Blue smoke comes out of my Camry’s exhaust

Q. I have a 2004 Camry LX 4 cylinder with 140,000 miles on it. The car runs great. I drive it nearly every day and take great care of it. Recently, I have begun to notice that every couple weeks I get a puff of blue smoke out of the exhaust when I first start the car after it has sat overnight. It is not a ton of smoke, but it is visible. It doesn't seem to matter whether the outside temperature is cold or warm. I check the oil level often and it doesn't appear to be losing oil. Is blue smoke a sign of oil seeping into the rings? Any other ideas what might be causing these occasional puffs of blue smoke?  By the way I enjoy your column in the paper and miss it when it is not there, keep up this service to your readers.

A. The oil on start-up symptom is typical of worn valve guides or leaking valve seals. As the car sits for extended periods, engine oil makes its way past the valve seals and into the combustion chamber, resulting in the puff of oil smoke. Generally, replacing all of the valve guide seals will remedy the oil smoke. Although at this point, since the smoke so infrequent, you might want to wait before you spend the money on the repairs.

Q. My 2003 Buick Regal with 226,000 miles on it has a high pitched whine while in gear when driving on the highway. When I turn off the cruise control and allow the car to coast, the noise seems to go away. Is the problem in the car’s transmission or differential?

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A. The problem sounds like a worn bearing in the differential portion of the transaxle. Considering the miles on the car, gear and bearing wear is certainly possible. Although, before you condemn the transaxle, I would look at the engine and transmission mounts. A badly worn mount can cause a vibration on acceleration and some level of noise.  

Q. I bought a new 2012 Subaru Outback 2.5 with a manual transmission and like almost everything about the car.  However, there is a common problem with this model where it wanders very badly on the highway.  It won't stay in its lane without constant adjustments.  It is so bad that the Subaru forums have threads with 50 to 100 pages of posts with this problem.  Last week I got pulled over for suspected DUI and had to do a field sobriety test on the side of the highway. I don't even drink! Subaru refuses to acknowledge there is a problem, but have made handling "improvements" on the 2013 models.  According to the forums, these "improvements" did not work.  This model is almost un-drivable on the highway, especially on a windy day.  Have you heard of this and is there anything I can do to stop the constant highway wandering?  Subaru is no help and I am considering getting rid on a brand new car!

A. I have driven many Subaru models over the years and although the steering and handling will never be confused with a great European sports sedan, I don’t recall any models having a steering characteristic even close to what you describe. I would return the car to Subaru and ask them to check the steering gear for proper adjustments. Once this is completed, I would also look at the basics such as tire pressure and wheel alignment. Reader have you had a similar problem with your new Subaru? Email me jpaul@aaasne.com

Q. I drive a 2010 Ford Fusion with 38,000 miles. Over the last few months I noticed that every time I get gas, the car stalls out when I initially restart the car. It happens every time no matter what gas station. I wait about ten seconds then try again and it starts up but not as easily as it usually does, but runs fine. Any thoughts?

A. Since the only change in the car when you get gasoline is when you remove the gas cap, I would suspect a problem with the fuel system evaporative emission system. A fault with the evaporative system can cause similar problems without always setting a check-engine light.

Q. I have a 2004 Lexus LS430 with only 61,240miles.   I purchased this car brand new and have had the dealer perform the maintenance at the regular intervals as required by the manufacturer.  Recently the dealer suggested that it is time to replace the timing belt. I have not been able to find any information about replacing the timing belt except through word of mouth.  This is a very expensive procedure and I am wondering if it is needed at this time. The manual doesn't give any indication, so I thought I would ask the Car Doctor.

A. In general, engine timing belts should be replaced based on mileage or age. In the case of your car, you haven’t met the mileage criteria (90,000) but have reached the age limit that Lexus recommends replacement. Although this is an expensive repair, if the timing belt breaks the engine will become badly damaged costing thousands of dollars to repair.  I would replace the timing belt if this were my car.