Dear Car Talk
Twice a week, Car Talk answers your questions in their nationally syndicated newspaper column. Carried by over 300 papers around the country, this award-winning column is available online only via the Car Talk web site.

12 Oct 2017 at 12:00am

And why are Fruit of the Looms relevant to the question?

10 Oct 2017 at 12:00am
In old cars, the spark timing is probably not the cause of poor performance. Here's why.

5 Oct 2017 at 12:00am
If you brake pedal hits the floor, run, don't walk, to your mechanic.

3 Oct 2017 at 12:00am

Should a timing chain be changed when it's supposed to last the life of this Element? Or does this mechanic need help with a boat payment?

28 Sep 2017 at 12:00am

Mike's mechanic removed a rattling heat shield. How much trouble could this cause?

26 Sep 2017 at 12:00am
That check engine light could indicate a slew of issues. Should Janine ditch her Volvo or keep it?

Car Talk

by jrweblackey
13 Oct 2017 at 8:07am
Subtitle: What word has three consecutive double letters?Question: 

RAY: A friend of ours who runs, for lack of a better term, a small business in our fair city -- he's a loan shark actually -- came across this word some years ago and sent it to Tom, thinking it might be a good puzzler. Tom obviously lost it. But he also sent it to Alan Feldman, who recently sent it to me!

Here it is:

Give me a word with three, consecutive double letters. I'll give you a couple of words that almost qualify, but don't. For example, the word committee, c-o-m-m-i-t-t-e-e. It would be great except for the i that sneaks in there. Or Mississippi -- M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i. If you could take out those i's it would work. But there is a word that has three consecutive pairs of letters and to the best of my knowledge this may be the only word. Of course there are probably 500 more but I can only think of one. What is the word?




RAY: And the word is --

TOM AND RAY: Bookkeeper.

RAY: Or bookkeep, or bookkeeping, B-O-O-K-K-E-E. Pretty good, eh?

TOM: Very, very good.

RAY: Someone sent in good deed. But that's not one word. And the Scrabble crowd sent us heelloop, hooffooted and veneerroom, but bookkeeper is our answer.

TOM: That's right and it's better than any of those stupid other words.

RAY: Yeah, and by the way, I mean, you can't go using the Internet to solve these puzzles. It's like sitting down and doing a crossword puzzle with a crossword puzzle dictionary sitting next to you.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: It's like you've given up on life, you might as well as start wearing sweatpants.

TOM: We're asking you to think!


Show: #1741: Fluffy and ThorAnswer Date: Saturday, October 21, 2017Saturday, October 14, 2017

by Spacebat
12 Oct 2017 at 8:05am

Dear Car Talk:

I was taught that when changing the oil, it is best to let your truck sit and let the engine cool, so that all the oil drains down into the pan before you drain it out. But I recently read online that you should let the engine run for about five minutes so that the oil heats up and thins out right before you start an oil change. Which way is best? -- John

Wow. Somewhat accurate information online! I'm stunned.

The five-minute rule is a good one. You warm up the oil so it's less viscous and it flows better. That way, less of the old oil remains inside the engine -- stuck to the walls of the oil pan and other engine parts. Recently circulated oil also picks up more contaminants and holds them in suspension. So you'll remove a little more unwanted gunk when you drain out warm oil.

If you want to be really fanatical about it, John, then you'd want the oil to be fully heated up when you drain it out. In that case, you'd want to drive the car for 15 or 20 minutes and get the engine up to full operating temperature, then pull over and immediately remove the drain plug. Then you'd proceed right to the emergency room after the 300-degree oil ran down your arm, seared a pathway down your right flank and pooled in your underwear.

That's why we strongly recommend against getting so fanatical about changing your engine oil, and why we endorse the five-minute rule for DIY'ers. The difference between changing warm and hot oil is not worth the trip to the emergency room and the permanent disfigurement.

Alternatively, if you've been driving the car and it's hot, let it sit for at least a good half-hour. Or more. This is the equivalent of sitting in the Jiffy Lube waiting room, catching up on Brad and Jen's recent breakup in the 10-year-old People magazines while you wait your turn.

Then put on a pair of gloves, carefully remove the drain plug and get your hand out of the way. And be especially careful when removing the filter. Even "cooled off" oil still can be pretty uncomfortable when it puddles in your Fruit of the Looms, John.

