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If thieves stealing catalytic converters weren’t enough for businesses with trucks to deal with, they must now also cope with escalating diesel fuel robbery as the price of fuel rises. It would also be one thing if a thief just stuck a hose down the fuel filler neck to siphon out fuel, but not so, some cause thousands of dollars of damage to the vehicle in the process.

The owner of a newer Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van recently complained about the smell of raw fuel when he brought it into the shop next to mine. The owner then noticed a large fuel leak when they filled up. The loonie-sized hole in the upper reaches of their fuel tank was large enough to stick a garden hose in and use a cordless drill-operated liquid pump to quickly drain the tank.

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A loonie-sized hole was drilled in the fuel tank of a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van to steal diesel.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

The owner of this vehicle not only had to pay the cost of the tow from the gas station and the missing fuel, but also for an replacement fuel tank, which costs around $1,200. The cost of repairs like this is often funded by the owner, as most small businesses hesitate to put through an insurance claim because of their already high deductibles.

Preventing access to a vehicle’s fuel tank is next to impossible unless the vehicle is parked inside. For outside storage, the best defence is a well-lit, securely fenced-in area with security system and cameras. Added signage noting a camera system is also warranted. Parking your vehicle in the same spot night after night lets a thief recognize patterns of inactivity, leading to possible recurring siphoning. Fuel theft can happen repeatedly with smaller amounts being taken each time, not enough to be noticed by an inattentive driver. For the bigger fleets, upgrades can be made to their tanks to electronically monitor fuel levels even when the driver is not in the vehicle. Anti-siphoning devices, which costs about $60 – $120 are reasonably effective.

Hi Lou,

My son-in-law has a 2015 Nissan Pathfinder with about 125,000 kilometres on it. The vehicle smokes every time he starts it, especially from overnight, and sends up a cloud of white smoke. It has been doing this for at least four months.

The car seems to run fine, and no warning lights are showing. Last fall he took it to the dealer who found the inside of the engine was dirty – bits of carbon as though the engine oil hadn’t been changed, and the owner admitted he hadn’t been doing that. They put in something to clean the engine and changed the oil again.

We took it to another shop that found a green stain on the side of the engine and said that it was a head gasket leaking coolant. They did a compression test on the side of the engine they could get to and found oil in the threads of a spark plug. They said he needs a new (used) engine at a cost of around $7,000 installed. But it hasn’t used a drop of coolant in three months. It does use a lot of oil.

I thought that black smoke is from spinning tires, blue smoke is from oil, and white smoke is really steam. What’s up with this car?

Bruce M., Vancouver

Yes Bruce, blue smoke is typically oil burning. However, blue smoke is usually only present when the engine is so far past the point of no return that it is moments away from failure. The cloud in the morning is most likely the combination of oil and condensation collected overnight.

If the dealer has indicated that the engine is full of carbon and sludge, I am going to assume that the PCV system is also completely plugged. The PCV system is connected to the rear valve cover and is known to become plugged on this vehicle. Have it inspected for sludge and possibly a collapsed PCV hose. If I am correct, replace both valve covers and the PCV valve. Additionally, in extreme cases such as this, removing and cleaning the intake manifold and throttle body is recommended. While the manifold is off, replace the spark plugs as the rear bank spark plugs are also likely fouled from the oil.

The green dried coolant does indicate an external leaking head gasket, but this does not necessarily mean it is also leaking internally. Your key statement for me is that it uses a lot of oil. In my opinion, if the oil is not going through the PCV system as mentioned above, then the worst has happened, and an engine rebuild/replacement is imminent.

Dear Lou,

I have been taking my cars to the dealerships I bought them from for regular service. Now that they are out of their warranty periods, I intend to take them to a single independent service facility like yours to build a long-standing relationship.

Is my idea to consolidate a sound one, or am I better served going to different places that specialize in one make? I own three cars – a 2011 Toyota Venza, a 2015 Volkswagen GTI and a 2016 Mini Cooper. Will you be able to recommend shops near my home in North York, Ont.?

Ranjit B.

Thank you, Ranjit. I would think that an import specialist should be able to cover your needs nicely for all three vehicles. There are always great shops around, but it is difficult for me to recommend them as I repair my own vehicles and don’t have any real-world experiences to offer you.

However, we have a great number of passionate readers who love to post comments. I’m sure if you check the comments section a couple of days after this is published there will be several local-to-you readers who will have helped you out with a recommendation.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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