of it scares me like a TDI+DSG Volkswagen product that’s out of warranty.  This stuff just needs to happen.  I’d wager it’s worth it, if you like the RX and wouldn’t want to pay for a new vehicle. Which is always gonna be your call, son.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The Fuel Harbinger of Fusion Steering Fail? Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:35:14 +0000

TTAC commentator Bobby Flashpants writes:

Howdy Sajeev,

I have an unique issue with my 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. I’ve posted about it at, and no one so far has heard of anyone with the same issue. Here’s the link for the post, and the text is reproduced (and edited to remove site-specific context) below:

I’ve got a 2010 Fusion Hybrid that’s about 40 miles from hitting 100K. I purchased it used 2 years ago with 69K miles on it. (note – this is as of 2/5/14) Over the last 6 months, I’ve had the issues with the “Service Power Steering NOW” and “Service Advancetrac” warning lights, and the associated deactivation of the electric power steering system. I’ve seen this issue reported before, and I know I’m not the only one who has encountered it.

I’ve had this failure occur 3 times now, and have had the system reset each time – once at a Ford dealer, once at an independent repair shop, and once at a tire center (who claimed that they couldn’t figure out how to do it, but the system was functioning normally again when I started it up to leave). Both the dealer and the Indy shop recommended replacing the steering rack as the only permanent solution, each estimating ~$1500 for the job (which lines up with what others have reported when confronted with this issue).

Here’s the thing, though – after seeing this occur so many times, I’ve noticed that the failures only occur when the fuel level is below 1/4 tank. As long as I fill up when I’m between 1/2 and 1/4 quarter tank, the steering and stability control continues to function normally. I’ve not seen anyone else report this type of correlation?

In the interest of full disclosure, the Carfax showed that my Fusion had been in a fender bender under the original owner, and we had an incident of hitting a curb and a mailbox that required a new wheel hub/bearing, rim, tire, and windshield.

I’m in a pretty small town in GA, with only one Ford dealer. The Indy shop I normally use is usually pretty good (if not particularly cheap compared to dealer rates), so before I make the trek to Atlanta or Columbus for 4th opinions, I wonder if you or any of the B&B have any insight on a cheaper solution for a system that doesn’t appear to really be broken.

Thanks! I’m a long-time TTAC lurker after following Murilee over from Jalopnik, and have soaked up the power of your Panther Love for a couple years now. My best to you and the crew!

Sajeev answers:

Well I’m glad you’ve listened to me, so you know you must sell this formerly wrecked Fusion and for a 2011 fleet-special Crown Vic. Is there any other alternative?

If you must live in the real world, a place I normally dislike, I suggest that opinion from a Ford dealer in a bigger town. Odds are your front suspension’s damage created the steering rack’s problem.  If the damage required a new front hub, wheel and (something as shockingly far away as the) windshield, odds are the steering rack is waaaay out of spec.

Is it possible that a fuel vapor canister’s processor or low fuel warning relay is controlled by the same module that talks to the power steering system? Calling that a stretch is a rather large understatement, even considering the body damage. The steering’s physical damage is more logical.

Let’s hope people with training on modern Fords can leverage their skills, training materials and connections to Dearborn to solve this one. My money’s on a new steering rack fixing the problem. No way did it emerge unscathed when the wheel busted and the windshield cracked.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Crystal Ballin’ With Yo Tranny! (Part II) Wed, 09 Apr 2014 12:24:30 +0000 Anything is Possible... (photo courtesy:

Aaron writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Huge fan of TTAC and the piston slap articles. My problem is that I noticed my car(2007 honda civic)would shudder, under light throttle and low rpms especially when going up a slight slope. This usually happens at 30km/hr or 40km/hr. I took it to the honda dealer(4 months ago) and he said the torque converter(tc) needs to be replaced(300 for tc plus 900 for labour and stuff).

My university got a bit busy and I took some time to think about it. The problem might be slightly worse now so I recently went back to the dealer to get more details about the cost and now they are saying the price of the tc has increased to 800 plus another 800 for labour. The guy suggested maybe just changing the transmission fluid(because it is starting to get dark) and driving the car until it fails and getting a new transmission for $3000 because the transmission will probably go out soon anyway.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m considering going to a transmission shop and see if they can change the tc, but I’m worried about going to a random mechanic. I know a small time mechanic whom I go to for small stuff but I’m not sure if his shop is capable of swapping the tc(is it that complicated?). I have also looked online and found other people saying that if the torque converter is failing, the transmission is probably going to go soon. Some other people have said that if the torque converter fails, it could take out the rest of the transmission which might have been working fine otherwise. I then found another group of people saying that I should just drive the car without changing the transmission fluid because even changing the fluid could cause the transmission to fail sooner.

I just want to know which of these are actually true and what should my next course of action be. If the torque converter can be changed for a reasonable price and my transmission keeps working, I would like to do that. Or maybe I should see if I can get the entire transmission rebuilt or replaced.

Thank you,

P.S: Not sure if this matters, but the car once overheated severely (about 3 years ago) and about half the engine had to be replaced under warranty. The engine has been running smoothly since then and the only other problem is that recently(2 months ago) my engine starter and battery had to be replaced. The battery connectors also look pretty bad so I’m going to replace that soon. Hmmm maybe I should just sell my car.

Sajeev answers:

Oh great, another mystery box transaxle/crystal ballin’ yo tranny problem: one day the B&B will string me up for these blind guesses.

That said, on a more serious note, how many miles are on the Civic?

Aaron responds:

Hey Sajeev,

Thanks for the quick reply. It has 156,000 km(96,000 miles). Admittedly, the car has been driven pretty hard. I just did a quick stall speed test(mashing the brake and hitting the throttle) and the revs went up to 2,500rpm in both drive and reverse. That seems pretty normal. I drove around trying to recreate the problem(Light throttle and flat roads or slight inclines).

It happens at:

  • 15 or 20km/h (9 or 12mph)
  • 30ish km/h (18mph)
  • 40ish km/h (25mph)
  • And at 55ish km/h (34.18mph), the shuddering is only minor at this speed

There is also a sound when this happens, it sounds like metal spinning against metal in a liquid. However, this sound can only be heard if the shuddering is not too violent. If it is violent, it just sounds like the car kind of wants to stall. I checked the transmission fluid and it looks pretty brown and has a slight burning smell. If the car is accelerating faster( atleast above 2000rpm), it feels like there is no problem. Also no problem when slowing down.
Thank you,

Sajeev concludes:

Great assessment!  At this age (under 100k miles) odds are new and correct fluid will solve it: flush the old fluid out of the converter and also drop the pan to change the filter. Which might be asking a lot for many shops, but I’d want all the old ATF out of the system. So will this cure the problem?  Will thoroughly removing varnished ATF cause even more problems than a shudder?

Maybe on both counts.  Or maybe one and not the other.  See how much fun this is for me?

My best guess: do as the dealer said, change the fluid. If it fails, get a rebuilt transaxle from a Honda savvy shop.  Because opening up a transaxle for anything and not doing a rebuild is likely a waste of time, labor and money.

It’s usually best to prolong that moment with anything…including a fluid change. Even if the fluid change actually shortens the tranny’s lifespan. So much fun!

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: A Frozen Expedition South of the Yukon’s Tundra? Mon, 07 Apr 2014 11:44:06 +0000

Frozen in KC writes:

Long-time reader, first-time questioner with a 2005 Ford Expedition Eddie Bauer 4×4 question: My local Ford dealer says there is no block heater available to install on my Expedition. As you may know, it has been extremely cold in the midwest lately and my Ford is in the driveway. I have an outlet nearby and would love to be able to start up an already-warmed engine in these bitter cold mornings, not just for my comfort, but for the longevity of the engine. I’m pretty handy, but not an advanced mechanic.

Can the Best-And-Brightest possibly be of assistance? Thanks!

Sajeev answers:

Just because a dealership can’t install an OEM part doesn’t mean the aftermarket can’t hook you up. With something like this part.

So you can indeed install a universal engine block heater on a 4×4 Expedition, but is it worth the trouble? Maybe not. Run synthetic oil to ensure the best engine protection below freezing.  Maybe put a remote start for your convenience.  And since it’s an Eddie Bauer, heated seats might be in play too. Those three items are more than adequate for most KC winters.

