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Q&A with Kit Foster: July 25, 2013


Q. Regarding the picture of an old engine block in the June 20 issue, it’s a 1920-ish Buick six-cylinder with overhead valves and roller lifters. I rebuilt one of these engines before and have the tools to remove the valve springs and port assemblies. Don’t scrap the block; it’s very rare!

— Fred Seydel, Fred’s Engine Service Company, Coatesville, Pa.

A. Mea culpa for taking “overhead cam” at face value. Without seeing the valve mechanism, though, it was hard to narrow it down from the many possibilities. Thank goodness we have lots of marque experts in our readership.


Q. In the June 20 Q&A column, a reader wrote of issues with the check-engine light in his 1984 Mercury. While my experience was with a 1983 Cadillac, it acted in the same way. My Seville would run fine on surface streets and for the most part, on the highway as well. It was only when I drove beyond 65 mph that the check-engine light would illuminate. I installed a gauge to verify oil pressure as the 4.1 engine was known for oil pump trouble; the gauge proved the issue was not with oil pressure. There was no problem with the water pump and I was not losing coolant. It was only after a careful inspection that it was noticed the fins in the lower half of the radiator had deteriorated and were no longer transferring heat away from the coolant tubes. At slower speeds, the car ran cool enough and the light didn’t illuminate, but at highway speeds, the radiator couldn’t do its job. I replaced the radiator and that was the end of the problem. It’s worth looking into.

— Jim Lape, Chesterland, Ohio

Q. In response to Burke Ewing’s 1984 Mercury with the red oil light at high speeds, in the early ’80s, some Ford and Mercury products had a low-level sensor in the side of the oil pan. At high rpm, the oil would not return to the pan fast enough. When it did, it would go to the rear of the pan (which is good, since that’s where the pickup screen is). But the sensor is midway up, and this should also be a split oil pan (two oil pan plugs). To test this, add about 1/2 to 3/4 quarts of extra oil to the engine. Don’t worry, it won’t kill it. Road test it. If light stays out, you fixed it. If not, replace the oil pump and screen. The extra oil is usually the fix.

— Jody Robert Dudley, Virginia Beach, Va.

A. It’s heat, it’s oil pressure. Multipurpose warning lights are a mixed blessing.


Q. I’ll jump into the fray concerning the aerosol carbon cleaner referred to in the Q&A column recently. General Motors developed Top Engine Cleaner (T.E.C.) to deal with vehicles which were severely loaded up with carbon in the combustion chambers. (i.e. the old lady who drove 1,000 miles yearly in her 500-cubic-inch Cadillac). T.E.C. was available in both an aerosol spray and in liquid form in a can, and was available from the parts departments of GM dealers. MoPar (Chrysler) had a similar product. I am told that in the 1960s there was a generic version called (I believe) “Carbon 88.”

I used T.E.C. when I operated my tune-up shop in the 1970s, and it was very effective — to the extent that when used on a severely “loaded-up” vehicle, chunks of carbon would be actually be shot out of the tailpipe(s). When performing a tune-up, I would spray or pour T.E.C. down the carburetor with the engine running at a fast idle, using the last 1/3 of the can to kill the engine, then let it soak in the combustion chambers for about 15 minutes. I would then start the car, find a deserted roadway and accelerate at wide open throttle, which would clean out the combustion chambers. I would only do this with the old plugs still in the car as this technique would easily splash-foul the new plugs. I would then return to the shop and complete the tune-up. Unfortunately, T.E.C. is no longer available, at least in California, due to environmental issues (some say it is carcinogenic). Seafoam, however, is the equivalent and is currently available — even in California.

— John Bellah, La Habra, Calif.

A. Paul Pakan, who posed the original question (May 9), has responded to some of the answers received, saying that the product he remembers was the consistency of heavy shaving cream, not like the foaming of toothpaste when brushing your teeth. Subsequent to our publishing his question, he heard from a retired mechanic from his old dealership. The mechanic remembered the foaming product and believes it was called “EOS.” It was available directly from GM, and is, apparently, no longer available because of the hazardous nature of its ingredients. It sounds very much like what John Bellah describes above, although he mentions spray and liquid, not foam. In any case, it seems, like many old products that worked really well.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail or mail to: Q&A, c/o Angelo Van Bogart, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

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