From the emails I’ve been receiving, it’s clear that a lot of readers have similar questions about their vehicles and the problems they’re experiencing. I’ve decided to start an ongoing “Q & A” column that will address some of these questions. My hope is that we’ll build an expanding library of instantly-usable information about car parts, maintenance issues, automotive repair, and new technologies. You’ll be able to put this information to use in order to get the most out of your vehicle. Let’s get started.
Question: “My father insists that letting the engine idle for several minutes after starting a car is necessary for it to warm up. Other people say that’s not true. Can you clarify?”
Answer: That may have been true a long time ago (and by “long time,” I mean decades). Most vehicles used carburetors back then. Today, fuel injection is more popular. Unless you live in below freezing temperatures, you shouldn’t need to warm up the engine. The motor oil can circulate through the parts within 20 seconds, providing the necessary lubrication.
Unless your father is driving an old model, chances are, he’s merely wasting gas by letting the engine idle. One quick point, though: it’s a good idea to drive your car gently for the first few minutes after starting the engine.
Question: “Earlier today, I was driving and my car inexplicably died (I was stopped at a traffic light at the time). When I tried to start it again, all I heard was a fast clicking sound. After about 30 minutes, I tried again and the engine turned over. I was able to drive it, but the engine died again before I reached my house. What the heck is going on?”
Answer: It sounds like it’s the battery or the alternator. Here’s a good way to check: when the engine is dead, try to turn the headlights on. If nothing happens, that usually means the charge isn’t being delivered through the battery or alternator. One or the other is probably bad. If your headlights come on, the problem lies elsewhere.
When you were stopped at the traffic light (right before your car died), you might have noticed your vehicle struggling. If so, the problem may be with the speed sensor. Your best bet is to have your mechanic pop the hood and check.
In my next “Q & A” installment, we’ll take a look at 2 or 3 more car problems that confuse a lot of folks. In the future, we’ll also explore issues that are associated with particular makes and models. While it’s impossible for me to know for certain what is happening with your vehicle (without being able to look under the hood, of course), I can provide some helpful insight. We’ll pick this up again next time.