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You & Your Car

Who nose what that bad car smell is ...? Add to ...

We have started to notice a smell coming from our year-old Accord when it is sitting still - at a light or in the driveway. When we use the re-circulate position on the heater, it is not as noticeable. The car works well, there is no smoke coming out the tailpipe or puddle of fluid on the ground. We have it serviced regularly and nothing turned up at a recent service. Any ideas?

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Clarence in St. John's, Nfld.

There are any number of sources for odours.

I've had a squirrel make a winter home in the heating duct of a vehicle I had stored for the winter. It didn't survive the winter, which resulted in a nasty smell when I turned on the defroster in the spring. It cost almost $500 to have the entire system taken apart and his carcass exhumed.

However, your problem sounds like a leak, probably so slight it is burning off and not accumulating enough to be noticeable.

You don't say what it smells like, but if it is a burning smell it could be an oil leak, if a slightly "sweeter" smell it might be coolant. In either case, if the smell is there only when the engine is warm that would narrow things down.

If the oil was changed at the last service, some might have spilled onto the exhaust manifold or part of the engine and is burning off. If the filter was changed, the old gasket might not have come off completely so the seal is not perfect where the new one makes contact with the block. Check the area around the oil filler cap and filter when the engine is cool for signs of leakage.

Do the same around the various ends of coolant hoses into and out of the engine and water pump - but I'm betting on a minor oil leak.

If it persists, be sure to have it put up on a hoist and checked - it is not a good thing to run out of oil.

Also, avoid using that recirculate position for more than a few minutes. It is recirculating the air inside the cabin and with each breath you are taking oxygen out and breathing moisture into that air. Your windows will fog or mist up easily and you might become lethargic or sleepy.

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Checking oil

Your fellow writer Peter Cheney wrote that the majority of drivers don't check their oil any more. You wrote about an owner who was surprised he found the oil level was so low in his daughter's car. Is it wise to rely on the car's computer to tell you these things, or should we continue to manually check the oil, transmission fluid, break fluid, etc.

Burt in Florenceville, N.B.

Peter is right. It is a sad fact, but few drivers read the owner's manual and fewer still take a moment to check beneath the hood, let alone their tire pressures.

Today's vehicles have become so reliable and service intervals so far apart we are getting into lazy habits. Many current models have accurate sensors to detect and report on fluid and other levels, but I still suggest eyeballing these things for yourself. The systems will report when a level gets to a point where it needs attention/refilling. But if you take time to check things, you will notice a gradual drop in levels, which tells you something is going wrong before it has caused some damage. That way you can avoid more expensive repairs or lost time later.

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