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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1994 Toyota Camry. Generally speaking, when I hit 60 mph or am going uphill, I get a strong smell of sulfur inside the car. Since this only happens periodically, mechanics have difficulty pinpointing the problem. Can you help me in troubleshooting this or in directing me on what to have checked?
C.H. Issaquah, WA

A. To put it indelicately, the "sulfur" smell you're getting from your Camry is the smell of rotten eggs. This unpleasant phenomena doesn't happen very often anymore but when catalytic converts were first put on new cars, it was fairly common. The converters got hot enough and the fuel mixture in the engines was so "lean" (too small an amount of air) that the sulfur compounds in the gasoline were converted to sulfur dioxide which smells pretty bad. As auto and truck engine fuel management system became more high-tech and sophisticated, it happens less often. Another cause of that bad smell was that in some cases, the amount of sulfur compounds in the gasoline in the offending vehicle was too high as well. Sulfur level standards were later lowered which helped a lot. Try changing the brand of gasoline you're using and even the station where you fuel up. Also explain to the mechanics that service your Camry that it may be running a bit lean. Younger technicians may not be aware of this vintage "bad smell" problem.

Q. I have a 1999 Buick Ultra which I purchased new in August of that year. When I make a 90-degree turn, such as turning a corner or getting in or out of a parking place, I hear a rubbing or grinding noise. I reported it to the dealer when I was first aware of it after about five months. Their report was "unable to duplicate complaint." Subsequently they diagnosed it as "power steering shudder" and they would special order a part and notify me when it arrived. Two months later I was told that the factory presently had no fix for the problem but they were working on it. Several months later they said they didn't know when that would be - maybe several months. I called the factory representative who "opened a file" on the complaint but then called back and repeated what the dealer's service manager said. Later the same person said that nothing could be done about the problem.
G.L. Sacramento, CA

A. I spent some time on the internet auto complaint sites and didn't come up with anything specific on your Park Avenue. Continue your interaction with the Buick factory rep even though you got the brush-off. It can't hurt but if you want to get the grinding fixed, take it to a good independent shop and find out exactly what is wrong. You may have to pay for it but the Buick warrenty isn't doing you any good anyway. Also make sure you register your safety-related complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 1-888-327-4236. It may lead to a nationwide recall.

Q. We have a 1993 Ford Taurus with a V6 engine and 98,000 miles on it. We recently put on our third set of tires and when we had it done, the tires shop sold us a wheel alignment. We had them do it but I can't feel any difference in the way the car rides from before we had the tires replaced. I'm think that we were sold a bill of goods.
S.H. Portland, OR

A. A wheel alignment makes sure that your tires are "tracking" true and that they don't scrub off rubber when you're turning a corner. Ideally it would be part of a suspension system service that checks for broken, bent or worn parts such as shock absorbers, brakes and struts. The undercarriage of a vehicle should be inspected every time it goes up on a rack for service of any kind. Factory service recommendations aside, a vehicle should be seen at least every 30,000 miles.


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