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Maybe it's the check engine light that's broken

Dear Car Fix: I've been having a problem and I need your help! I have a check engine light on my 2008 Toyota Camry, so I took it to the local dealer. The problem is continuous and every time I bring the car in, the service writer tells me they can't find anything wrong with it. Believe it or not, since they still can't find an answer as to why this light is on, the service guy just told me to take a piece of duct tape and cover it! Seriously! Am I going crazy or is this like malpractice with cars? There is no way this is correct! I'm at a total loss and not sure what to do. If the dealer can't help me I may get rid of the car but no one will buy it with a check engine light on!

– C.B., Williamsville

Dear C.B.: I was so shocked when I read your letter. I'm blown away that trained technicians and a service writer told you to cover the light. So just ignore the problem and drive the car – is NEVER the answer! Don't sell the car, and yes, this is like malpractice with your automobile.

If your check engine light is illuminated, while the lights vary in appearance from ?vehicle to vehicle, all have the same basic ?meaning: There's a problem with the car's emissions system. The on-board diagnostics system and engine control unit are in charge ?of monitoring a bunch of parameters, and if they get a reading that's a little out of whack, up pops the check engine light.

The list of things that can trigger the check engine light is pretty lengthy. For example, anything from a loose gas cap to a faulty fuel injector can be to blame. Some other potential culprits include:

*A wet engine

*A blown gasket head

*Faulty oxygen sensors

*Worn-out spark plugs or spark plug wires

*Loose or cracked hoses and manifolds

*Sticky exhaust gas recirculation valves

*Deteriorated fuel injector O-rings

So first thing first: Check to make sure ?your gas cap is on and give it a few more clicks ?to tighten it up. I'd take your dispute to the service manager and calmly explain the problem. If you still can't get anywhere, find another Toyota dealer, or any ASE-certified technician who display the gear logo on their sleeve and outside their facility. Just remember not to settle for silly answers or pay anything for services that are not performed properly. I hope that ?your repair is something simple and gets repaired soon.


:Dear Car Fix: I own a 2005 five-speed Toyota Corolla (purchased new), nearly 8 years old with 46,500 miles on it. It's been great; no repairs, only oil changes and tires. I have followed the manufacturer's schedule of maintenance. For the first five-plus years, my MPG was 36-37 mpg during ideal weather.

For the last two or three years, the MPG has been decreasing, down to 30-32 mpg currently. I have been a "hypermiler" for decades now, before it became fashionable, always aware of fuel consumption and driving economically. I check my tire pressure several times a year. I have had fuel injector cleaner run through a couple of times, and have recently began adding "Fuel Fix" at fill-ups.

I have noticed that at idle speed, my tachometer revs to above 1,000, and the car will move with the clutch fully engaged. Could something as simple as lowering the idle speed improve my MPG, or is an expensive full tuneup the only solution? – B.R. in Lackawanna

Dear B.R.: There are a couple of "Red Lights" in the description of your car's symptoms that would warrant having the vehicle checked out further. First and foremost is "the vehicle moving with the clutch engaged". If the car moves even though the clutch is pushed down fully, you most likely have a hydraulic clutch release problem or a seizing "pilot bearing" in the end of the engine's crankshaft. Either of these conditions can cause additional drag that will cause the computer-controlled idle to be improper and lower fuel economy. Keep up with the good habits of properly inflated tires and using Fuel Fix, but have the clutch problem investigated and resolved before it gets worse or causes damage to other components. Follow the manufacturer's time and mileage recommendations regarding the tuneup and other maintenance to stay safe, save money and maximize fuel economy.

Here are some hypermiling tips:

1. Check your tire pressure.

2. Control your speed.

3. Use your cruise control.

4. Remove extra weight.

5. Forget drive throughs.