I mean, this Expedition doesn’t Traverse the frozen Tundra of the Yukon Territory. (childish giggling) 

I can understand the luxury vs. necessity of having an engine block heater, so the question remains: it is worth it to you?

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Fear No Polar Vortex! Wed, 02 Apr 2014 11:47:59 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Joel writes:

My family is a Volvo family. Volvos are from Sweden and they take winter very seriously. There are a number of ‘winter’ climate options that were, at least at one time, available on Volvo’s cars. For instance:

  • Parking Heater
    Sometimes known as a ‘Fuel Driven Heater’ or after one of the popular brands Webasto, Espar, Eberspacher.
    This is essentially a tiny gasoline or diesel (from the car’s fuel tank) furnace, mounted under the hood, that is plumbed into the car’s cooling system and hooked up to the climate controls. You start the heater remotely, and it heats the coolant and pumps it through the system, heating the engine and supplying heat to the cabin heat exchanger. Some can even use the car’s climate systems to turn on the blower fan and fully heat the cabin.
  • Pause Heater
    Sometimes known as a ‘Residual Heater’ or “Rest Heater’ on BMWs. This is an electric coolant pump, plumbed in with the cabin heat exchanger. When you turn the car off there is a lot of heat stored in the coolant, but only a tiny amount of it is left in the cabin heat exchanger. You press the ‘Rest’ button and the electric pump moves the coolant around so you can run the cabin heater for about 10 minutes after the engine is turned off.
  • Electric Cabin Heater
    This is an electric space heater that you place inside the cabin. Of course it’s got over-temp and tip-over systems so it won’t catch anything on fire.

Are any of these options available on ANY car sold in North America now?

Sajeev answers:

Questions like these remind me why I am so fond of the comments from the Best and Brightest in this series.  Because my knowledge of this topic is weaker than most, and PR folks aren’t lining up fancy new press cars in my driveway. But I got a plan, son. I got me some Google and we got the Best and Brightest, baby!

So anyway:

  1. Parking Heater: Well, Volvo’s still got it! But it’s a dealer installed accessory, if that matters.
  2. Webasto still makes one, fitting many a VAG product in Europe. I’d be shocked if manufacturers in North America follow suit, even if the concept’s proven itself in American RVs and 18-wheelers. No matter, Webasto’s own video implies it’s somewhat universal:

    Click here to view the embedded video.

  3. Pause Heater:  The BMW Rest system is/was a neat hallmark of the brand, but there’s conflicting info on the ‘net about whether it still exists in this age of i-Drive, start-stop equipped BMWs.  Perhaps a trip to your local dealership to question the i-Drive skills of a sales expert is in order!
  4. Electric Cabin Heater:  These are standard fare in every Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, as they have no internal combustion to feed you hot air!  Cuz hot air is the job of their greenwashing-marketing departments! I kid, I kid!
  5. Even the darling of the Hybrid world, the Toyota Prius has an electric heater. It’s entirely possible that super-uber luxury cars use this electric helper and a conventional heater core from the cooling system.  But, but, BUT…many cars sport seat heaters, steering wheel heaters and (drum roll please) the new S-class has armrest heaters!

Considering the electrical load of trying to heat an entire cabin, don’t be surprised if heating your ass, your back, your hands and your elbows does the same thing but far more efficiently.  Get into those warm items and soon enough the conventional heater will have your back. And everything else. Literally.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: You’ve Got to be All Mine…Foxy Lady! Mon, 31 Mar 2014 11:50:13 +0000  

Mark VII

TTAC Commentator Thunderjet writes:

Hello Sajeev,

Last year I picked up a ’91 Lincoln Mark VII LSC for $800. It’s in decent shape for being a Chicago area car and having 153K on the clock. The body has no major rust issues except for the front fenders, which have rust holes due to the sunroof drains, so the car will eventually need new fenders. The under body and frame are rust free and very clean. The car sat for several years before I purchased it and over the last year I have put about $500 into the car replacing various wear/tune up items (water pump, hoses, belt, cap, rotor, plug wires, spark plugs, and the starter). The car runs well and I’ve always wanted one, being that I have been a Fox Body nut since I started driving.

I would like to keep the car as I enjoy driving it. My daily driver is a 2011 Ford Focus SE bought new. It currently has about 28K on it and I’m hoping to keep it another 10 years or more. The Mark VII needs several things to make it more presentable including a paint job and the replacement of some of the leather panels on the front seats. In addition I would like to replace some wear items on the car such as the air springs so I won’t have to worry about failure in the future. I can do the repairs as time/budget allow and probably get a pretty nice car in the end.


The issue I’m having a problem with is that I already have a fun car that I tinker with: a 1988 Ford Thunderbird LX. It’s a factory 5.0 car with Edelbrock aluminum heads, a GT40 intake, .533 lift Comp roller cam, AOD with 2800 stall converter, and a 3:73 Traction-Lok differential. It’s a fun car and it’s the first car I ever bought. It’s not going away as the improvements I’ve made to the Thunderbird in the last 12 years I’ve owned the car make it too fun to part with. Also being my first car the Thunderbird is special to me.

I’m wondering if it makes sense for me to have two project/fun cars or if it’s overkill? A little background on me: I’m in my late 20’s and I’ll be getting married later this year. My fiancé doesn’t mind cars and in fact likes them as her daily driver is a 2012 Mustang V6 in Grabber Blue. I own my own house outright and I only have two sources of debt: about $15K I’m paying off in student loans for my master’s degree and the other two years on the loan for my Focus. I bought a new car as a daily driver as the dealer offered me 0% for 60 months. Who am I to say no to free money from Ford Credit? I am saving for retirement and put 15% of my yearly salary towards that. I make in the mid to upper five figures so I’m not poor but I’m not rich. As of right now having the Mark VII is only costing me about $300 a year in insurance. Does it make sense for a late 20 something to have two fun cars or should I ditch the Mark VII and just keep the Thunderbird?

Sajeev answers:

Before I go completely bonkers over a Fox Body question, a question back: do you have adequate parking for everyone’s cars???

Thunderjet writes:

The parking situation is good with the extra fox. The Thunderbird and my fiance’s Mustang reside in the garage while the Focus sits in the driveway. I usually keep the Mark in the driveway as well but if weather is bad my parents have let me drop it off at their house. They have space in their garage they are not using.

I should also note that I purchased the AOD floor shifter from your 1988 Cougar XR-7 on foxtbirdcougarforums several years ago. I think you sold it to me for ten bucks. I still have it if I ever get the desire to remove the column shifter from my Thunderbird. And yes the graphic EQ in my Thunderbird still works. It’s wired through a JVC head unit and the factory amp.

Sajeev answers:

Since normal people won’t understand this graphic EQ hack, a photo from my Cougar to clarify:

Not only is the Fox one of the most customizable vehicles on the planet, the truly insane among us convert the Ford EQ’s wiring into RCA connections; making it work with any aftermarket stereo. And it sounds kinda great, too!

What a small world it is: you knew me back when I was a Fox UBB forum fiend!  Times change, but multiple housebound projects are doable for these reasons:

  1. Your intelligent and enviable debt-to-equity ratio.
  2. Ownership of a new vehicle as a daily driver.
  3. Enough space at your residence for cars, without pissing off your significant other.
  4. Intimate knowledge of the vehicles in question, with a great track record for success.
  5. Readily available parts and low-cost of ownership inherent in Fox Body (resto?) modification.
  6. A strong internet community to help you when needed. And a sympathetic resto-mod Cougar owning schmuck on TTAC too, if that helps.

You are one lucky duck. How do I know? This is kinda how I co-exist with my old Fords. BAM SON!

A final note: since you showed me yours, here’s mine. Getting rid of my shifter opened up room in the Cougar for a manual gearbox. Thanks for that. And best of luck with the LSC, I am jealous.


I really, really want an cherry 88-89 LSC, just not with Porno Red leather. One of these Foxes is enough.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: The Buy or Rent Pitfall? Wed, 26 Mar 2014 12:44:41 +0000 pitfall2

Henry writes:


My wife and I are planning on taking a large 20 day vacation this summer where we plan on driving aver 5000 miles with our three older children. My wife drives a 2008 Ford Taurus X, which we love, but does not have enough space for a family of five for such a long journey. We were originally going to rent a minivan from the local enterprise, but a two week rental will set us back $1,300 with tax.


