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This Fuel Gauge Can Fool You When Car Is Parked on Hill

August 07, 1986|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | Times Staff Writer

Question: When the fuel gauge on our 1986 Toyota Camry reads below one-half full, the vehicle will not start if it is parked on a hill. The dealer said it is a factory defect and that Toyota is working on it. Since then, we haven't heard anything. We feel we should have been told of the defect when we bought the car.--F.J.M.

Answer: Your dealer is a little slow in responding to your problem and causing you unnecessary anxiety. Toyota has come up with a fix and will cover it under warranty.

The problem is that the fuel pickup tube in the gas tank cannot reach the gasoline if the car is parked on a hill and the tank is only partially filled.

Toyota discovered two separate problems. If the car loses its fuel supply on a hill when the tank is only one-eighth full, then all you need is a new, redesigned fuel pickup tube and fuel pump.

But if the problem occurs when the tank is half full, which is your case, then the entire fuel tank will have to be replaced.

The Camry gasoline tank has a small tank inside the main gasoline tank. The sub-tank is supposed to provide a reservoir of fuel when the car is on a hill or going around a tight curve. In those cases, gasoline would tend to lean away from the fuel pickup tube.

This tank inside the tank was found to have a leak, which permitted fuel to leak to the outer tank and thereby deplete the reservoir. The problem resulted from a welding error at the factory in Japan.

Q: I have a 1978 Firebird Esprit. It has a 350-cubic-inch engine with a four-barrel carburetor. After a tuneup, I can only drive 1,200 miles before the engine starts to miss. I change the plugs and it runs fine for another 1,200 miles. Other than this, the car runs perfectly. No Pontiac dealer or mechanic can help me.--B.F.

A: A good mechanic can take one look at the color and texture of the deposits on your spark plugs and give you a good idea of what your problem is.

A normal spark plug should have a light tan to grayish color on the insulator nose. Heavy oil or black carbon deposits on the spark plug indicate conditions that may cause missing. The problems result from oil fouling of the plugs or too rich a gasoline/air mixture.

It's unlikely that every cylinder has a problem with fouled plugs. If they all do, you may have a problem in your ignition system.

You should also consider other symptoms that your car may be showing. Is it using excessive amounts of oil? Are you getting a bluish smoke or black smoke out of the tailpipe?

A compression test and a leak-down test will also help pinpoint the problem.

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