Dear Car Talk Author: Ray MagliozziThursday, October 12, 2017oiloil changesDIY

by dgreene
11 Oct 2017 at 3:02pm
Show: #1741: Fluffy and ThorArtist: Southern RailAlbum: On the Road From AppomattoxPublisher: Universal Music MGB Songs (ASCAP)Composer: Mike ReidLength: 00:32

by dgreene
11 Oct 2017 at 3:00pm
Show: #1741: Fluffy and ThorLength: 00:45

by Spacebat
10 Oct 2017 at 8:15am

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 1982 El Camino. Two years ago, because it didn't pass the California smog test, I had to take it to a designated repair shop. As part of the repair, the tech told me: "Some fool set the ignition timing to TDC (top dead center), or 0 degrees. I changed it to 15 degrees, where it should be, and it's running better." And it did run better.

This year I went in for the smog test, and the technician told me, "Some fool set your ignition timing to 15 degrees, so you need to reset it to TDC." I told him what I had been told two years earlier, and he told me, "The book says it has to be TDC, so you need to set it there or you won't pass the smog test." So I had him set the timing to TDC, and I passed the smog test. But the car runs like crap. So I'm thinking about changing the timing back to 15 degrees, where it ran better. I need some expert advice. Thank you. -- Scott

Well, if you need expert advice, Scott, why did you write to me?

I'm sure the car's specification is TDC, or top dead center. That means that each spark plug is set to fire when its piston reaches the very top of the compression stroke. Fifteen degrees before TDC means the spark plugs would fire when the crankshaft is still 15 degrees of rotation away from when each piston reaches the top. In other words, at 15 degrees the spark plug would fire early.

In reality, the timing of the spark is supposed to vary. At idle, it's supposed to be TDC. But as the engine speed increases, the spark needs to fire earlier so that combustion is already in full swing by the time the piston reaches the top. Otherwise, most of the force of the explosion goes out the tailpipe instead of toward pushing the piston down and making the car move.

In older heaps like yours, the spark timing is automatically adjusted by something called an "advance mechanism." Your El Camino has two: A vacuum advance, which uses the engine vacuum to advance the spark timing, and a centrifugal advance, which uses the rotation of the distributor shaft to advance the timing. And one -- or both -- of those is broken. I'd put money on the vacuum advance first, because they used to break all the time.

Manufacturers do a lot of experimenting to figure out how the spark timing should be set on any given engine. They're trying to find a balance among power, economy and emissions. So at TDC, where it's supposed to be, your emissions are good. Well, as good as they got in 1982, which is bad. But your power and performance stink because your advance mechanisms aren't advancing the timing when you rev up the engine.

So rather than have the timing set back to 15 degrees to simulate a working vacuum advance, go to a nearby nursing home and see if you can find a mechanic who knows what a vacuum advance and a centrifugal advance are.

Fix them, and that'll solve all of your performance and timing problems, Scott -- until the next problem arises. Good luck.

Dear Car Talk Author: Ray MagliozziTuesday, October 10, 2017ignitionEl Camino

by jrweblackey
6 Oct 2017 at 4:14pm
Subtitle: A probability puzzler, with pigs. Question: 

Ray: This was sent in by a fellow named Chuck Thompson from Austin, Texas. Zeke and Zack were two high-school buddies who lived close to each other and one day, they went off in search of after-school employment. Neither of them had a particularly reliable car so they decided to get a job at the same place so they could help each other get to work. Finding employment together proved harder than they had thought, until they happened upon a pig farmer who was impressed with their manure shoveling prowess.

"Can you start tomorrow?" he asked.

"Yes, sir!" they said.

"Do you have a car?"

"Yes, in fact each of us has a car," said Zeke, "but mine has a touchy fuel pump and a probability of starting of 80%. And Zack's starter has been acting up and the probability of his car starting is only 70%." 

The farmer thought for a minute and said, "Sorry, boys, but my pigs and I need both of you here at least 90% of the time. Things pile up, you know. I'm afraid I can't hire you."

Well, with long faces they walked away bemoaning their bad luck. Who wouldn't want to spend his free time shoveling pig manure, right? But in an instant, they figured something out. They would have those dream jobs after all. What did they say to the farmer that got them hired?


RAY: The question was, what did Zeke and Zack say to the farmer that got them hired?

TOM: And the answer is, 'We'll be here tomorrow."

RAY: Exactly. 'We'll be here tomorrow." Here's why: Zeke's car starts 80% of the time, that's eight times out of ten, which means two times out of ten it doesn't start. Zack's car starts 70% of the time which means three times out of ten his car does not start.

So the two cars together don't start two times out of ten and three times out of ten, which means the probability of both cars not starting is six out of a hundred which is six percent. They're going to be there 94% of the time.

Show: #1740: The Most Complex RelationshipAnswer Date: Saturday, October 14, 2017Saturday, October 7, 2017