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Electrical problem, ethanol may explain gas gauge woes

Dear Car Fix: I have a 2003 Chevy Venture, 6-cylinder with 110,000 miles. I have had my electrical system checked. It is fine. However, every time I stop at a stoplight, the low fuel light comes on and the gas gauge drops to empty. I have to stop the car and restart it to make the low fuel light turn off. It comes back on at the next stop light. Because of this, I am never sure how much gas is in my tank. What is wrong with my car? Is it fixable? Is it expensive?

-- K.D., Buffalo

Dear K.D.: This can be fixed if you are comfortable handling automotive electrical problems. The Chevy Ventures had a problem with the connectors building up corrosion and sending incorrect signals. The body connector for the sender is on the driver's side, middle of the vehicle, on the bottom of the floor pan. Open the connector and see if there is "green"-colored corrosion residue present. If so, clean with electronic parts cleaner (available in a spray can at most auto parts stores) and reconnect. This solves most of the fuel level issues. If this does not solve it, then the sending unit in the gas tank is most likely bad, usually caused by a high-ethanol content in the gasoline. Due to the large number of recent changes to fuel, numerous problems with gasoline-powered vehicles have developed. These problems are not always immediately identified as fuel problems. The problem with ethanol in fuel today is it absorbs water; even the humidity in the air will transfer into the fuel. This happens when fuel is stored in tanks at the fuel station. When the amount of water exceeds a certain amount, the ethanol and water "fall out" to the bottom of the tank. This is called "phase separation." Phase-separated fuel confuses the engine management system, causing decreases in performance and mileage. It also leads to premature failure of expensive electrical components. Standard fuel additives such as dry gas and fuel stabilizer have little effect and some even aggravate the problem. The only solution to this problem is a product called Fuel Fix offered by WellWorth Products. It will keep the ethanol blended and your problems should be fixed. You can purchase Fuel Fix online or at local auto parts and hardware stores. It costs about the same as one gallon of gas, but it's well worth this minimal expense per fill-up as it will save the electrical, fuel and emissions systems from further premature repairs.

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Dear Car Fix: My 2007 Ford Escape recently had the transmission conk out unexpectedly, with no warning whatsoever. The mileage is about 67,000. Is this considered acceptable for a vehicle of this type? Do car companies ever listen to tales of woe?

-- N.D., Williamsville

Dear N.D.: This is a premature failure. However if you are operating under a severe duty situation, then the maintenance includes transmission oil and filter changes per the maintenance schedule. Some owner's manuals include separate maintenance schedules -- one for regular driving and one for "severe duty" or "severe service," which calls for more frequent maintenance. A severe duty schedule might call for shorter intervals between oil and filter changes, transmission fluid and filter changes, power steering fluid changes, brake fluid changes, air filter changes, radiator coolant changes and other filters and fluids. Check with the dealer for a Technical Service Bulletin as there have been quite a few on your vehicle. If you don't qualify, enter your complaint at www.nhtsa.gov. Companies do listen, as does the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.

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Dear Car Fix: I have a question about my 1998 Ford Escort wagon. It has 65,000 miles on it. It runs great in the summer, but in the winter and rainy weather it acts up. When I stop at a light, it shakes and feels like it is going to shut off. It is especially bad if I am using the windshield wipers. In good weather, the problem is gone. Why does my car act this way and what can I do to get it fixed?

-- C.B., Tonawanda

Dear C.B.: This may seem like an odd problem but it isn't. In many ways, engine idle is a good measure of your engine's health. If anything is going wrong under the hood, there's a good chance it will affect your car's idle speed. Problems with idle speed, things like slow idle, low idle, bad idle, lumpy idle, fast idle -- these are symptoms that should be investigated, diagnosed and repaired. There may be a vacuum leak. The fix is to check and replace vacuum lines as required. An ASE-certified technician may be needed to track down the problem, but if it only occurs when the wipers are working, it may be a ground wire as well.

email: contact@laurenfix.com