Q&A with Kit Foster: November 15, 2012

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Q. I heard recently that the 2013 Chevy Impala (a short run this year) will be the last domestic-built (Canada, actually) car with a front bench seat, though with the fold-down armrests it is bucket seat-like. This raises the question of what was the last car with what I would call a “true” front bench seat, meaning the seat and back are each one continuous piece, no “60/40” stuff or reclining backs. I’m probably way off on it being the last, but my late Dad’s (and later my) 1968 Pontiac Catalina sedan had such a “true” front bench seat. I’m a Corvair owner-enthusiast of 45-plus years. The last such model was the ’67 500 Sport Sedan (a Monza sedan having bucket seats, ’68-69 models being coupes and convertibles only). Buy an instant classic, a 2013 Impala?

— Ed Thompson, Milwaukee, Wis.

A. Okay readers, who’s got the newest true bench seat? I have had a 1970 Chevy Impala Sport Sedan (the four-door hardtop), and 1979 and 1986 Suburbans, all with true bench front seats (or don’t the Suburbans count?).


Q. I own a 1972 Mustang convertible. My problem is that the dash lights are so dim that at night I can’t read the gauges. Even if I turn the dimmer all the way up they’re still too dim. I talked to a guy at a car show who had the same problem with his 1971 Mustang. He told me that he put in all new dash bulbs, but that didn’t help. If anybody out there can help me I would appreciate it very much.

— Wayne Anders, Burlington, Wis.

A. If there’s a higher candlepower bulb that will fit the socket (and fit into the space) that might help. You might also check the output of the dimmer rheostat. The bulbs should be getting a full 12 volts (or more) to burn at their brightest. Mustangers, do you have any advice? Is this an endemic problem?


Q. Matthew Banach (Q&A Sept. 20) loses his chemistry credibility when he says “Ethanol and gasoline have a weak chemical bond, while water and ethanol have a very strong bond.” Neither one has a chemical bond to the other, they are just solutions. The proof is that simple distillation separates them out at each ingredient’s normal boiling point. If there were chemical bonds the temperature needed to separate them would be much higher.

The chemistry involved is polar versus non-polar. Think simple magnets here, with north and south pole attractions. Water is a polar molecule, ethanol slightly polar and gasoline non-polar. The polar attracts polar more than non-polar. Some of the additives in gasoline would be more or less polar than ethanol, and they would divide up in the two distinct phases, leaving the gasoline phase (floating on top of the water-ethanol phase) with some weird chemistry.

Mr. Banach’s advice to fill a tank for storage longer than a month does not account for seasonal variations in the vapor pressure of fuel or the corrosiveness of the E-10 blend. My advice is to only purchase fuel which will be used within three months and store off-season empty. There are many reasons for this: (1) You’ll have room for the correct seasonal blend for your location after storage. If butane, added only to winter blend, is present in the summer, it’s the reason for vapor lock. (2) Lower risk of catastrophic fire during storage: You don’t want 20 gallons of gas leaking onto the floor when a rubber fuel line rots through. Fuel line should have SAE J30R14 printed on the side, or J30R9 for high pressure fuel injection. (3) There will be less corrosion in the tank. The gas-ethanol blend is the corrosive mixture, not the air space.

We do not get condensation in a partially-full tank.

I specifically tried for three years to get condensation and phase separation and failed. Maybe conditions are different in a rain forest. I’m in New York, and there’s plenty of moisture here. If the tank is empty, the temperature will be the same, inside and out. The inside temperature will not drop below the dew point. Even on a partially filled tank there is little or no air above the liquid – it’s gasoline vapors. You can almost always smell gas odor next to an older style vented cap, indicating a slight positive pressure within. If there is atmospheric oxygen in there, the tank could explode when an electric fuel gauge is energized. This doesn’t happen. If there’s no gas present there’s no polymerization into gum during storage. STA-BIL or its competitors do a good job of preventing gum. Newer STA-BIL formula also claims to prevent fuel tank corrosion, pot metal carburetor corrosion and corrosion inside steel fuel lines. Consider free radical traps, metal deactivators and corrosion inhibitors. It’s all good stuff.

— Bob Adler, AdlersAntiqueAutos.com, Stephentown, N.Y.

A. Thanks for that elaboration on phase separation. Despite all the recent advice to the contrary, I still avoid storing full tanks of gas for any length of time. The fuel that’s not in your tank will neither turn to varnish nor corrode your fuel system.

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

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