Recently I noticed that there are some good deals to be had on fourth generation Chrysler minivans. My wife and I bought two of these vans new, a 2001 and a 2005, and we loved both vans. This has me thinking, why not just buy a loaded up low mileage van for around $3,000-$4,000, use it for the summer/trip, and then sell it after we are done. Any advice?

Sajeev answers:

If you have the cash flow/time to buy-then-sell AND assuming you can do a bit of repair with your own hands, then yes, you should absolutely do this! This will be cheaper than renting (obviously) and maybe even flying to your destination. Plus, road trips are all about the journey.  That said, let’s make sure you are safe and not stranded on the journey.

A list of items you must check on your short list of minivans you want to buy, then sell:

  • Tires, tires, tires. Road trips are hard on old tires, so new-ish tires are almost mandatory. And not just tread depth wise, also age wise. Don’t forget the spare, either!
  • Service records: buy the van with the most comprehensive service history. Even if it’s Barney purple and has stains/rips inside, that’s the safest bet.
  • Fresh fluids, good rubber hoses/wipers/belts/vacuum lines, fresh brakes and all the stuff we preach in this column on a regular basis.
  • Clear headlights with new bulbs, as you will drive at night and want to actually see where the hell you’re going.

There are other granular bits to discuss (strength of transaxle if subjected to neglected ATF) but that’s hard to armchair in terms of being a relevant concern to your short-term ownership.   I would buy the van with the most records, the best tires/brakes you can find and hope you can add value in your ownership (via repairs and detailing) so you can actually make money on your vacation!

Best of luck with that.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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Piston Slap: A Tribute to the Mariner’s idle Escape? (PART II) Mon, 24 Mar 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Capture

We had two updates to a previous Piston Slap this weekend, surprisingly within two hours of each other.  Let’s hear from the OP first:

TTAC Commentator sundvl76 writes:

Sajeev, reporting back:

You may be interested in this, if for no other reason than to add to your diagnostic toolbox; my experience certainly can’t be unique: Several comments below your post also suggested the motor mount(s) as the problem. I more recently discussed this with a professional wrench acquaintance, who also said that the mounts can be expected to go south after ~80K miles; he suggested using a padded floor jack to lift slightly on the engine during a time when I detected the “rough” idle (the oil pan on this vehicle, and maybe all Duratec engines, is waffled cast aluminum). Bingo! The vibration ceased when I did that.

I have now changed the large mount on the passenger side of the engine compartment, and can report that the vibration is no longer present. But, there is a bonus prize to this story: for the last 25 – 30K miles, I’ve been also chasing a creaking noise which occurred – again more prominently during cold weather than hot – at any acceleration from a stop sign/light. I would have bet serious money that it was coming from the rear suspension, and in fact went so far as to replace 3 of the 4 control arms in the rear (they’re fairly cheap and easy to replace), with no success. Replaced the motor mount::creaking noise vanished like magic!

This vehicle is nothing great by any means – wife drives it 80% of the time and it suits her needs – and I don’t care that much for it, but these nagging issues really made me start to think about dumping it. Whole new attitude now – it will stay around for a while yet! Thanks for your help and thanks for reading this. I enjoy your posts greatly.

Sajeev answers:

Excellent!  Nice to see my initial armchair diagnosis was on the money. All it takes is a fractional difference in mount height from new to cause this problem. Maybe a millimeter, maybe less! No way can you eyeball this and know for sure.

I am totally diggin’ the padded floor jack on the oil pan trick.  Perhaps the pan needs reinforcement to work here, not just the old school sheet metal affairs. But perhaps all it takes is a little lift at one corner (i.e. not the big flat part of the pan) to prove the bad idle is indeed an engine mount vibration. Or put a long board on the jack so the weight is spread across the entire pan, from corner to corner.

No matter, glad to see you are now enjoying your ride much more.  It’s hard not to love it after getting your hands, arms, legs and even your mind “dirty” in a successful diagnosis of a seemingly impossible problem!

Then Rene writes:


Greetings! I enjoy your fine column and blog very much. Keep up the fine work! With regard to the poor idle that your reader was looking for help with on his 2005 Mariner, I thought I would chime in after much experience with the Ford/Mazda Duratec family of V-6’s, particularly the 2001-2007 Tributes and Escapes. In addition, a 2003 Tribute with 199,000 miles is my daily driver. I have found that the V-6 idle issue, after all the usual culprits have been considered and/or remedied without result, could be these two things—a failed DPFE sensor, or the intake seals are cooked.

These V6 engines have a manifold on top which is bolted to a plenum riser, which in turn is bolted to the engine. There are six seals where each component meets the other, and as one might expect, after 100K the six seals between the plenum and the engine have grown crispy from age and heat (in far worse condition than the six plenum to manifold seals, which might still appear pliable). The lower seals harden and begin to suck air in, and this condition reveals itself the most noticeably by a poor idle and a drop in fuel mileage. I have had excellent results by replacing all the intake seals (a complete intake gasket set is required) as well as all of the smaller vacuum hoses, cleaning the MAF sensor (using MAF sensor cleaner, not carb cleaner) and air flow meter; in most cases, showroom floor idle is restored.

These engines also seem to favor Motorcraft platinum spark plugs; I’ve tried other plugs in a pinch or on sale, but the Motorcrafts produce the smoothest idle and best fuel mileage for me. Of course, if the DPFE sensor hasn’t ever been changed, it’s a good idea. This component is also exposed to a great deal of operating heat. Mine clocked 140,000 miles before it failed, but I’ve seen them go earlier….and later. You never know with those. Finally, my last fleeting thought on the subject: two half inch vacuum tubes tee from the large air intake hose (just after the MAF sensor housing) and each one plugs into a grommet in the rear of each valve cover. These grommets deteriorate from heat and contact with oil and fail with time, resulting in a vacuum leak that starts slowly but soon gets worse. These should also be checked and replaced if they are soft and gummy.

I hope that this info helps someone.

Sajeev concludes:

Thank you for writing! I thought a failed DPFE throw a check engine light (CEL)…as that’s my expereince in my ’95 Mark VIII. And boy, was that a fun sensor to replace on the MN-12 chassis! But I digress…

Rene’s great assessment of the Duratec V6s is something every long-term car owner must consider:  dried up gaskets and rubber vacuum lines that either go brittle or gummy.  And not just the usual suspects you see with a quick look under the hood, there could be gaskets you wouldn’t even consider unless you have the proper service manual and/or information from your model specific forum.  And if you own one of the millions of DOHC V6s shoehorned in a wrong wheel drive platform, well, I promise you that your eyeballs can’t find all the hidden gaskets and rubber bits.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Super Piston Slap: Poorvette Fever! Thu, 20 Mar 2014 12:12:57 +0000

Aside from “real racers” who insist The 24 Hours of LeMons is a joke, everyone else understands this series’ willingness to embrace engineering and artistic creativity, providing somewhat-wholesome entertainment and—best of all– giving away a metric ton of track time for little cash.  As a member of the LeMons Supreme Court in their Texas races, well, bias from judicial bribes and heartless praise bestowed upon me aside…

…here’s a dirty little secret: you can go LeMons racing in any fully depreciated machine with ZERO PENALTY LAPS, no matter how awesome the vehicle was when new. Provided you bend (not break) the rules with your whip.  And give everyone a good reason to love/hate you.  The Poorvette is proof positive.

Now this ain’t no secret, as Murilee Martin already mentioned how the Poorvette shoulda been buried under penalty laps. But wasn’t.  Why?

  1. The team: historically they‘ve been nice to everyone, pre C4 Corvette ownership.  Sometimes that goes a long way in determining penalty laps, or lack thereof.
  2. The Poorvette’s somewhat believable story: being an earlier C4 (Tuned Port Injection) body with an LT-1/6-speed swap gone wrong (supposedly), then sold for cheap-ish and parted out to fit in LeMons rules.***
  3. Track record:  American V8 iron has rarely endured in LeMony races, much less possessing the fuel economy to match with the infrequent pit stops of more efficient metal. #notwinning
  4. Margin for error: you are guaranteed to enjoy passing every lily livered furrin’ car in your wedge-tastic Vette, to the point that euphoria nets you a black flag. Then serious repercussions (that often come with zero-penalty laps) in the judging area…resulting in no chance of winning.
  5. Not winning is a big “win” for everyone: the fanbois have grist for their mill, the haters do their thang, and LeMons tells another insane story.

