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Automania/Repair and Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. This is in regard to the burning odor or smell coming from my 1994 Honda Accord LX. This only happens right after I have an oil and filter change done. I have approximately 34,000 miles on it. My warranty expires soon at 36,000 miles. The smell is like burning oil that has come in contact with hot metal like the exhaust pipe, but I made sure that wasn't the case by wiping it clean of any residue. The problem started after the 23,000-mile oil change and then again after the 27,000 miles. At 30,000 miles I took it to an independent shop and they found a slight leak around the camshaft seal in the head so I took it to a dealer's shop and had it changed - at least that's what I was told. I did the last oil and filter change myself.
J.V. Pittsburg, CA

A. The technicians at my own local Honda store tell me that the smell you're experiencing is quite common and it's caused by the proximity of the oil drain plug in the oil pan to a heat shield system that's built around the exhaust pipe where it runs underneath the engine. Even the most careful lube guys tell me that they find it impossible to avoid having a minuscule amount of oil slip between the cracks and burning off when the engine starts up and the exhaust system gets hot. It's not dangerous, but it's certainly annoying to whoever has to drive the car until it's burned away. They tell me that to insure that their customers don't have that unpleasant experience, they squirt a liberal mount of brake cleaner into the cracks and crevasses to flush it out, then blow it dry with compressed air so the brake cleaner doesn't smell or ignite. You don't need a warranty job - just more careful technicians.

Q. We have a 1993 Toyota Previa LE minivan that we bought second hand from a private party. It now has 62,000 miles on the odometer and we've been very happy with it, although we wish it had a bit more power. Several months ago, we began to hear a slight whistling noise under acceleration. The best way to explain it is that it sounds like the whistling noise that the turbocharger on a diesel tractor/trailer rig makes when it accelerates. I'm something of an auto enthusiast (I'm restoring an MG from the ground up) but I'm mystified as to the problem.
M.H. Aurora, IL

A. I'm fairly sure that the mysterious whistling sound you hear is coming from the exhaust system and more specifically, the muffler/header pipe assembly. They develop small holes that don't make any noise when the engine is idling or in a cruise mode, and only start to whistle when the exhaust pressure is relatively high. These pipe assemblies were warranted by Toyota for up to 50,000 miles as part of the exhaust emission control system, though you're over the limit now. In the past Toyota has been pretty good about extending these warranties in special cases and if you ask the factory representative in your area, the worst that can happen is that you'd be turned down.

Q. I'm in the market for a car. It will be the first one that I've bought for myself (my ex-husband took care of those things before we got divorced) and I don't want to get stung. What is the best used car for me to buy? I have two children to transport and also need to get to my new job.
D.H. Portland, OR

A. I never recommend any make or model, since it's to easy to come up with a bad example. You should determine how much money you want to spend, if you want to get it financed, if maintenance is going to be an expensive deal, etc. The best guide to buying a used car is the Annual Auto Issue of Consumer's Reports. It comes out every April and identifies the various makes and models by year. It gives their strong and weak points on a scale of three and lists what are the best and worst buys in the various price and size groups.

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