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CAR TALK

Dear Tom and Ray: This evening, my overworked wife accidentally put about 3.5 gallons of diesel into her nearly empty 1998 Honda Odyssey. Upon realizing her mistake, she filled up the rest of the 12-gallon tank with gasoline. At that point, she wisely decided to call me before trying to drive it. I told her to park it, and I immediately called two mechanics to get their advice. I first called the dealer, and he said not to drive the car and to have it towed in. He said he would have to drain the gas tank and steam clean it to get the diesel out and then check to see how far into the system the diesel fuel might have gotten. If we were lucky, it wouldn't have gotten sucked into the fuel pump, the fuel line or the injectors. If we weren't lucky, the dealer sure would be! Then I called my trusty curbside mechanic, who comes to the house with all his tools and equipment in his truck and always provides me with reliable repair service for about a quarter of what the dealer quotes. He said that we probably could drive it. It would smoke some while the diesel burned out, but he thought that it might be OK, except maybe we would have to replace the oxygen sensors. I usually like to take the path of least resistance, but in this case I felt it would be better to be safe than sorry, and we had the car towed in for service. What should we do before driving it? -- Neil

Ray: Well, I think the dealer gave you the correct advice, Neil. But you might not need to be quite as thorough as he's suggesting. And you certainly don't have to let him do the work, if you like your buddy better.

Tom: It sounds like your wife never even ran the engine with the diesel fuel. So, we can say with confidence that none of it got into the fuel lines.

Ray: The tank needs to be removed and drained. You can probably skip the steam cleaning phase, as I'm guessing that less than half a cup of diesel will remain on the fuel-tank walls.

Tom: After you reinstall the tank and refill it with gasoline, I'd have Crusty remove the fuel line where it joins the fuel rail, up in the engine compartment. Then you can cycle the fuel pump (without running the engine) and take a sample of the fuel in a glass bottle. Let it settle out and see if it looks clean.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of The Buffalo News or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com. The "Car Talk" radio show airs locally at 6 and 10 a.m. Saturday on WBFO-FM 88.7

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