Clearly this is a win-win for everyone. Especially you, oh cheaty race team.

Photo courtesy: (

And how did the Poorvette do? It led the pack, getting everyone all hot and bothered.  But then the stock fuel tank/pump had starvation issues in the corners, which was the icing on the cake after the power steering failed the day before in testing.  No matter how fast you’re going, those Z06-style wheels are too wide to ever make a lack of power steering acceptable. Even still, the Poorvette probably also set one of the fastest lap times, which totally means nothing in an endurance race.

Hare, meet the Tortoise…son!

But still, the Poorvette’s maiden voyage netted a respectable 6th place on a weekend lacking Corvette friendly weather.  Not bad considering how many Porsche 944s need far more work to accomplish similar results.  Perhaps one day we will see C4s give those Porkers the drubbing they got back in the 1980s. If so, don’t expect Judge Phil to be generous with C4s again. Ever.

No matter, the Poorvette’s crew even earned a Judge’s Choice Award, which proves once more: we need more C4s in LeMons!  Well not exactly.

Perhaps more “taboo” cars that aren’t of the E30 or retired Spec-Miata variety. Like more Porsche 928s, rear-wheel drive Maximas souped up with Z-car parts, more cheaty compact trucks (cough, RANGER, cough) and more GM sedans easily modified to DOMINATE in the slower classes: C and B.   And let’s not forget more super-durable CVPI Panthers, too.

So there you have it: good stuff happens in LeMons when you play your cards right. Thank the Poorvette for proving that.

*** Considering the early C4s utter domination in SCCA back in the day, and their still impressive autocross performances today, the Poorvette crew would do just as well in LeMons with the stock aluminum headed L98 and a close ratio 4+3 gearbox. Their LT-1 swap and wide ratio T-56 gearbox did very little for me. This is an endurance race, not a drag race!



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Piston Slap: If Only We Knew Ye, Trooper! Wed, 19 Mar 2014 11:58:05 +0000 Well that looks cool... (photo courtesy:

TTAC Commentator Dave M writes:

Hey Sajeev!

A question for you and B/B. Especially during cold weather my Trooper gets a ’clunk’ shifting from 1-2 (it’s a 4 speed automatic) and then back down. This coincides with a CEL. It doesn’t happen all the time. There are other times (even during cold) where the truck runs normally – no clunk, no CEL. Checking the CEL code and it indicates all four oxygen sensors (replaced last year); when no CEL no code to read.

My first thoughts were it might be time for ANOTHER transmission. But my brother says no, it has to be electrical since it’s intermittent. Any ideas where to start?

Sajeev answers:

Welllllllll…for starters you could write us with more info: stuff like the year/mileage/service history/CEL code totally wouldn’t hurt.

Perhaps it is time for “another” transmission, if we knew why you said it like that.  Like maybe knowing the condition (look and smell) and age of the transmission fluid. Or perhaps the CEL isn’t fixed because Oxygen Sensors aren’t usually the problem: they are the messenger of a problem upstream. Maybe $10 in new vacuum line fixes the CEL, eliminate a leak that’s messing up both the engine and transmission’s parameters.

Or maybe you need a whole new transmission.

It’s kinda impossible to tell.

Come on son, us armchair analysts can’t judge a problem this complex with such half-baked  info! That said, have at it, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: A Faltering Ford’s ESP? Mon, 17 Mar 2014 12:00:30 +0000

Mark writes:


I’m sure you’ve fielded similar questions in the past, but in the spirit of basic cable, here’s a potential re-run: I have a 2012 Mustang V6 with the performance package & a 6-speed manual. It’s coming up on 26k miles, so I’ve got 10k miles and/or about 9 months before the 3/36 bumper to bumper warranty expires. The car has had a couple issues covered under warranty so far, with the biggest one being a new steering box at about 15k miles. A nearby Ford dealer will sell me a Ford factory warranty (not an aftermarket roll of the dice) to basically double the 3/36 coverage for about $1200.

That comes with a $100 deductible, and if I sell the car before the warranty expires, I can have the unused portion refunded to me. Normally I wouldn’t consider buying an extended warranty, but I’ve had just enough trouble with the car up to this point, and read enough horror stories about the MT82 gearbox, to make me think about it. I’m really not sure how long I’ll keep the car, but I do like the idea of having that warranty security blanket as long as I do. What’s your take?

Sajeev answers:

Nothing wrong with revisiting a classic!  We’ve previously said that “scary” Euro-metal needs an extended warranty, provided you shop around for the best price. And that less scary metal might not benefit from any warranty, even the factory one with fancy Lexus loaner cars and plush Lexus lounges. So why not discuss in terms of Ford’s ESP plan?

This commonplace, low value Ford product (unlike the Lexus and BMW) is not an easy vehicle to armchair assess and judge.  Aside from the well known MT82, will an “unmodified” Mustang have significant failure in the next 72,000-ish miles and 3-ish years? I am guessing not.  And will the MT82 survive under the V6′s less aggressive torque curve and your shifting behavior?  That’s entirely possible.

Back to the unmodified part: assuming you aren’t skirting warranty issues with an non-stock engine tune (that pushes the boundaries of “safe” aftermarket air-fuel ratios) or aftermarket suspension bits, etc. you aren’t likely to break anything large enough to justify the cost of the warranty.

My gut says no, don’t get an extended warranty.  Instead get a local mechanic that you trust, and use places like Rockauto and eBay for getting spares. But if the peace of mind suits you, stick with the factory (i.e. Ford ESP) warranty and shop around: perhaps you can get it for less by emailing dealerships across the country.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: When to Exit the Alfa? Wed, 12 Mar 2014 12:13:01 +0000

Mike writes:


About five years ago I bought a 1982 Alfa GTV6 from a kid who was in over his head. I paid exactly $2,000 for the car, drove it home, fixed up the ignition system, suspension, various other bits, and drove it on weekends or whenever the traffic in Austin wasn’t too atrocious. I enjoyed the hell out of it, rusting fender wells and kick plates notwithstanding. The engine is amazingly, shockingly, damn near perfect. For all of the rust and decay elsewhere, the drivetrain was well cared for, and ran like a top.

With the help of the AlfaBB guys, I got the car into shape. It spent almost two years in a DIY restoration that involved removing all rust, straightening the body, and paint. Of course it still needs work; it is, afterall, an Alfa. I installed some later Recaro mesh head seats, cleaned up the interior, rewired schizy electrics, etc. In terms of show car score, maybe a 4/10. But in terms of every other GTV6 I’ve ever seen on the road? It’s an 8/10.

Trouble is, I’ve had two daughters since I bought the car. Finding time to just replace the fuel filter takes a month of planning. I’m consumed by anxiety whenever I drive it, worried that if/when it does develop a real problem, I simply won’t have the time to fix it. Let’s not even get into money (aside for the curmudgeons – we are doing well, in that we save more than we spend, own our home, and have no debt). I love this car. I love the way driving it makes me feel. But I don’t think it’s for me anymore.

Here are three scenarios, but I’m open to more.

  1. I keep the car, but rarely drive it. The value of the GTV6 is slowly rising, and based on conversations at a recent cars & coffee, I could expect the car to be worth quite a bit more than I’ve put into it (about $8,000 so far) over the next few years. This idea makes me sad, though. The car is meant to be driven.
  2. I sell it. I have no idea what to ask. Probably $8,000-8,500 based on recent transactions. Then in a few years, when the kids are a little older and I have more mad-money savings, I buy an S2000 or something along those lines.
  3. This is my favorite… I trade it for something of more or less the same value, but more reliable, more Japanese (probably), and equally fun and frivolous. Maybe even get a little cash for mods and restoration on top of the deal. Something I could use to get back into autocross would be ideal. Obvious answer – Miata. I sorely miss my ’94 Integra GSR to this day, too.

What say the commentariat?

