Question: I own a construction truck that because of rain or work stoppages has to be inoperative for several weeks to as long as three or four months. After the last shutdown, all four of the batteries had to be replaced. How do I best protect batteries during lengthy shutdowns?--A.F.
Answer: The best protection probably involves more fussing around than you can accept. If you remove the batteries to a dry indoor location and periodically charge them with a trickle charger, they will sustain virtually no damage during a shutdown. Short of that chore, you can take some steps that will help.
The key to preventing damage to unused batteries is to keep them as fully charged during the shutdown as possible. The batteries should be filled with distilled water if they are not permanently sealed. This should be done prior to the last drive so that they have time to charge up on the truck's electrical system.
You should fully clean the battery posts of any corrosion. Also, clean off the tops of the batteries of any corrosion or grease. Some mechanics insist that a battery can become so dirty with caked-on grease and wet soot that a small electrical charge can flow across the top of the battery.
If the shutdown is going to extend past one month, you may want to start up the truck every several weeks and run it for 10 minutes. That will give the batteries a little bit of a boost.
Q: I own a 1983 Cutlass Ciera with a 3 liter, V-6 engine. It has been a very hard starter, especially during the summer months. Last week, a Buick dealer gave the car a thorough check and found nothing wrong, except that the exhaust gas recirculation valve was sticking. I was advised to return the car to the Olds dealer for replacement, but the Olds dealer refused to install the valve. He said it is unnecessary. The car is still hard to start. Who's right?--S.K.
A: The Olds dealer is certainly wrong in refusing to replace a defective EGR valve, regardless of whether that is causing the hard starting problem. But he may very well be correct in saying the EGR is not the cause of the starting problem.
The exhaust gas recirculation system is designed to lower peak temperatures in the combustion chamber, which reduces nitrous oxide emissions. When the internal temperature rises above 2,500 degrees, the EGR injects exhaust gas and thereby reduces the amount of fuel going to the engine.
The EGR valve controls how much exhaust gas is diverted into the engine. It is usually vacuum-operated. At idle and at wide open throttle, the valve is closed. Most EGR systems also have a temperature control, so that below a certain engine temperature, the valve stays closed.
If the valve is stuck closed, which is usually the case, then it's highly unlikely to be causing a hard-start problem. But if it's stuck open, it's possible that is causing part of your starting problem. A cold engine needs more fuel than normal to get started.
You should replace the valve. If that does not solve your problem, don't be surprised. You probably have a choke problem.
Most people think of a choke malfunction as a cold-weather problem. But the choke on an Oldsmobile Ciera can be fully closed at outside temperatures of 50 degrees and partially closed at up to 90 degrees. Hard starting often indicates a lean condition, which means the choke is not closing enough.
Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.