Car Repair Tips: Fuel Pump Strain, Gasoline Odor and a Hard To Start Car

article image
MOTHER's Mechanic Jon Gail Blair shares his car repair tips with readers.

MOTHER’s Mechanic Jon shares his thirty-five years of car repair tips and know-how . . . under the hood. Getting that cold feeling in the morning when your car just won’t turn over? Jon Gail Blair comes to the rescue.

Car Repair Tips

I’ve had the fuel pump in the tank of my 1989 Tempo replaced three times this year. Every time the temp exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit (and this is Texas, for Pete’s sake) or the tank gets down to half full l can hear the pump straining its little heart out. Should I have it relocated? Can you help?
Mrs.Dawn Bellemare
Taylor, TX

Well, Dawn, you will have to answer some questions that people who usually guarantee such pumps would ask. Was the screen on the new pump replaced as well? No warranty would apply unless this was done. Was a new fuel filter included when the new pumps were installed? I also would have broken the line loose up front at a convenient place and blown compressed air back through the line with the fuel filter off. I’ve even had to replace lines on cars younger than yours. Do yourself one more favor though; go and get a proper replacement gas cap for this system and put it on, just in case. Don’t replace it with a piece of junk, ever. In your owner’s manual in the glove box you should be able to find the manufacturer’s 800 number. They may want to know about your problem. Call them!

I have a 1985 Mercury LYNX which has 91,000 miles on it. The problem started at 30,000 miles. Just after starting, and only with the heater fan on, I get a very strong odor of gasoline. It continues as I drive but the odor isn’t as noticeable then as when the car is parked. I have mentioned this to several mechanics but they treat it casually. Any insight would be appreciated.
Karen Coleman
Steelville, MO

Karen, you better get this car to somebody who knows what to look for before it catches fire on the road. Your car has a fuel leak on the top of the engine or around the fuel pump. All connections that have clamps must be checked and/or replaced soon. Are you filling the fuel tank right to the top after the pump tries to shut off? This has caused some carbon canisters to overflow, causing just such a gas smell. Take this problem to somebody local who cares, right now!

I have a 1986 GMC Vandura 2500 with a 4.3 liter V6, manual transmission. My question deals with my factory-installed cruise control. I could drive 10 miles or 300 miles before the problem starts. It may happen once or repeatedly. I’ll be on cruise at 55 and slowly the speed starts to reduce (on a flat road). I can get my speed back by giving some gas and resetting the control. The module has already been replaced at a cost of $200. What do you think?
Joseph Kaye
Phenix, VA

It sounds to me like you might have a small vacuum leak that is causing the cruise control to drift (it might even shut it down entirely on occasion). These small items of needed maintenance are chronically forgotten at small and large garages the world over. Tell your mechanic to grab a vacuum gauge and test the cruise control unit as well as the main vacuum outlet on the engine for leaks. Put a piece of hose on the vacuum advance and suck on it to check for a leaking diaphragm. Check with hand and eye every hose on the engine.

I have a 1987 Subaru Justy DL that is very hard to start at times but seems to run well enough once started. It has run over 98,000 miles. I have had the ignition coil, ignition plate, and carburetor replaced and the choke readjusted and cleaned. Someone else replaced the fuel filter, fuel pump, then the distributor cap and rotor. The problem is still there but seems to be less frequent in warm weather.
Gerald Nethdurft
Columbia, MO

Gerald, has a compression test been done on this car? At that many miles, either timing or compression could be causing the poor start problem. Is the problem one in which the engine runs for a while then won’t start again a few minutes after it’s shut down? If so, expect a valve job in your future. Timing chain or gear ware will also drive some people nuts before they quit working. Rubber timing belts on smaller cars are recommended for replacement at 50,000 miles, so get that done. Also, at that mileage, it could simply be a leaking rusty fuel line or a worn-out ignition switch. I would recommend you find a reputable computer diagnostic operator in a dealership and have the complete series of tests done. These can be printed on paper and discussed after the series of tests is run. You may have to surrender your car overnight for these tests. I have no doubt they will find something. Good hunting!

I’ve asked everybody and read everything. I’m at wit’s end. Fuel will intermittently drip or pour from the carbon canister on my 1985 Honda Civic Sedan, 1.5 liter. It tends to occur in hot weather, as if some check valve was stuck open. I’m not expecting a miracle, but give it a shot.
Gary Aubrey Linn,
Bloomfield, IN

You’re not running very safe these days, Gary. If your car was in my shop it would be minus its carburetor right this minute be cause it would be in my acid tank, well along the way toward a complete overhaul–just for starters. The excess gas must flow from the carb to flood the canister. So, has any thing in the fuel system been altered in any way? But here’s a suggestion. Get the engine good and warm, and then have a four-gas analyzer run on this system. If it’s running as rich as I suspect it is, that carb has to come off soon. It will probably bury the needle on a gas analyzer for sure. You might also check with your dealer to see if they have had any recalls involving this problem.

If your car or truck is getting you down and you need some practical answers fast, write Jon at “MOTHER’s Mechanic,” c/o MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Arden, NC, or via E-mail at editor (at) Don’t forget to include your phone number and a photo.