Sajeev answers:

All three scenarios are do-able and very logical.  With your current finances and a super cool car like that, well, you can’t go wrong.  I would combine 1 and 2, driving the Alfa on occasion until the right buyer shows up.  Said buyer needs to pay a premium (i.e. not a fire sale auction price) and love it like a true classic car enthusiast.  Think of yourself as one of those folks who cares for rescue dogs. So to speak.

Or perhaps a combination of 1 and 3? Nothing wrong with having a toy, especially when it’s less of a time/money drain on your life.

No matter, I wouldn’t consider option #2 by itself.  That implies the Alfa is something you should sell for a price, no matter what the future life of the vehicle shall be.  That’s a mistake, because anyone who restores a classic car understands the value of their hard work…and understands that they are merely a temporary owner of a piece of history.  A rolling historical artifact that’s more than the sum of its parts, and more than just one person’s pride.  So it demands to be treated more than a mere commodity that can be sold anywhere!

Give it a fighting chance, take the time to find the right owner for the Alfa.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: “Spare” Me from Dry Rot! Tue, 11 Mar 2014 12:05:09 +0000

TTAC Commentator sastexan writes:

With the extreme cold throughout the US and seeing a few shredded tires on the highway this week (in fact, I had a flat myself – not sure what caused it but possibly doing donuts in the FR-S on a parking lot last week with lots of broken up ice on the edges), I got to thinking about spare tires.

Many of the Best and Brightest have “keeper” cars – myself included with our old Camry. Tires have limited lifespans due to dry rot, and I’m guessing spare tires are included in that category. The spare in the Camry is the original 14 year old tire (full size spare at least). How often do people change their spares, if ever? Has anyone with an aged spare had it blow out due to dry rot? Can you just order a new space saver spare off of tire rack?

Take care,


Sajeev answers:

Very interesting question, one that raises even more questions! Keep these in mind before we proceed:

  • Tires dry rot slower when living in an enclosed space with no exposure to sunlight (UV rays).
  • You may not see visible cracks like other rotted tires, but rest assured at some point the rubber has petrified like a rock.
  • The odds of getting stranded by a rotted temporary spare is less likely than an ordinary tire, as nobody wants to roll around on that tiny donut for an extended period.
  • Low air pressure can be the reason for a spare blow out, as they tend to leak profusely after a few years of hibernating in a trunk.
  • The items listed above will not necessarily apply to externally mounted spares in trucks/SUVs/CUVs. Treat those more like your other four wheels.

Externally mounted full size spare owners: change the tire every 5-10 years…more or less, depending on your risk tolerance and driving needs.  Or re-use one of your “old” tires as a spare when upgrading to new ones for your regular wheels. And if you are luckily to have a matching 5th wheel as a spare (or unlucky enough to have 5 steel wheels on your ride) just rotate it into the mix.

Externally mounted temporary spare owners?  Good question, as this is a future quandary of my little Ranger pick-em-up truck.  Then again, it might be similar to our next case…

Internally mounted spare owners?  Who knows the safe lifespan, but I’d wager that 10+ years is fine, since I’ve used the original spare in my Mark VIII for short distances in urban conditions. I’d change my tune if I was traveling hundreds of miles daily on rural roads…grabbing spare tires from crusher-bound Taurii and Fusions in the process.

Whenever you “internally mounted spare” folks are ready for new rubber, well yes, Tire Rack sells spares…but I’ll assume China’s finest off-brand donuts trade for less money from another vendor, as that happened when my 1983 Ford Sierra needed new tires in it’s unobtanium space saver-esque size for a measly $34 a pop.  Which is more than adequate for the job.

In the case of your Camry?  I say replace it (full size spare in the trunk) with one of the external tires when its time for new shoes. Or get a used tire from any local shop for $20-ish.  Or just make sure it’s inflated to spec and you drive SLOW (i.e. 50mph or less) for a short period of time. There’s no wrong answer here, unless you’re stranded in the middle of no where and must rely on a fresh tire to take you hundreds of miles away in a harsh climate.

As with everything in life, this Piston Slap boils down to: It depends.

So eyeball the rubber and keep it inflated to spec.  That’s a good start. Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: A Tribute to the Mariner’s idle Escape? Wed, 05 Mar 2014 13:16:00 +0000

TTAC Commentator sundvl76 writes:


Your post of 2 Mar 2011 was a great explanation regarding the cause of the “T” joint oil leak I’ve been experiencing. No one on any of the normal Ford sites has been able to pinpoint the problem, so I thank you for the information. (I’d discovered the source, but didn’t know the cause/fix until your post.) TTAC is now on my Favorites list!

So, I am hoping you might also be able to shed some light on the reason for the poor-quality idle I’m experiencing with the same engine. This does not seem to be a mis-fire, but more of a resonant vibration typical of an engine slightly out of time, and/or at the incorrect idle speed. It occurs primarily in colder weather (below 50F) and does improve once the engine is warmed – IF the ambient temp is above about 40F. When ambient is below that point, the strong vibrations do not disappear. Of course it is most pronounced in Drive/Reverse but noticeable in Park/Neutral as well. Manually increasing the idle speed slightly using the throttle does help. In warm weather the idle may be rough upon first start but improves pretty quickly.

I’ve investigated thoroughly (w/ propane) for a vacuum leak, cleaned the Mass Air Sensor and TB, and have replaced the IAC valve and spark plugs, with no improvement. There are no codes in storage to guide me to the solution, and I’m now thinking the MAS itself may be faulty but am not sure how to test it.

Have you seen this problem with other vehicles?

The vehicle in question is a 2005 Mariner with 114K miles.

Sajeev answers:

Thank you for your note, and Behold The Power of The Internet!!!

I often suspect the hydraulic filled engine mounts in these cases. A similar question was posted recently, and our commentators had suggestions you should consider. So have a read there, too.

sundvl76 replies:


Thanks for the link; read it all.

To add info to my question:

Engine mounts was one suggestion I’d found on another forum, and I’ve visually inspected them for leakage and also verified the engine does not move (power applied/brake on). Not saying it is impossible, but the symptoms are not the same as the Audi owner’s in the post.

Chevron or Exxon used 90% of the time, Shell occasionally. I also recall that when this first started (2 winters ago), I did an injector cleaning with the BBK kit, but no change in behavior was detected.

A small vacuum leak was also suggested – one which seals up when the engine is warm. Possible, but not sure how that matches up with my experience of the poor idle being dependent on ambient temps; the engine block should still eventually reach the same temp regardless of ambient. Incidentally, I’m in TX, so “cold ambient” is relative. . .

Thanks, I’ll keep watch on Piston Slap for further info.

Sajeev concludes:

If the engine mounts look that fantastic when running or not, consider the totally not impossible chance of clogged EGR passages.  I worked on a 1996 Sable LS (Duratec) that was EGR code free, but the uber-plenty EGR coking was a possible cause to its bad idle.  And while your Duratec V6 is significantly different from a UR-Duratec Sable, my EGR de-coking, fresh vacuum lines, a tune up (which you did) certainly cured the Sable.

And if those fail, perhaps you still need new mounts: perfection to your eyeballs doesn’t mean they are just out of spec enough to cause the funny idle.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Escort Wagon Spelunking? Tue, 04 Mar 2014 12:46:02 +0000

TTAC Commentator Modestholdings writes:

Best from the West, young man,

The Boss has a pretty nice ’94 Escort LX wagon sourced by yours truly, and it happens to have found the sweet spot betwixt my picking it and her loving it. A grand for this one-owner handshaker and she’s managed to put about 23K on it in the last year — points of interest are far and few between here in Wyoming.

At 140,000 I figured it would be good prophylaxis to go ahead and do that timing belt (1.9 four-potter) after what was eventually determined to be the tensioner began yapping.

New clutch at buy, pretty new shoes and a windshield are our investments beyond regular upkeep. (When it rains, it hails.) Some forum s̶k̶u̶l̶d̶u̶g̶g̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶ spelunking has turned up the possibility of new valve seats as the next major preventative maintenance. My question for you, the B&B, et al, is whether that makes sense, or drive it until it pops (er, drops) and then plop a junkyard mill in? The current motivator is pretty tight for being good to vote and everything, and I’d like to keep the Green Machine rolling at least until she’s old enough to buy me beer.

