In the last segment, we discussed a few things you can do to squeeze more gas mileage from your car (i.e. replace air and oil filters, etc.). We also helped a reader diagnose why his engine keeps overheating. Today, I’m going to address a reader’s question about why her vehicle backfires. We’ll also explore a reader’s transmission problem. Another gentleman wrote in to ask why his car keep sputtering before dying. It’s a full schedule, so let’s get started.
Question: My car has been backfiring lately and I can’t figure out why. It’s a red 2003 Mustang and it has just over 92,000 miles. I’m good about keeping the oil changed regularly and following my service manual. But, for the past week, whenever I accelerate, it backfires. Most of the time, it happens when I’m getting onto the freeway. Can you tell me what’s causing it?
Answer: I suspect it’s either the fuel pressure or the ignition system. Whenever you accelerate, your car’s fuel pressure needs to reach approximately 40 pounds. If that’s not happening, you may need to have a mechanic replace the fuel pump. On the other hand, if your spark plugs are worn, they can cause a misfire which leads to backfiring. Check the coils and plugs, or have your mechanic do so for you.
Question: I bought a 1999 Nissan Frontier. Its mileage is at 176,000. When I first start driving each day, it shifts fine. But, after about 20 minutes, it’s difficult. After about 35 minutes, I can barely shift! I hate stopping on surface streets because I know it’s going to be a pain to get moving again. Do I need a new clutch?
Answer: You’re not going to like my answer. From what you’ve described, it sounds like your transmission is having problems. There’s a remote possibility that it just needs more fluid. So, definitely try that first. Otherwise, prepare yourself for the chance that you’ll need to have the transmission replaced. A rebuilt will obviously cost less than a new unit. But, you can still expect to pay over $1,000 for the job (unit plus installation).
Question: I have a 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado with 227,000 miles on it. Awhile back, it started sputtering whenever I slowed down. It happened sporadically, so I didn’t think much about it. But, it happens a lot now. Making matters worse, it sputters and then dies. If I let the car rest for about 10 minutes, I can start it again, but it ends up sputtering and dying again. I’m thinking of getting rid of it. Is there anything I can do?
Answer: I rarely hear from folks who own this type of car. They’re great-looking vehicles, especially if you have the original parts. If I had to wager on the root cause of the sputtering, I’d say it was your catalytic converter. You didn’t mention whether you have replaced it in the past, but they can fail, especially in older vehicles. Have your mechanic test it. Replacing that part may solve your problem.
That’s a great batch of car problems to diagnose in this segment. Even though a lot of issues that happen under your vehicle’s hood seem mysterious, there is always a root cause. If you can identify it, you (or your mechanic) can fix it. As I’ve always said, the more you know about your car, the better prepared you’ll be when parts fail. In the next installment, we’ll have a new group of automotive issues to discuss.