CAR TALK

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - RAY MAGLIOZZI Ray Magliozzi dis­penses ad­vice about cars in Car Talk every Satur­day. Email him by vis­it­ing

DEAR CAR TALK: My 1997 Mercedes E420 leads a very leisurely life, sit­ting in the garage for months be­fore be­ing called on for the oc­ca­sional road trip. Lately, I’ve been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a rough idle con­di­tion, where the en­gine rpm varies be­tween 550 and 700, like a bad en­gine miss. Ac­cel­er­a­tion, driv­ing around town or driv­ing on the high­way doesn’t cre­ate a miss, with the car per­form­ing as nor­mal. No “check en­gine light” has ever ap­peared, although it does illuminate at startup, so I know it works. When I had an OBD scan, two codes came up. One code is an oxy­gen sen­sor, and the other a sec­ondary air-sys­tem code. Can you pro­vide any in­sight about how to get my baby run­ning well again?

— Martin DEAR MARTIN: Well, if I had to take a wild stab at it, I’d say you need an oxy­gen sen­sor and some work on your sec­ondary air sys­tem. How’s that for clair­voy­ance?

Ac­tu­ally, even though the scan iden­ti­fied those two prob­lems, they may not be re­spon­si­ble for your rough idle. Of the two, a rough idle is more likely to be re­lated to the sec­ondary air sys­tem, which is re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing the right fuel-toair mix­ture when the en­gine is cold.

But the rough idle could be caused by some­thing else en­tirely. And be­cause you drive the car so in­fre­quently, it could be that your in­jec­tors are just gummed up. That can come from not driv­ing it enough, and hav­ing the same tank of gas in there for six to eight years at a time.

So I’d start by try­ing a fuel-sys­tem cleaner. We use a prod­uct in the shop called 44K, which is made by BG. But if you can’t find that, try Chevron Techron, which is widely avail­able. Use it for a few tanks of gas in a row and see what hap­pens.

If that helps, then try driv­ing the car more of­ten and not fill­ing the tank be­fore you store it — so you can add fresh gaso­line 11 months later, when you fire it up for the Fourth of July pa­rade.

You’ll still have to take care of those emis­sions codes that came up dur­ing the scan if you want to pass your next in­spec­tion. And, re­mem­ber, with­out an in­spec­tion sticker, you won’t be able to drive the car, and your in­jec­tors will gum up again. Good luck.

DEAR CAR TALK: I have been an au­to­mo­tive in­struc­tor for 24 years, and re­cently the col­lege I teach at ap­proached me to teach a course on the “his­tory of the au­to­mo­bile in Amer­ica.” Un­der­stand, I’ve al­ways taught the vo­ca­tional side of cars (auto-body re­pair) and main­te­nance cour­ses for be­gin­ners, but this course in­trigues me. The good news is that the topic is huge, with al­most 2 bil­lion sites and pages on the in­ter­net. The bad news is that the topic is huge, with al­most 2 bil­lion sites and pages on the in­ter­net! How would you lec­ture on a topic this big, cov­er­ing it in about six to eight talks? By the way, I love your col­umn.

— Russ DEAR RUSS: Great ques­tion.

As you might guess, there are 2 bil­lion ways to ap­proach this topic. So I’ll just give you one way you could po­ten­tially or­ga­nize the lec­tures.

Your first lec­ture or two could be about au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy. Keep in mind that the most in­ter­est­ing stuff hap­pened in the early days of cars and in the past 30 or 40 years. Early on, you had the in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion en­gine, the pro­duc­tion assem­bly line, hy­draulic brakes and the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. And then there was a long pe­riod of time with very lit­tle mean­ing­ful in­no­va­tion.

Then in the past few decades, spurred by the EPA and by higher gaso­line prices, com­put­er­i­za­tion and fuel in­jec­tion have trans­formed fuel econ­omy, emis­sions and re­li­a­bil­ity.

From there you can lec­ture on safety in­no­va­tions over the years, which also have been rev­o­lu­tion­ized by com­put­ers. Tucker and Volvo had some early safety ad­vances, which were mostly ig­nored. Then, in the 1960s, Ralph Nader started com­plain­ing about all the peo­ple get­ting killed in cars. That started a push for some amaz­ing safety im­prove­ments, from manda­tory 3-point seat belts to crum­ple zones, air bags, ABS, elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol and, most re­cently, to­day’s pre-au­ton­o­mous driv­ing tech­nolo­gies.

An­other lec­ture could be on our most pop­u­lar cars. You could spend one ses­sion on big hits: the Model A, the late’ 50s Chevy sedans, the Mus­tang, the VW Bug, the Honda Civic, the Toy­ota Camry. You can try to fig­ure out why (styling? de­sign? com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tages?) those cars were so pop­u­lar — and why some, like the ’60s Mus­tangs, are still pop­u­lar, even though they’re hor­ri­ble cars when com­pared with even a mod­ern-day Kia Rio.

You also could lec­ture on big flops, like the Ed­sel, the Pacer and the Aztek. You could talk about what the man­u­fac­tur­ers thought they were im­prov­ing, and why they turned out to be wrong.

And then your last lec­ture could be a look to the fu­ture, with fully au­ton­o­mous cars and ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle com­mu­ni­ca­tion to pre­vent ac­ci­dents.

And by the way, Russ, if all that au­ton­o­mous driv­ing stuff works, it could put you auto-body guys out of busi­ness. So it’s good you’re branch­ing out into academia.

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