Sajeev answers:

Yes, new valve seats could be in your future.  Or her future.  Or the Escort’s future.  Whatever…

The questions presented here are when and how to replace it: wait until it drops and sell the Escort?  Wait and replace with a junkyard motor?  Replace the valve seats now, either by yourself (if you are that awesome) or with a rebuilt head swap?

As I get earn more gray hair on my dome and less flexibility in my joints in cold weather, my answer goes to the path of least resistance:  the somewhat stress free and kinda cheap path.  So don’t wait for the entire motor to grenade, as that (probably) ruins both the cylinder head and the block.  Junkyard motors are 3-4 times more than a rebuilt head, and do you believe the valve “fix” was applied to whatever you buy? Or will it fail again, probably after the junkyard warranty expires?

Ignorance isn’t bliss, nor is an in-n-out motor swap.  Time to find the answer in the shades of gray.

The smarter move is a few hundred spent at a place like this, or something similar on eBay. In the 1.9L Escort’s case, a rebuilt cylinder head fixes the bad component and a fresh set of gaskets/fluids with someone smart enough to swap it all around is needed.  And if you must pay for the labor, it’s still a smarter long-term position than replacing the entire motor.

A possible final question: is it stupid to want to fix the problem before it actually is a problem?

When the problem can hurt the entire engine and replacement engines may be no better, the answer is absolutely yes.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: In Praise of the 2005 Honda CR-V Tue, 25 Feb 2014 16:00:22 +0000 Chris writes:

Dear Sajeev,

Back in 2005 I purchased a new Honda CR-V. It recently rolled over 200,000 miles. It has never given me any trouble or needed anything but normally scheduled service and the usual wear items (tires, brakes, battery). It has survived the New England winters rust free. Most importantly, it’s paid for.

Is there anything proactive I should do to keep it on the road, maybe even for another 100K? I don’t mind investing now if it will save me major repairs later. As trouble-free as it’s been I can’t see replacing it (nor am I in a position to right now), but given the mileage I feel like I should be waiting for that other shoe to drop!

Sajeev answers:

Wow…recanting Monday’s Piston Slap kinda sounds like a good idea now. The CR-V laughs at our Rust Belt Woes!

Probably the best things you can do (outside of regular servicing) is keeping your ride as pretty (wax/detail at the minimum) and as nice to drive (new shocks/springs) as possible.

The former is obvious: you want a vehicle with decent curb appeal, otherwise you’re driving a mere winter beater year ’round.  Even if that doesn’t bother you, why let it get worse when you don’t have to? Pride in your Ride…Son!

The latter can keep the suspension at its ideal geometry, preventing excess wear as its bones get older.  And new shocks make sure those old bones don’t cycle up/down unnecessarily, in theory.  Plus, it’ll ride and handle like new again. Which is the textbook definition of an “added perk.”  So what else is left that you may never notice until it’s too late?

  • Replace all rubber hoses at your next coolant flush. (even the ones to the heater!)
  • Replace engine serpentine belt.
  • Inspect all vacuum lines for cracks/brittleness/gooey-ness.
  • Upgrade your speakers (with the cheaper side of the aftermarket) so you can hear what you’ve missed, or shall miss.
  • Replace headlight bulbs, odds are the filaments are far from their original efficiency.
  • Lubricate weatherstripping with silicone spray lubricant, slick up door hinges/latches with something the factory recommends.
  • Shampoo carpets.

I’ve probably left plenty on the table for the Best and Brightest…so off we go!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire? Mon, 24 Feb 2014 13:00:09 +0000

Marshall writes:

Hi Sajeev,

Here’s the situation: I own an 08 Dodge Caravan, 117000KM’s (Canada), bought used at 94000KM’s or so. It’s been good to us…but I have this feeling in my stomach that doom is pending on this van. I keep it well maintained, do my own work on it when I can. I am noticing more and more rust spots (underbody) and oil seepages under the hood (oil levels are good). It’s a base SE, no power doors or lift gate. Last time I did some brake work a bolt broke due to corrosion.

We have 2 kids and love the space of the stow and go’s and such. However, I’m no fool, this van is a liability in my mind. Am I overreacting?

Want to sell and buy a similar vintage Honda CR-V.

Sajeev answers:

Of course you are overreacting, this ain’t no Mazda!

There’s a chance that your average 6-year-old CR-V has less rust than your van.  Or perhaps what you see is a fact of life in places where there’s more salt on the roads than butter in Paula Deen’s kitchen.

Will a similar vintage Honda have less rust?  Maybe.  But, more importantly, will that less-rusty body last long enough to justify this effort?

More to the point, the CR-V’s resale is stronger than any base model Mopar Van: you’re gonna get hosed on this deal.  Are you gonna find a comparable CR-V for less than $1000 over than your van’s market value? Possibly, but vehicles this age all have problems (leaks you mentioned are commonplace) unless the last owner did a ridiculous amount of preventative maintenance, with reams of paperwork as proof.

That said, bolts on any older vehicle get far nastier with winter salt/rust on them.  Now IF you didn’t soak the bolts in penetrating oil and carefully break them free with a TON of patience and a dash of manhandling, well, you are partially to blame. That’s not hate: that’s me remembering the times I snapped bolts, kicking myself for overlooking the obvious.

So anyway…stick with the problems you know and drive the wheels off the Caravan. Literally.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Better Than Onomatopoeias? Wed, 19 Feb 2014 13:01:47 +0000

TTAC commentator Toy Maker writes:

Hi again Sajeev,

Steven Lang’s post buying quality tools piked my interest again on getting myself an OBDII scanner. But which one is right for me? Even the Autel brand mentioned by Steve have readers ranging from $30 to the $350 Autel MD802 mentioned in Steve’s post.

I don’t plan on working on my cars much, just want to use more than onomatopoeias to converse with my mechanics. (Nice. – SM)

Though I did read online “Scanners” can give you more real-time diagnostic than “Code Reader”. Is there guideline to say when should someone spring for a Scanner , and when can they settle for a Reader? My budget for this month is under $100. Will be less after Christmas time, but much more when the CEL comes on again.


Sajeev answers:

In theory, you want the tool that pulls the most codes for your car(s), but the cheaper tools pull basic powertrain codes and little else. Which kinda makes them useless as our cars get more complicated with more fail points. Damn those proprietary software codes from each manufacturer!

In reality, you can go to any parts store and they’ll pull most engine codes for free.  Or get a super cheap one from Harbor Freight if you are too lazy/uppity to go to said retail establishment.

If you need to reprogram some obscure VW Transmission after doing a fluid change, a super special tool (i.e. VAG-COM) is necessary.  But if you have a late-model GM pickup, buying a normal code scanner with the additional GM software isn’t a bad idea.  It all depends on how “smart” you want to look.

Speaking of, OBD-II works nicely with most WiFi enabled smart phones. Which is super cool if you (like me) are wired to these damn things.  What’s not to love about a little plug for your OBD-II port and an app on your phone to give you an ungodly amount of data?  If you have an uber-tuned machine, a fancypants phone and the desire to know everything, the show-off factor available gives you ultimate bragging rights.

To wrap things up, the value proposition of owning your own scan tool depends on a few salient points:

  • Brand loyalty to a single manufacturer. (GM, Ford, VAG, etc.)
  • Interest in fixing problems with a repair manual and extensive searching on brand specific forums.
  • Desire for another plastic box that’ll collect dust in your garage and/or ability to wow your mechanic with non-onomatopoeia based communication
  • Interest in using the free tool at the parts store, or the (somewhat) better rent-able tool (deposit required) when needed.

Quite honestly, communication via onomatopoeia isn’t the end of the world. This is why we pay for mechanics, and why they (usually) add value to our society.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Spastic Saturn’s Spacey Door Locks? Mon, 17 Feb 2014 13:00:33 +0000

TTAC’s own Ronnie Schreiber writes:

My mom’s ’02 Saturn’s SL1 power locks freak out sometimes, sounds like solenoids are having spasms. I’ll go to lock or unlock them and they’ll start fluttering. Sometimes slamming a door will stop it.

My guess is that there’s a dirty switch somewhere, might be weather related too because it started happening in late autumn. It was easier to diagnose things when they didn’t use logic circuits for everything.

Sajeev answers:

Slamming the door will stop it?

