just bought a car from a private party for my daughter to take away
to college out of state. Itís a 2002 Ford Taurus, which appears to
be well taken care of and in pretty good shape. I am concerned about
a hot odor from under the hood and want to be sure everythingís OK
before she heads out with the car. Can you give me some ideas what
the odor could be and how it can be reliably fixed?
the right way to do this is to get the car into a shop for a
full-vehicle inspection. Youíll want to know of any troublesome
issues in all vehicle systems and get a specific check of the hot
odor symptom. Most repair shops offer such an inspection service,
hopefully similar in thoroughness to the AAA gold standard. Some
identified faults may require immediate service, while others can be
noted and checked again at a later date.
is not meant to be a substitution for the inspection, but some
possible hot odor causes a competent technician would look for.
The odor is
likely the result of leaking fluid in contact with a hot surface.
Possible causes could be engine, power steering, or transmission
fluids seeping or leaking, and coming into contact with the exhaust
system. A seeping valve cover, for example, allows motor oil to ooze
downward and cook on the exhaust manifold, which is fairly easy to
see and correct. Other seals, gaskets or hoses may leak, ending up
upon the exhaust pipe further beneath the engine, which is more
difficult to identify and repair. Leaking engine coolant can result
in a sweet, citrus or steamy odor regardless of where it ends up.
"hot" gets my head-gears spinning as overheating is the
No. 1 cause of vehicle breakdown. Thoughts of leaky hoses, an
inoperative cooling fan, rusty coolant, a growling water pump and, I
hesitate to say, a failed head gasket come to mind. When it comes to
kids out alone on the highway, Iíd want bulletproof confirmation
that the cooling system is good to go. Iíd verify, using a scan
tool for accuracy, engine and transmission temperature under a
variety of operating conditions. Possible causes of high engine
temperature include a deficient radiator, which could be clogged
internally or externally; a missing air deflector; inoperative or
lazy cooling fan; low coolant level caused by leakage; an eroded
water pump impeller; or collapsing lower radiator hose, among
cooling system inspection should identify any leakage or other
problems, and several cooling fan cycles should also be verified. If
there were any signs of previous engine overheating, or clues that
might lead to this, Iíd perform a head gasket check ó a carbon
monoxide test of cooling system vapors with the radiator cap
removed. If the engine coolant does not appear fairly fresh, Iíd
have it renewed, along with belts and hoses that show any age.
Your hot odor
may turn out to be a simple fix. I donít mean to spook you; Iím
thinking of how unpleasant it can be to solve problems far from
home. If you have the time to get the Taurus up to top shape before
she leaves for school, youíll certainly sleep a lot better.