They don’t build cars like this any­more

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Puzzles - BY RAY MAGLIOZZI

Dear Car Talk: I have a 1951 Chevy, straight-6, 3-on-the-tree, with 31,000 ac­tual miles. Nice car.

If I coast down­hill in gear (it doesn’t hap­pen in neu­tral or if the clutch is dis­en­gaged), when ac­cel­er­at­ing af­ter the down­hill run, it will briefly (for per­haps 100 feet or so), put out a puff of smoke. What gives? — John That’s the worst prob­lem you have with a car that’s old enough to col­lect So­cial Se­cu­rity? You should be danc­ing a jig, John.

On a car of this gen­er­a­tion, blow­ing some blueish smoke af­ter coast­ing down­hill is not un­usual. As a mat­ter of fact, even newer cars do it, but to such a small de­gree that it’s barely no­tice­able.

Your prob­lem is that your pis­ton rings are wear­ing out.

The pis­ton rings are sup­posed to fit tightly against the cylin­der walls and scrape off all the oil be­fore com­bus­tion takes place, so gaso­line and air get com­busted and your oil doesn’t. Your pis­ton rings aren’t do­ing a great job any­more.

There’s a mea­sure of in­dus­trial pre­ci­sion called “tol­er­ance.” Tol­er­ance is the space be­tween parts. Back in 1951, man­u­fac­tur­ing tol­er­ances just weren’t that good.

These days, our man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses are better, and tol­er­ances are smaller, re­sult­ing in better per­for­mance and longer en­gine life. But back when your car was built, no­body ex­pected you to go more than 75,000 miles with­out an en­gine re­build.

You’re see­ing that smoke be­cause when you coast down a hill, the wheels are turn­ing the en­gine rather than the en­gine turn­ing the wheels. Dur­ing that time, while there’s lit­tle com­bus­tion tak­ing place, oil is get­ting pumped past those poorly made and worn-out rings, and it is pool­ing in the cylin­ders. Then, once you start to ac­cel­er­ate again, that oil is get­ting burned up along with the gaso­line and sent out the tailpipe.

Un­less it’s re­ally driv­ing you nuts, John, I’d just keep the oil clean and topped up and live with it for now. Af­ter all, given your an­nual mileage (we cal­cu­late 455 miles a year), you’re go­ing to be due for an en­gine re­build in the year 2115 any­way.

***

Dear Car Talk:

We have a 2013 Avalanche with au­to­matic steps go­ing in and out. The step on the pas­sen­ger side some­times stays in when we open the door, whether get­ting in or out. Get­ting out, if I’m not watch­ing, I could fall out, be­ing a small per­son.

The war­ranty out­fit will not fix it be­cause when the guy looked at it, the step did come out, so he claims it worked for him.

Any way you can help with let­ting me know what could be the cause, and how to fix it? — JoAnn

You’re talk­ing about the mo­tor­ized run­ning boards, JoAnn.

As you say, it pops out be­tween the door sill and the ground when you open a door, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for non-NBA play­ers to get in and out of ve­hi­cles like the Avalanche. And when they fail, it’s ei­ther the switch or the step’s mo­tor.

When you open the door, there’s a switch on the door jamb that sig­nals a com­puter to turn on the dome lights, among other things. On some cars, open­ing the door turns on ex­te­rior lights, fires up some parts of the dash­board, un­folds the side mir­rors or moves your seat back to al­low eas­ier ac­cess. In your case, it’s also sup­posed to switch on the run­ning board’s elec­tric mo­tor, so it de­ploys for you and keeps you from hav­ing to fetch your lad­der.

It could be the switch. More likely, though, the mo­tor that moves the run­ning board in and out is fail­ing. Elec­tric mo­tors of­ten fail in­ter­mit­tently. And that’s go­ing to be pricey to re­place.

You def­i­nitely want to push harder to get this fixed un­der what I as­sume is your ex­tended war­ranty. The guy you saw is hop­ing you go away. Don’t. Re­port­ing it to him was a good start. Save that re­pair or­der.

Next, start us­ing your smart­phone to take a lit­tle video ev­ery time you get in and out of the truck. Point the cam­era at the bot­tom of the door and start record­ing. Then open the door and film the run­ning board.

If the run­ning board op­er­ates nor­mally, delete the video. If it fails to de­ploy, and you cap­ture it on video fail­ing, take that ev­i­dence to the re­pair shop and in­sist that they fix it. If you have sev­eral videos, all the better.

If they still give you the runaround, send that same video ev­i­dence, along with the re­pair or­ders, to the war­ranty com­pany, and ask them to ei­ther fix the run­ning board or re­fund the money you spent for a use­less war­ranty. Good luck, JoAnn. And watch your step.

Got a ques­tion about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Fea­tures, 628 Vir­ginia Drive, Or­lando, FL 32803, or email by vis­it­ing the Car Talk web­site at www.cartalk.com.

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