Can bad gas affect fuel economy?

Q: We have a 2008 Ford Edge AWD with 35,000 miles on the odometer. We mostly purchase BP gasoline from a station that received some of the bad gas due to the Whiting, Ind. refinery problem. We have not experienced any of the starting problems, however on a recent trip to New York we noticed our MPG was much lower than in the past. Could this be from previous use of bad gas and could an additive such as injector cleaner help? We haven't had any tune-ups, only oil changes.

— W.K., Chicago

A: It is unlikely that the bad gas has caused your drop in fuel economy. Rather, we have a hunch the difference in terrain and weather may be a factor. You say that you had no starting problems, but if you did have driveability problems from the bad gas, we would advise that you at least change the spark plugs as they cold be coated with soot.

Q: I have a 2004 Dodge Neon with 75,000 miles on it. I noticed a maple syrup smell coming from the vents when I turn the heater on. I researched this smell on Internet and it points to the heater core. It's really expensive to replace the heater core and I'm hoping that it's something else. Can the smell/leak be coming from somewhere else? The heater works fine. What will happen if I don't fix it right away?

— C.G. Saint Charles, Ill.

A: Ethylene glycol, the major ingredient in antifreeze does have a cloying, almost sweet quality, but we never thought it smelled like maple syrup. Left untreated, the leak will eventually get larger until it starts dripping on the passenger side floor. Until you can save up enough for the repair, try a cooling system leak stopper such as Bar's Leaks or Gold Eagle No-Leak.

Q: Oh! Kar-knack all wise! Do you read the e-mails or just hold them up to your head, next to your turban (not turbine)? My daughter has a 2008 Escape XLT. She had one strut replaced about two years ago, and now she has this strange rattle on the passenger-side when I ride with her! Any visions?

— T.S., Pleasant Prairie, Wisc.

A: According to Ford, some "…2001-2009 Escape, 2005-2009 Escape Hybrid, Mariner and 2006-2009 Mariner Hybrid vehicles may exhibit a pop, rub, grunt, squeak, and/or creak noise from the front strut area during slow, lock-to-lock turns such as parking maneuvers. Vehicles built on or before 1/13/2009 may also exhibit a clunk, crunch, thump, and/or knocking noise from the front strut area while driving over a series of bumps and/or rough road." Whew. Your daughter is not alone. The fix it usually to lube the front strut rod with silicone grease and/or replace the dust boot of jounce bumper. Johnny Carson made off our turban years ago.

Q: I have a 2011 Chevy Silverado pickup and ever since I got it, it has a metal exhaust expansion and contraction noise. When I went to service and they showed me something from Chevy saying that its normal. I have owned a lot of cars and never heard this noise before. The clicking happens while driving and at stop lights and of course it happens on cool down, but while driving? — R.X., Chicago

A: Exhaust systems often make ticking and clicking noises as they expand and contract, but not usually while driving. GM had problems with a loose clamp on the exhaust system at the flex pipe (the braided pipe that looks like a Chinese finger trap) and the clamp may need replacing.

Q: I am the original owner of a 2007 Honda Odyssey with approximately 73,000 miles. My problem is when traveling over 35 miles per hour there is a whistling noise coming from the driver's side of the van. I don't know if it's coming from the door by the mirror or the front windshield. Before I take it somewhere, do you have any idea's that would help me?

— B.K., Flossmoor, Ill.

A: The noise may be due to a loose windshield trim clips. Honda had issues with them. Put some wide masking tape over the trim to glass area and see if the noise goes away.

Q: My wife and I are considering buying a new Ford Fiesta with the dual-clutch automated manual transmission. As I'm sure you know, reviews of this unit are at best mixed. I did take a ride on a Fiesta and while you could feel it shift, it was not objectionable. I also read that it improves after a thousand miles or so as it learns your driving style. My main concern is long term durability of this transmission as we keep our cars a long time. We don't put on a lot of miles though. The car it will replace is a 1996 Chevy Cavalier purchased new by my wife. The Cavalier has 95k miles and our '08 Ford Focus has 25k. Might you have any insight on this transmission? Any info you could provide would be very much appreciated.

— V.H., Chicago, Ill.

A: We like the concept of the dual clutch transmission, but we are not yet sold on it. Acceleration from a stop can be sluggish, especially on a hill, and shifting can be choppy. However, because of its design, we suspect that durability should not be an issue. After all, similar gear boxes have been used in race cars for several years. And, unlike a traditional automatic transmission, there is no torque converter and no external oil (fluid) cooler. It is essentially two manual transmissions in one box.

Q: With this record low natural gas price in the U.S. I wonder why a natural gas engine is not a real contender to replace the gasoline engine. When I was in Asia about 10 years ago, all taxis seemed to run on LPG. If the inconvenience of finding fueling station is the main issue, I would like to convert my 2002 Saab 9-3 4-cylinder turbo to run on natural gas. Are the conversion kits available on the Internet trustable? Once converted, how hard would it be to restore if I do not like it? I am not sure how the conversion will affect computer that controls the engine.

— T.L., Rolling Meadows, Ill.

A: There's no difference in the engines, just the fuel system. An engine may be bi-fueled, meaning it runs on either gasoline or natural gas, or dedicated, meaning it runs only on compressed natural gas (CNG). In many countries liquefied petroleum gas (LPG or propane) is generally less expensive than gasoline. LPG is easier to find in the U.S. than compressed natural gas. If you want to fill your CNG vehicle at home, you'll need a compressor station. Only EPA approved CNG conversion kits sold by reputable dealers in the U.S should be installed on U.S vehicles. EPA approved kits generally work well when properly integrated with the vehicle's engine control system. Conversion kits sold on the Internet from overseas are known to fail EPA emission requirements and should be avoided. Furthermore, the expense and labor involved in converting a single vehicle, plus successfully integrating the CNG system with your existing vehicle system, could be daunting. The cost of the CNG cylinder alone could be a showstopper. Also, consider the amount of trunk space the cylinder takes. If you plan to trade your Saab some day, removing the CNG system and restoring the vehicle to normal gasoline would be costly. Unless you have a fleet of cabs, there's no financial advantage for converting your vehicle to run on CNG rather than propane. If you are serious about driving a CNG vehicle, consider buying one already designed and built for CNG, such as the Honda Civic Natural Gas. Go to http://www.cngprices.com to find fueling stations. (We were initially worried about all the initials, but we got over it.)

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