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Motormouth: Where's the bumper?

Bob Weber, Tribune News Service on

Published in Automotive News

Q: As I recall, in the 1980s the federal government required cars to have bumpers that can withstand minor crashes of 5 mph with no damage. Is that still a requirement? Some current models (e.g., Lexus, Toyota) have grills that have no apparent bumpers.

R.A., Charlotte, North Carolina

A: You may not always see them, but all cars have bumpers. The Lexus’ bumper you refer to hides behind a fascia. Cars that appear to have actual bumpers have bumper covers that hide the real bumpers. At 5 mph, the bumper cover will get damaged, but the hidden bumper will still do its job.

Q: When visiting our daughter, they have their two vehicles in the garage. Meanwhile, I have to park in her driveway, which has quite a slope. When leaving and of course engaging the transmission into reverse, it seems that the shifting from park to reverse is extremely hard on the transmission with a loud ping and jerk. Should I be concerned or maybe consider parking in the street, which is more level but a distance from the house? How does this impact the transmission?

A.C., Holly, Colorado

A: When you park on an incline, the car moves just enough to put pressure on the parking pawl in the transmission. When you shift out of park, you must overcome that pressure. If you use your parking brake, you won’t have this issue. Try this: With your foot on the brake pedal, set the parking brake and then shift into park. With this method, you won't have to worry about the transmission. When you are ready to drive, repeat these steps in reverse (no pun) order.

Q: I own a 1969 Buick with a 430 CID engine with 130,000 miles on it. The car is in great condition, and I love driving it. I can start the engine and it runs great. But when I go to shut it off, the engine keeps running. The only way I can get the engine to stop is by disconnecting the positive battery cable. When I do hook the positive cable back up with the key out of the ignition, I get sparks, like something is still on. Any suggestions?


B.J., Eagan, Minnesota

A: When your engine continues to run even when the ignition is turned off, it is called engine run-on. It was rather common on cars with external voltage regulators. Even with the key off, a small amount of current coming directly from the battery can pass through the charging light on the dash and energize the ignition system. Chrysler vehicles of this vintage had ballast resisters mounted on the firewall to absorb that errant current.

Q: I have a friend who drives a fuel truck for a large, well-known truck stop chain. He says all the trucks that deliver to all the gas stations fill up at the same depot with the same gas. So, is this "top tier" gas thing just marketing hype or is there actually something to it? I bet your answer will have the word "additives" in it.

F.M., The Villages, Florida

A: Yep. You win. Additives. They are added at the tank farm prior to distribution to retail gas stations. The additives are mostly detergents.

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