Quick fix caused more problems

Friday, December 8, 2006

Dear Tom and Ray: I lost my oil cap last time I changed my oil. While I searched for a new oil cap, I stuck a rag in the opening as a temporary fix. While driving on the highway, my car started making an awful noise. When I stopped to look, I saw that the rag was sucked halfway into the engine. I turned off the car and pulled the rag out, but the end was already frayed. Now I've got bits of rag in my engine, and not only does my car sound terrible, but it loses acceleration on the highway and feels close to a breakdown. Is there any way to clean the rag fragments out of the engine of my 1998 Isuzu Rodeo without having someone take the whole thing apart? What are my options here?

Ryan

Tom: Well, the 2007 Honda Pilot is a nice option, Ryan.

Ray: Actually, it's possible that some bits of rag got wrapped up between the cams and the valves, and are somehow preventing the valves from closing all the way.

Tom: That's odd, because normally the steel rotating cam shaft and the steel valves would just chew up the rag pieces and destroy them. But I suppose it's possible.

Ray: Preventing the valves from closing WOULD cause noise and poor performance. In any case, it's easy enough to check. Have a mechanic remove the valve cover -- which isn't a big job -- clean out whatever's in there, put it back together, and hope for the best.

Tom: And by "hope for the best," I mean hope that either (A) bits of rag didn't get chewed up and sent down the oil-return holes into the oil pan. Or (B) that you didn't just run the truck out of oil.

Ray: If rag fragments managed to get down into the oil pan, they could be clogging up the pickup screen on the oil pump's intake tube. That can lead to oil starvation, which can also create noise and poor performance. Then you'd need to remove the oil pan -- which is a pretty big job -- and clean off the screen, since a simple oil change is unlikely to get it done.

Tom: The worst-case scenario is that by driving without an oil cap, you ran the truck out of or low on oil.

Ray: Right. The rag could have acted like a wick, and soaked up a bunch of oil. And then you removed the remnants of the rag and kept driving without an oil cap. While you were driving, oil could have splashed out of the valve cover, further depleting your supply of oil.

Tom: If you run the engine out of -- or low on -- oil, you can do serious damage to the bearings, which can result in knocking, poor performance and, pretty quickly, complete engine failure.

Ray: In fact, you already might have experienced complete engine failure by the time you read this. If you did, congratulations! You no longer need our help.

Dear Tom and Ray: I'm a 20-year-old automotive technical-college student. My pride and joy is a 1985 Ford Ranger that is clinging to the last pathetic shreds of life. I love my truck dearly, and I plan on keeping her well past her reasonable life expectancy. However, I want to convert her power steering to manual steering. My dad thinks I'm insane for wanting manual steering. My old truck (1994 Isuzu Pickup) had manual steering, and I loved it. So how crazy am I?

Heather

Tom: Well, we knew a guy once in East Treetrunk who also liked manual steering. So there are at least two of you .

Ray: You certainly can do this, Heather. I believe the 1985 Ranger was available with optional manual steering, so the parts should all exist. What you need to do is compare the two parts lists.

Tom: If you don't have access to the lists, just go to a parts store and ask to see the lists of steering components for the '85 Ranger with and without power steering. Then compare the part numbers, and that'll tell you which parts are the same and which you will have to change.

Ray: But you'll find all that stuff at a junkyard, and you can swap it out in an afternoon. And voila! Your truck instantly will be impossible to parallel park!

Listen to "Car Talk" at 9 a.m. Saturdays and 5 p.m. Sundays on KRCU 90.9 FM -- Southeast Public Radio. Write to Tom and Ray at Car Talk Plaza, Box 3500 Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. Or e-mail them at the Car Talk section of cars.com.

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