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The Yankee Express

Q & A with The Car Doctor

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years’ 
experience in the automotive business and is an ASE certified master technician. He will answer reader’s questions each week You can find the Car Doctor podcast at or other popular podcast sites. Email your car questions to [email protected] Follow John on Twitter @johnfpaul and friend him on facebook mrjohnfpaul

Q.   I have a 2010 Ford Explorer limited with the V-6 4.0 liter engine with 158,000 miles on it. My ignition key is always getting stuck in the ignition. I can turn the truck on and off but the key will not go into the off/lock position so I can take the key out. I have been having this issue for about two years and when it first started, I would pull up the center console and press the button on the bottom of the gear shift and the key would turn and come out, but this method doesn’t work anymore. The only way I can get my key out now is to disconnect the battery. Do you have any suggestions or anything that can help me? 

A.   The key removal inhibit solenoid which is part of the ignition switch receives battery voltage from the junction box through fuse number eight. When the shifter is moved to in and out of park, the circuit is completed and prevents the ignition switch from being turned to the off position and the key removed. The issue could be the solenoid, ignition switch, wiring or even debris keeping the solenoid from working properly. 

Q.   I got a new evaporative vapor canister and purge valve installed in my car. Would using fuel additive such as Lucas, Heet or Techron damage the elements inside? What are symptoms of bad fuel? Also, can a fuel issue cause rough shifts?

A.   Evaporative fuel systems that trap fuel vapor so it can be reburned when the engine is running become most often damaged from overfilling the fuel system. When the fuel nozzle shuts off don’t try to round up more than a few cents. Overfilling the fuel system can force liquid fuel where only vapor is designed to be, which will damage the system. In other cases, mud, dirt and even spider webs can cause a problem. Bad or contaminated fuel can result in poor running, reduced fuel mileage and hard starting. Yes, a poorly running engine in some cases can result in poor shifting. 

Q.   My car, a 2004 Toyota Camry, has a gas smell. What could be wrong and what will it need to repair it? Would I be better off to sell it and get a new car?

A.   The fuel smell could be a leaking fuel line, rusted gas tank, leaking fuel filter or any other part of the fuel system. If you can find a shop with an exhaust gas analyzer, these tools are great at sniffing out fuel leaks. Regarding cost, if the gas tank needs replacement the total cost could be $1000. Should you have the car fixed or sell it. You can only make that decision once you know what is wrong with the car as well as evaluating the overall condition. With limited vehicle inventory and high car prices, if your car is in decent shape spending $1000 to keep it running safely for a few more years could be money well spent. 

Q.   We have a Honda Odyssey, and it burns oil. The Honda dealer told us it will cost $5000 to repair it. Would an independent shop be cheaper and what can I do until I can afford to fix it? 

A.   Some Honda engines, the 3.5 liter in the Odyssey, Ridgeline and Pilot had an issue with pistons and piston rings. There was a class action lawsuit that extended the warranty for eight years with no mileage limit. I would call Honda customer service directly and depending on the age of the vehicle the repairs may be covered. Until you get use to the rhythm of the oil consumption, check the oil often and add to it as soon as it is one quart low. Even if the repair is not covered under warranty, you can buy a lot of oil for $5000. By keeping the oil full you can drive this vehicle for a long time.