The Car Doctor

Bleach in the gas tank, brake service, weak HVAC fan

By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
July 10, 2008

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Q. Someone put bleach in my gas tank. What is going to happen to the engine?

A. The chlorine in bleach can react with the chemicals in gasoline and form an acid. What theoretically can happen is this acid can cause premature rusting of the gas tank and fuel lines and cause a stalling problem. Still, I don't believe there would be any long-term engine problems. At this point, I would flush out the gas tank and fuel lines and then replace the fuel filter.

Q. I was driving on the highway when my 1999 Ford Escort popped out of fifth gear and would not let me go anywhere. If I touched the gas, nothing happened. I continued to coast to the shoulder and then my car died. My car was making an obnoxious sound when it was trying to start. My father and boyfriend looked into it, and my timing belt was completely torn to shreds. I heard this could damage the engine, but there is a very small chance it did not. What is your opinion?

A. The 2.0 liter engine in your Ford typically can survive having the timing belt break while it is running. At this point, inspect the engine to see what happened. It is very important that engines with timing belts are inspected and replaced at the proper interval.

Q. The engine on my 1999 Honda Accord gets noisy when I push on gas pedal. It is that OK?

A. Engine noise can be caused by many things. It could be a simple as a rattling exhaust pipe to a worn engine. The very first item to check is the engine-oil level. At this point, have the car checked by a qualified automotive technician.

Q. A while ago, the lights on my Nissan 300Z suddenly stopped turning off. Even when the switch is set to off, the lights stay on. What do you think is wrong?

A. The headlights are typically controlled by a headlight switch and relays. Since both lights are on, it would be unlikely both relays failed. The first logical place to look is at the headlight switch.

Q. My 2005 Nissan Murano has 37,000 miles on it and the local Nissan dealer claims the front brakes must be serviced soon. If the pads have about 3,000 miles left on them, is it necessary to turn the discs or can they just replace the pads?

A. The answer depends on the condition of the rotors. If they are worn, scored or cracked, then the rotors need to be replaced. If they are out of round, then they may need resurfacing. If the rotors are smooth and true, then the disc pads may be the only item that needs replacing.

Q. I have a 2007 Subaru Forester, and I have noticed when I lift my foot off the brake - especially with the first starts of the day - it makes a noise. It is not a squeaking noise, but a noise I cannot describe. There is no noise when I put my foot on the brake, just when I lift it off. Is this important enough to take in to dealer?

A. The noise you are hearing could be the antilock brake system going through a self-test. Many cars will make some noise during this first brake application. It couldn't hurt to have the dealer take a look at the car.

Q. When I have the heat on in my Jeep, the fan doesn't really seem to work until it's on full strength. Sometimes when I am on the interstate going above 50 mph, it will work at any setting, but not always. The other issue is, in the morning when I first start the car, I hear a ticking sound. The ticking goes away after I drive the car for a few minutes. What's wrong?

A. The problem with the fan could be a faulty fan-motor resistor. The resistor varies current to the fan motor. When the maximum speed is selected, the resistor is bypassed. The ticking noise could be any number of items, including sticking valve lifters. To diagnose the problem, leave your Jeep overnight so the technician can hear the noise.

Q. I have a 1997 Geo Tracker with four-wheel-drive and the manual locking hubs needs to be replaced. The Chevrolet dealer says he can't get the parts. Where can I get the parts and how much should it cost to have installed?

A. The labor to perform the repairs shouldn't take more than two hours. You could try to get the parts on-line. A good source is Warn, one of the largest producers of this type of part. Try