The Car Doctor

Siphoning gas, rotten egg Sunfire, good old English electrical faults

By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
June 26, 2008

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Q. I have read stories in the newspaper about people stealing gasoline. Unlike back in the 1970s when thieves siphoned gas, I understand that now, thieves are drilling holes in gas tanks to steal the gas. What can I do?

A. Today's cars make it just about impossible to siphon out the fuel due to the design of the fuel tank. I have read some reports of gas tanks being damaged and drained. My only suggestion is to take the same measures you would to prevent your car from being stolen. Park in well lighted, high-traffic areas to prevent this crime of the times.

Q. I have a 1998 Pontiac Sunfire with 186,000 miles on it. The problem is that the engine stalls and stumbles, and has a bad rotten egg smell coming from the tail pipe. I have replaced the spark plugs, ignition coil, map sensor, and flushed out the fuel tank and replaced the fuel filter. I'm about ready to give up! Do you have a suggestion?

A. My first suggestion is to not overlook the basics. Given the mileage and the symptoms you describe, I would look for vacuum leaks, then check engine timing and compression. It's possible that there is a vacuum leak, a worn valve or a timing chain that has stretched, causing the engine to be out of time.

Q. I have a 2000 Chevrolet Impala, and it has an air conditioner problem. I have been told the air conditioner evaporator needs replacing at a cost of $1,200. Is that a fair price? With the hot weather here, I certainly would like to get it fixed. Is there any kind of sealer I can use?

A. The labor to replace the evaporator on your car totals nearly 10 hours. The dash needs to be completely removed from the car. The cost of the part is about $250. Once you add in recharging the system, it's easy to see how the cost can be $1,200. The air conditioning system uses very high pressures, so it's unlikely that any additive would offer any kind of permanent repair.

Q. I have a 1978 MGB and the tail lights and plate lights are not working. I have checked the bulbs and wiring and everything looks okay. I tend to work on the car myself, since most mechanics don't want anything to do with it. Do you have a suggestion?

A. All electrical circuits have power and grounds. The failure with English cars tends to be poor grounds. Check the ground circuit where the plate light bolts to the body. For the turn signals, don't assume the connections are okay. My advice is to remove the ground terminals, clean them, and then re-install them to ensure that they are okay.

Q. I have a 1997 Chrysler Sebring that from time to time traps me in the seat belt. I brought it in for service and they told me it was normal. Is there something wrong?

A. This model car uses a very sophisticated seat belt sensor that is electronically activated. This is due to the fact that the seat belt is mounted to the seat, rather than the door pillar. There are some diagnostics that can be run to see if the seat belt timer module is faulty.

Q. I have a 2004 Dodge Caravan that emits a lot of noise from the front end. The dealer replaced the mounting plate connected to the struts, but the noise is still there. I have noticed, however, that the noise isn't as loud in the rain. What could be wrong?

A. Two areas that I would check are the stabilizer bar and bushings. Over time, these bushings get hard and make noise. The best method for checking the bushings is to have the vehicle on the ground, or on a drive-on lift that allows all the vehicle weight to be on the suspension, rather than hanging in the air. This will more closely simulate road conditions.