Dear Tom and Ray:
I have a 1966 Ford Mustang 2+2 (289-cubic-inch) V-8 engine with four-barrel carburetor. It has more than 170,000 miles on it. It starts right away, but when I shift the automatic transmission to Drive or Reverse, it dies out every time. I changed the fuel pump and the fuel filter, but the problem persists. I would very much appreciate your advice or any suggestions I might pursue. I have had this car for almost 46 years now, and I cannot bear to part with it. Please help. I am 72 years old, and on a limited income. Mahalo. — Onofre
TOM: The problem is not the age of your car, Onofre; it’s the age of your mechanics! They’re all too young now.
RAY: We have a bunch of guys working in our shop, and none of them have ever worked on a carburetor, and wouldn’t know a carburetor problem if it crawled up their pants leg, bit them and left a huge rash on their tuchus.
TOM: To me, this sounds like a classic “choke pull-off” problem. When a cold carbureted engine starts, the choke is automatically engaged in order to reduce the amount of air going into the cylinders (that’s why it’s called a “choke”). This temporarily richens the mixture (more gas, less air) and makes a cold engine easier to start.
RAY: But then, after a few seconds, once the engine is running, the choke is supposed to immediately “pull off” partway (it slowly pulls off the rest of the way as the engine heats up).
TOM: If the choke doesn’t partially pull off immediately after the engine starts, the fuel-air mixture will be too rich, and the car will be susceptible to flooding out and stalling. And when is that likely to happen? As soon as you put the car in Drive or Reverse and ask the engine to actually do some work!
RAY: I mean, there are other things that could cause the stalling. Weak spark for any other reason would do the same thing. But if you drove (or got pushed) into my shop, the first thing I’d do is check the operation of the choke pull-off, and if it’s not working, replace it. You may need to buy a whole new carburetor in order to get a new choke pull-off, in which case I’d recommend an aftermarket carburetor with an electric choke.
TOM: So, you need to find somebody who knows what to do when he sees a carburetor. I have a few ideas for you. One is to ask other classic-car owners you know for the name of a mechanic they like. Or, you can call around to your area shops and ask if they have anyone there who knows carburetors. Most likely, you’ll get a frightened silence on the other end of the line, the handset will drop and then you’ll start hearing crickets. But you may get lucky and find a place that still employs an old-timer.
RAY: Or, you may need to get more proactive than that. You may need to start visiting local old-age homes. Walk around and shake everybody’s hand and say “hello.” And when you meet the guy with the permanent grease stains under his fingernails that he still can’t get out after 20 years of retirement, tell him it’s his lucky day — you’re taking him on a special outing! Mahalo, Onofre.
Tom and Ray have to give this one to the father-in-law
Dear Tom and Ray:
My wife has an ‘89 Toyota Camry with a four-cylinder engine. Her dad says that you should add engine oil as soon as the oil drops below the “full” mark. I say you can wait until it is down a quart (to the “add” mark). Her dad says that those small four-cylinder engines shouldn’t get low on oil. I say that if it couldn’t handle being a quart low, then they would have made the dipstick mark at a half-quart or whatever. Who’s right about this? Not that it will change her dad’s opinion any. — Richard
RAY: I don’t think he SHOULD change his opinion, Richard. I think he makes a good point.
TOM: I think the one-quart-low mark is a carryover from the days when oil came only in one-quart cans. You opened them with a can opener, and they couldn’t be resealed. So oil was — by necessity — added one quart at a time.
RAY: Now that oil comes in resealable, plastic bottles, you can add any amount you want and save the rest for another day. Or for your salad dressing.
TOM: And while you’re right, Richard, that it’s not a disaster for a four-cylinder engine to be a quart low on oil, it’s better for the engine if it’s not low on oil at all.
RAY: Think about it this way: The engine can still run and protect itself with three quarts of oil instead of four. But when you’re down a quart, you have three quarts trying to do the job of four. So, that oil is going to get hotter and break down faster.
TOM: So if you notice that your oil is below the full mark, why not top it off? Other than because it means having to admit that your father-in-law had a point?
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