Perhaps the sales pitch where a Saturn salesperson hits the door with a baseball bat wasn’t such a bright idea after all?

Just kidding.

After some googling on the Saturn forums, this is a common problem.  That said, this shockingly thorough post covers my two possible faults: a bad relay or a busted switch. Considering the door slam fix, the switch is bad.

Much like a well-worn record, the internal (copper) connections in switches can wear out over time. Or the springy action of the button can disappear, making it activate when least expected.  Considering the quality of GM interiors from this era, a worn out switch is also more likely than a bad relay.

So I’d disconnect the driver’s side power lock switch and see if the problem comes back.  If it does, attack the relays in the link above.  If not, there are plenty of new door lock switches on eBay for dirt cheap. I saw a brand new switch for $22…$27 shipped.  Nice.

Done and done: off to you, Best and Brightest.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Singin’ the Topaz Blues? Wed, 12 Feb 2014 12:26:40 +0000

Matthew writes:

So I have a beautiful Topaz Blue 2001 BMW 325Ci with the sport package and Steptronic automatic. It has 226,000 miles but the tranny was rebuilt 19,000 miles earlier (warranty is good for 24,000), the shocks were updated with Koni FSD’s (installed myself) and some fresh Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric tires were added over the summer soon after the shocks. I spent well over $4000 on the car in the last nine months alone.

I hit a deer, crumpling the hood, right front headlight, radiator core support, radiator, etc, above the bumper. Insurance totaled it, so to repair I would have to give back $900 salvage value of the $5100 due me (post-deductible with some taken off for the high mileage) and repair the car with the $4200 remaining. Body shop says it can be done for $4000 with everything except the front bumper, which is intact save for 12 years of stone chips.

In the New York metro area (I live on Long Island), $5100 or slightly more will get you a nice 330Ci sport of equivalent vintage, an E39 530/540i M package or even a 740i sport with nearly 100k less mileage. Even a 2004 Jaguar XJ8 that needs a new nav/stereo/HVAC unit goes for $5500, and the unit can be had for $350 on eBay. Only problem is I don’t trust automatic transmissions after getting burned for $3000 on the last one, even though it held up for 207k. And even then, only reverse gear went out. Still required a rebuild, but could be driven to the shop.

So do I walk away from the car I know or roll the dice on something else?

Sajeev answers:

The question is: do you actually like this 3-series?

Or perhaps…do you like it more than the alternatives mentioned?

Your 3-series sounds easily repairable, and this platform is cheaper/easier to keep running compared to the E39, E38 and the Jaguar too.  I mean, none of these machines are an Accord…but you already knew that. And don’t care about keeping a fully depreciated, executive European machine up and running. So what should you do?

Not an easy question, mostly because of mileage.  I normally suggest to stick with the problems you know, as all of your choices are a huge financial gamble. But again, those 226,000 miles. But still, E38 BMW?  Come on, I love the E38 in theory, but you don’t hate your wallet/mobility that much…do you?

Enjoy a few more years with Topaz Blue, see if anything else attracts your attention next time fate puts you in a complicated position.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: DSG = Das Sticky Gearbox? Mon, 10 Feb 2014 13:09:05 +0000

Arun writes:


I have a 2011 VW CC (2.0 turbo) with DSG that is currently at 35000+ miles without any issues. I love the car and take care of it as much as a first time VAG owner and a first time car owner can take care of it. Problem is that over the last 200 miles or so, I have been noticing that the shift lever moves rough/ hesitates to move as quickly as I am used to it moving.

I am not talking about the actual shifts themselves but the shifter itself being rough to move within the case when upshifting or downshifting in DSG model.

I drive around 35 miles a day but only around 6-7 miles in DSG/ semi-automatic mode per day. So around 200 miles/ month in semi-automatic mode. All services have been done on time and there are no issues otherwise with the car. Posting on vw vortex revealed nothing.

  1. The factory warranty expires in 400 odd miles so I would like to have it seen by the dealer if it is something concrete. Unfortunately with the shifts themselves being smooth as butter, I fear they will just show me the door.
  2. I have the 40000 mile transmission oil change coming up. If this issue is something that can/ will be resolved by the same, I don’t mind pushing the service ahead and doing it at like 37500 miles or so. Again since it feels like the shifter is physically moving roughly (like it needs lube), I am not sure if that service will do anything to resolve this problem.

Suggestions? A speedy resolution is requested because my factory warranty will expire in 400 miles or about 2 weeks from now.

Sajeev answers:

Hey Arun, ask the Service department to lubricate or replace the shift assembly. These things are mostly made of plastic (usually) and asking them to check the plastic for jamming or debris isn’t a big deal.  Go get it done before the warranty goes out.

Arun replies:

Hey Sajeev,

Much appreciated! I have a scheduled a session with the Service Dept for this Saturday. I will update you once its done.


Arun replies:

I got the job done and it was indeed some lube that was needed. The dealership was at a loss as to how that could have happened, speculating that it could have been something that may not have been applied to spec at the factory itself. Somehow I doubt that’s the case considering how fastidious the Germans are about initial quality.

Oh well..I have driven the car just 10 miles since but so far so good.

Thanks once again for the help!

P.S. someday I will drive a Panther just to see what the hype is all about! :-)

Sajeev concludes:

Oh yes, nobody is as fastidious about initial quality like the Germans!  Then again, German initial quality is certainly superior to their overall lifetime value here in the US. But I digress…

There are probably countless reasons why this happened, as perfection is something we strive for but can never own. And most dealerships are used to customer concerns like this, hence why they were happy to check. And you were happy to ask since it’s still under warranty!

Better drive a Crown Vic Sport or Mercury Marauder soon, when your next post-warranty repair bill comes, you’ll be more inclined to embrace DPL (Das Panther Love) over DSG.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Fix My Beeeemer, Sanjeev! Wed, 05 Feb 2014 12:41:57 +0000

Nitin writes:


I read your blog about the problem in BMW. I have a 2009 BMW 535i X drive with turbo. The car just ran out of warranty and has 45000 miles only. My car started having engine problems last week. First, the BMW said it needs new spark plugs as they were dirty. That cost me $740 dollars. That did not work. They said it needs new fuel injectors. That was another $2100 dollars.

I picked up my car yesterday evening and drove it on the highway. The problem is still not fixed. The Car is still shaking badly. I will have to get it back to service. I am afraid they don’t have a handle on this problem. I called another mechanic who works on BMWs. He mentioned the probable need for walnut shell blasting. What do you know about it? Do you know of any pending lawsuits regarding this problem? Would appreciate your insight.

Sajeev answers:

And here’s another reason why European cars should be leased, or sold immediately after the warranty expires…I mean, when you’ve seen people being burned by the fire so many times…WAIT YOU GIVE THAT BACK RIGHT NOW YOU LITTLE…

Sanjeev retorts:

Listen, Sajeev–if that really is your name–I am sick of hearing your reverse elitist, MBA-toting hipster bellyaching on cars you wouldn’t buy.  But should buy.  Your co-workers, your friends and even your family are ashamed that you bought (special ordered, no less) a Ford Ranger instead of getting the nearest 3-series with a premium package.

So stop being a disappointment to everyone and answer the question correctly.  Jerk.

Sajeev re-answers:

Perhaps I should start over. Direct injection problems are commonplace for many brands, and multiple fixes are used to cure the carbon buildup/misfire problems.  So maybe you did need spark plugs, as that was the most logical and cheapest place to start.  And from there…well, the spiraling cost is unfortunate because it seems they are “throwing parts at the problem” and hoping for the best.  Which is never pleasant for the customer, as they will never know the truth of the diagnostic tree behind their repair bill(s).

The walnut shell blasting thing is a very logical next step.  Perhaps it shoulda been the first step, considering the (low-ish) mileage on the plugs/injectors. But will it work?  Hopefully so.

