CAR TALK

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

DEAR CAR TALK: The poor lady was in tears. The loud horn would not stop. She tried to re­move the bat­tery to her key re­mote, with no luck. We opened the hood, and I re­moved one bat­tery wire, and it stopped. At least I bought her some time, but how do you re­ally stop the darned horn? I’m a brick­layer, not a me­chanic. But I felt like a knight in shin­ing ar­mor for just a minute, as she wiped away a tear. Still, I’d love to know the an­swer.

— Svend DEAR SVEND: I as­sume you two are dat­ing now. But if you want to take the re­la­tion­ship to the next step, you will have to come up with a more per­ma­nent so­lu­tion.

We know it’s not the horn it­self. The horn is clearly work­ing. So it’s likely to be ei­ther the horn re­lay or the horn con­tacts.

Start by check­ing the re­lay. You’ll find a box of re­lays un­der the hood. If they’re not la­beled, you can just start pulling them out, one at a time, un­til the horn stops blow­ing.

Of­ten, there are sev­eral iden­ti­cal re­lays in that power-distri­bu­tion box. So if you can find an­other one with the same plug-in pin con­fig­u­ra­tion, swap the two of them. If the horn stays off, you’ve di­ag­nosed the prob­lem.

Of course, now her wind­shield wipers will be on all the time, so you’ll still have to get a re­place­ment re­lay in or­der to com­plete the re­pair.

If, on the other hand, the horn starts up again when you plug in an iden­ti­cal re­lay, then the prob­lem prob­a­bly is with the horn con­tacts, which are lo­cated in the horn pad — right in the mid­dle of the steer­ing wheel.

That’s not some­thing you’re go­ing to fix your­self. The air bag is in there, and if you think drop­ping a brick on your big toe hurts, Svend, wait ’til you set off an air bag 4 inches from your face.

So if the me­chanic re­moves the horn pad and the horn stops blow­ing, then ob­vi­ously the prob­lem is in the pad. And per­haps re­plac­ing it is in or­der.

If the horn doesn’t stop when the horn pad is re­moved, then you could have a short far­ther down the line. At that point, you’ll need to Google the wiring di­a­gram for the car.

But get­ting at least as far as the horn pad ought to get you to the point where she’ll in­tro­duce you to her par­ents, Svend. And then you can bring that wiring di­a­gram to dis­cuss with them over din­ner.

DEAR CAR TALK: I have a great 2000 Cadil­lac DeVille with 95,000 miles. It burns some oil. Can I change over to a syn­thetic oil now? Would that help with the oil burn­ing? Thanks.

— John DEAR JOHN: You don’t say how much oil this great Cadil­lac is burn­ing, but since you took the trou­ble to write to us, I’m guess­ing “a lot.”

You cer­tainly can switch to syn­thetic oil, John, but it prob­a­bly won’t help with the oil burn­ing. It might have helped if you’d switched 85,000 miles ago.

The “North­star” en­gine they used in th­ese cars is known for burn­ing oil. So the ques­tion is: How much are you burn­ing? Are you burn­ing so much that your car is en­veloped in vo­lu­mi­nous clouds of blue smoke when­ever you stop at a traf­fic light? Are lit­tle old ladies flip­ping you the bird as they pass you be­cause your oil cloud is ob­scur­ing their view of the road? If that’s the case, you’re prob­a­bly burn­ing a quart ev­ery few hun­dred miles. That sug­gests that some­thing is wrong deep in­side the en­gine — most likely bad rings.

But if you’re burn­ing a quart ev­ery 1,000 miles or more, you’re prob­a­bly bet­ter off just try­ing to keep it from get­ting worse quickly.

Here are a few sug­ges­tions on how to do that:

First, keep a close eye on the oil level. Oil burn­ing usu­ally gets worse over time. So if you’re used to check­ing it once a month and find­ing that it’s a quart low, start check­ing it twice a month. Oth­er­wise, one day you’re go­ing to do your monthly check, and find it’s down 2 quarts. And run­ning the en­gine low on oil will only ex­ac­er­bate the oil burn­ing.

Sec­ond, change the oil reg­u­larly. We’ve no­ticed that when some of our cus­tomers have cars that burn oil, they stop do­ing their oil changes. They fig­ure, “Hey, I put in 4 new quarts over the past few months, so it’s al­ready got all new oil!”

But it doesn’t work that way. A lot of the old oil is still in there, and it’s try­ing to hold con­tam­i­nants in sus­pen­sion — un­til it gets so dirty that it can’t hold them in sus­pen­sion any­more. So your oil still needs to be changed.

And fi­nally, you can con­sider switch­ing to a slightly more-vis­cous oil. Us­ing a thicker, mo­lasses-like 20W-50 con­coc­tion used to be the goto so­lu­tion for old oil-burn­ers. But with newer tech­nol­ogy, I’d be cau­tious about switch­ing vis­cosi­ties. In fact, you re­ally should check with your dealer’s ser­vice man­ager first. Your en­gine prob­a­bly calls for 5W-30. And you might be able to go to a 10W30, for in­stance, and see if it changes your burn rate at all.

But be­cause en­gines are so so­phis­ti­cated now, and were de­signed and en­gi­neered for cer­tain oils, gone are the days when you could just throw some 50-weight gear oil or Bryl­creem in there and hope for the best.

So con­cen­trate on our first two sug­ges­tions, John. Keep the oil topped up be­tween changes, and change it reg­u­larly.

And based on your mileage, you’re only driv­ing about 5,600 miles a year, so maybe you can tough it out for an­other 10 years or so. Just don’t look in the rearview mir­ror.

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