Why did my hybrid’s fuel efficiency drop?

Q. I have a 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid with 53,000 miles. As of 18 months ago I was getting 34.4 miles per gallon. Now I am getting only 26 miles per gallon. I get the required maintenance done when necessary and recently had the battery and tires replaced-which did nothing to improve the mileage. The dealer says maybe the fuel injectors need cleaning or a tune up is necessary. The vehicles owner’s manual says that I won't need that work until 100,000 miles. Do you have any suggestions?

A. One possibility is the hybrid battery is running hot. Excessive temperatures in the high voltage traction battery will cause the engine to run longer than normal to cool the high voltage traction battery and will result in reduced fuel economy. The cooling system for this battery should be checked for proper operation.

Q. We have been having issues filling the gas on our 2002 Toyota Camry for the past several months. I am hearing that this may be a common problem, have you heard about this and if so what can be done about it.  When trying to fill the tank the pump keeps stopping as if the tank were filled when in fact it is not even a quarter filled.  Please let us know what you may have heard.

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A. One common problem is that the vent system for the evaporative system can get clogged with mud or spider webs. Once this happens the car will be almost impossible to fill the gas tank at any rate but slowly.

Q. I have a 2007 Lexus RX 350 with 85,000 miles. Recently I brought it to the Lexus dealership for an oil change. I was totally surprised when I was informed that the seals of the power steering rack were leaking power steering fluid. I had never noticed any issue with the power steering before. I have had every recommended service and maintenance inspection performed by the dealer since the vehicle was new. I am being told that it needs to be repaired at a cost of $1800. I have been driving the vehicle for the past two weeks and have monitored the power steering fluid. There has been no leakage of fluid from the power steering reservoir for over two weeks. I am confused and outraged at the projected cost of repair. Any help would be appreciated.

A. Even the best vehicle can develop mechanical problems. I have done some research and did find the type of leak to be a common problem. At this point I would be tempted to wait a few thousand miles and get the leak reevaluated. It is possible that the dealer misdiagnosed the problem. If in fact the steering rack is leaking the price quoted is typical for this type of repair.

Q. I am in the market for a new midsize SUV and like the boxy style of the GMC Terrain and Ford Escape which due to this design looks like it has more usable room than some models. The overall ratings on these are not the greatest for the 2012 models do you think the 2013 models will fare better?

A. The Ford Escape is completely redesigned to 2013 losing the boxy shape that you like. Regarding quality, both vehicles in my opinion have what I would considered better that average rating. Although both vehicles have a boy design I think you will find the overall use of cargo space more practical in the Escape.

Q. I have a 1988 Mercury Grand Marquis that has an overheating problem. The car will be normal until I turn the air conditioner on. Almost as soon as the A/C is on the car will start to run hot and then eventually overheat. I have had the radiator and thermostat checked and all looked okay. Several repair shops have looked at the car but none have fixed it. One shop just told me the car and those “things” happen, what is wrong?

A. The problem may be as much of a problem with the age of the technicians looking at the car as the age of the car itself. Any good technician knows that on newer cars the electric cooling fan will turn on with air condition. On older car there is a clutch on the cooling fan, as the temperature of the engine get hot, the fan goes from “coasting” to direct drive providing extra cooling. Replacing the fan clutch should solve the problem.