Q-I have a 2011 Buick Regal and, by mistake, put diesel fuel in it and drove before realizing what I did. What is going to happen? Can it be fixed? Are there no safeguards in place? M.S., Western Springs, Ill.
A-It really depends on how much diesel fuel you added. The lower the ratio of diesel to gasoline, the better. You probably noticed quite a bit of smoke with the engine running, but there is little likelihood that there is engine damage. Too much diesel may be detrimental to the catalytic converter, though. The best action is to not start the car, but have the tank drained. There are safeguards. The nozzle for diesel fuel is a larger diameter than the nozzle for gasoline. It should not fit into your filler hole unless the station attached the wrong nozzle to their diesel hose. Be thankful that your error was not the reverse: putting gas in a diesel car. Severe mechanical damage may result.
A-According to our sources, the timing belt on your engine should be replaced at 80,000 miles, so you should not be overly anxious yet. To get to the timing belt, the accessory drive belt must be removed so it makes sense to install a new one during reassembly. Since the timing belt drives the water pump, and since the job is so labor intensive, we would also suggest replacing the pump. And we routinely suggest replacing the timing belt tensioner at this time as well. A dealer may be more expensive than an independent and you should ask each about their warranty. The job should last until your next scheduled replacement at 160,000 miles.
Q-Our local dealership says we should get an annual alignment on our 2010 Toyota Camry as a matter of routine. We are experiencing no tire or wheel problems at all. This doesn't sound right to us. Does it to you? T.O., Ottawa, Ill.
A-It money were no object, we would have the alignment checked, and if necessary adjusted, annually. This is particularly true where the roads a bad and full of potholes. But if you have no problems, you can probably skip it.
Q-I love cars and have owned about 100 since the 50's. I purchased a 1996 Toyota Tacoma that was in really rough shape, took it to my favorite mechanic and said let's make this thing run really good before I do any body work. We replaced the plugs, wires, filter, converter, both front and rear sensors in the exhaust system, and the distributer because in had an oil leak inside. When starting from a stop the engine will seem to drag until it gets to 35 or 40 mph then it accelerates normally. It also runs better when the air conditioner is on. Please advise. D.D., Chicago
A-It seems to us that there is a lack of fuel enrichment during low-speed acceleration. There are two sensors that we would look at: the airflow sensor and the intake air temperature sensor. While they may be working (and not throwing a trouble code), they may not be working well. We would also check the throttle position sensor for a smooth output signal. This would apply to almost any vehicle with your symptoms.
Q-I have a 1999 Malibu and had trouble starting the car. With a voltmeter my seven-year-old battery showed 12V so I thought the starter was the problem. A new starter did not work until I installed a new battery. One year later the starter started making some noise when cranking a couple of times then it failed to start. I took it to a starter and alternator rebuilder whom I have done business with for decades. He took it apart and found a plastic part that all the plastic splines had been chewed out. He replaced the plastic part and I have been okay since. I tried to buy just the plastic part but NAPA and Advance only sell complete starters. The rebuilder said this is common. R.V., East Hartford, Conn.
A-Lighter weight, cheaper parts and saving money is the mantra of manufacturing. Frankly, it surprises us that anything can be rebuilt today in a society brought up of disposable pens, lighters, razors and spouses. Okay, spouses do get rebuilt sometimes.
Q-I have a 2003 Cadillac DeVille with 4.6-liter engine. It always starts in the morning, but if you go somewhere and it will not always start. After waiting anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more it will start just fine. Sometimes two or three months pass and it has not happened; sometimes it is twice in a week. This has been happening for at least two years and our auto mechanic cannot find a reason. Help? G.G., Baltimore
A-This is a tough one because it can be caused by either a lack of fuel or too much fuel. The fuel pump must run momentarily to supply fuel to the injectors when you turn the key. Try turning the key to the run position and listen for a faint hum lasting a couple seconds. Due to the Caddy's soundproofing, you may have to ask a friend to listen in the trunk. Don't close him in, though. If lack of fuel is not the problem, too much may flood the engine due to a faulty injector or two allowing gas to dribble during shut-down.
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