Lawsuit? Perhaps…but it’s not worth your time because you can probably get something by reading this, especially the following quote:

“BMW will extend the emissions warranty coverage period to 10 years or 120,000 miles, whichever comes first, on affected vehicles in all 50 States. If the HPFP fails during the extended warranty coverage period, BMW will replace it with a newer-production version. Customers who experience long starting times or notice the Service Engine Soon lamp should contact an Authorized BMW Center to schedule a service appointment. Customers with further questions should contact BMW Customer Relations at 1-800-831-1117 or email”

Sometimes, even if this isn’t the source of your specific problem, BMW N/A will cut you a break in the name of customer goodwill.  Because you already spent a ton of cash with their dealership and they do feel bad about that.  Why would they feel bad? Because a few bucks back in your pocket might get you back in a newer Bimmer. Customer Retention is the name of the game, and it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

So best of luck to you, from me and Sanjeev.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: When is the Olds too Old? Tue, 04 Feb 2014 12:53:43 +0000 unnamed

TTAC commentator supremebrougham writes,

For the first time in a long time, I am 100% debt free, and it feels great! It’s so great that I have decided to try and keep my car going for a while yet, instead of trading it for a new one.

Last December I found a 2001 Oldsmobile Alero GL2, with the 3.4 liter V6. The miles weren’t too bad (104k) and the price was right. The previous owner, a girl from what I can tell, had the car for around eight years and while she didn’t drive it far, she didn’t take very good care of it. It was scratched up pretty bad, and she smoked in it and burned parts of the interior. However, the car ran great. Since I got it I have replaced a power window motor, all four struts and tires, both front wheel hubs and bearings, the rear defrost module the O2 sensor, and had it tuned up. I replaced a lot of the interior parts that were burned, and had the paint buffed out.

I love the car, and have so far put almost 12000 miles on it, and have taken it on several long trips. I’m thinking of having some of the rust spots fixed soon. But here’s where my question comes in…with the car now being thirteen years old, and about to roll over 116k, what should I be concerned with as far as any potential problems that might arise, and when should I just call it enough and not invest any more money into it. I really enjoy driving it, and I get lots of compliments on it. Plus, I am LOVING not having a car payment! I took it to a couple of dealers last month just for giggles to see what they thought it was worth. One wouldn’t even make me an offer, said “it’s just an old car”, and the other one said $1500. I could never replace it with something equivalent at that price!

Thanks in advance,


Sajeev answers:

Before I go any further, I’d like to tell everyone that Richard is the broughamiest of Brougham fans:  and his well curated, maturely moderated Facebook page proves it.  Join The Brougham Society now! That said, you’d want to keep the Olds running as long as possible, as the only truly broughamy things you’d replace it with are Panthers, luxury SUVs/trucks or certain South Korean sedans (DAT GRANDEUR) to do a fine job taking the reigns from defunct American brands that you (and I) so truly adore.

Far and away the worst thing that kills high mileage vehicles is rust.  Pouring water in all seams/folds and letting it freeze out the road salt is one idea I do like (in theory) but people have tried other avenues (undercarriage coatings, like used oil) for the same desired effect.

Rust aside, the little things that drive you nuts will eventually make you sick of the car.  Or as I once said to a similar query, do you own the car, or does the car own you?  Read that link for more answers to your query.

Now you are a handy guy, I bet you can procure parts on the cheap and install some of them yourself.  And this isn’t a high mile European car needing minor repairs that cost more than the value of said whip.  But still…there’s a moment when you will want a newer car.

Or need a newer car.

  1. When you have a job that demands a 100% reliable mode of transport, lest you get fired/backstabbed in office politics.
  2. When the time value of money is more valuable than any love of old cars and their quirky habits.
  3. When you meet a great girl, and you don’t want to look like a fool when your hooptie breaks down.
  4. When you have kids and are horrified at the mere thought of being stranded somewhere and helpless.  Even worse, your family being stranded and you aren’t there to help.

All valid reasons to give up, and make that car payment.  Now the Olds is a good car, and it will always do its best for you. At some point, well, that simply won’t be good enough.

Best of luck with that.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Overhyped Hybrid Analysis Paralysis? Tue, 28 Jan 2014 16:02:01 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Mishie writes:

Hi -

I love your blog. Its been an invaluable resource in my efforts to purchase a car. I have a pretty long daily commute and I’m a bit of a greenie so I’m really interested in purchasing a hybrid. I’ve looked at a number of models including the new Honda Accord hybrid but I’ve hesitated in buying the model I really wanted – the Prius – because of reports of acceleration and braking issues. Do those issues still persist?

I’m also pretty partial to the Lexus RX450 but since its a Toyota, I’m guessing its plagued with the same issues. I’ve looked at the Ford Fusion (not entirely sold on its reliability), the Honda Accord (too new and no room for a spare tire), and the Hyundai Sonata (read about their braking issues also). Is there a reliable hybrid out there? I have very little aptitude for mechanics so feel free to respond as if I’m ten. LOL!


Sajeev answers:

Don’t worry, there are no stupid questions…provided they aren’t addressed to Sanjeev. But I digress…

That said, drop everything and go buy a Prius now!  Are you letting recalls and the media frenzy around unintended acceleration stopping you?  If on the remote chance this happens, put the vehicle in neutral and regain your sanity.  Because unintended acceleration can happen to anyone.  Try to kill the panic as fast as possible, and get the car under control with a flick of the shift lever. Okay?

And what of the Prius braking problems?  Done.  Over.  They certainly replaced a bad part/design and “bled” the brake lines to make sure everything works correctly. For decades now, braking systems incorporate safeguards (like multichannel brake fluid distribution) to keep this from being a life threatening problem. And they don’t call it an emergency brake for no reason!

Stop worrying about problems commonplace in the car biz, or continue to worry and take the bus. Put another way: there are NO BAD CARS. Even the Smart Car isn’t necessarily bad. And while Land Rovers are unreliable wallet killers and Corollas are perfect to the point of boredom, the differences between a “good” car and a “bad” car are nearasdamnit to statistically insignificant.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Burnt Rubber Sienna? Mon, 27 Jan 2014 12:08:37 +0000

Mike writes:


Here’s a hot topic for you and the B&B. I have a 2006 Sienna LE (front wheel drive) that has been absolutely bulletproof and reliable for the past 140k miles, except for the tires. I run “all seasons” in the summer and winter tires on separate wheels in the winter. We drive about 10k miles in the summer and another 5-7k in the winter. We live in the Finger Lakes region of NY.

This thing eats any tire that I put on it.

I just took a pair of Cooper CS4s off the front that have less than 11k miles on them and they are completely worn out. I can get three seasons out of a set of 4 winter tires but the summers never last more than one season on the front. I get 20k or so miles from a set of 4. The alignment is good and the wear is very even. Rotating the tires doesn’t change the tire wear, it just delays it. Almost all of the wear occurs when the tire is on the front.

I’ve run Firestone FR710, Yokohama Avid Touring, Dunlop SP, Cooper Lifeliner; and Cooper CS4. They all are load index 98. Granted these aren’t the most expensive tire off the rack but do the ultra expensive high mile tires really last that much longer? All of the tires that I’ve purchased have a “warranty” of 60k miles or so. The CS4 is 80k.

It is a heavy vehicle (nothing mini about this van); my brother joked that maybe I should run LT tires on it. So I’m wondering, should I switch to tires that are marketed for SUVs? Tires in the same size have a load index of 102 so maybe they’d handle the weight better and last longer? They also cost 50% more; will they last 50% longer?

I know everyone has an opinion about tires, perhaps one from the B&B will be the nugget I’m looking for.


Sajeev answers:

Hell, if my 3200-ish lb Ford Ranger has LT tires (that wear like iron, still looking new after 20,000 miles) why not put them on a minivan that weighs 1000+lbs more???  If you are towing, carry a lot of cargo, etc. then perhaps LT tires are a good idea.

I poked around and found LT’s for both the 16″ or 17″ applications for similar amounts of cash as their passenger car brethren.

But one question remains: tire pressure.  Are you inflating to owner’s manual specifications?  Have you always used the same gauge?  Are you 100% sure that gauge is still accurate? I learned to not trust old gauges the hard way when a bad voltmeter (20+ years old) and the alternator problems with Fords (and lifetime warranty parts) from the 1990s ganged up to lie to me in a most convincing way.

Then again, I’ve fallen for dumber, far more obvious lies. My easily malleable life aside–and even with TPMS in mind–could this be the problem?

Buy a new gauge, the cheap ones (with the super handy magnetic end) at the service counter of Wal-Mart/Autozone will suffice. If the gauges aren’t lying, then get some LT tires.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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