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The Car Doctor

Smelly Ford, vague Corolla steering, axle leak

By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
July 31, 2008

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Q. My wife drives a 2005 Ford Freestyle, and we have been smelling a moldy, musty odor for a few weeks dating back to June. We have two young children, and, as you can imagine, there are dropped bottles of milk, juice, and food that have fallen on the carpet. In addition to this, there appears to be some kind of slow leak from the outside that has allowed a little water to settle. We cleaned up the area very thoroughly, and expended a whole can of Lysol to try to kill the odor. Later that day, the smell was back. Then we tried commercial carpet cleaning, and a few days later, the smell was back. The last effort was placing an "ozone" machine--rented from a local car detail shop--in the vehicle overnight for a couple of nights in a row. Two days later, the odor has returned. The car is leased, and the lease will be up in August. What would you suggest we do next?

A. It seems as if you have a combination of problems. The water leak may be getting under the carpet. If this is the case, cleaning the carpet is never sufficient. The carpet needs to be removed, and the under-layer may need replacing. That being said, the most common source of mold is the air conditioner system. If the mold growth is severe enough, the air conditioner duct system may need to be disassembled and cleaned. These are very expensive repairs, considering you will only have the car about a month. I would let the car air out as much as possible, and try something such as Febreze for cars.

Q. My van has 60,000 miles on it, and during the last two years, there's been a chirping noise in the engine. The noise is loud when I start the car, and then gets quieter as I drive. I've had new belts put on in the past, and that helped for a while, but doesn't anymore. I brought it to a Chevy dealer, where they told me they found the problem and cleaned the pulley - but that did nothing! What can I do to stop this annoying chirping noise?

A. Since the noise went away when the belts were replaced, and we know the noise is related to the belts, it's likely a problem with the pulleys or the belt tensioner. Have the repair shop check the alignment of the pulleys and the operation of the belt tensioner. If they find a problem, it's likely the belts will need to be replaced again, since they are most likely glazed from the constant slipping.

Q. I just bought a 2009 Toyota Corolla LE. I love everything about the car except the steering. My problem is that the car drifts left or right with the slightest touch, and does not return to center like every other car I have owned over the past 40-plus years. The dealer's service department says this is normal since this car has electronic power steering. I don't believe that, what do you say?

A. I recently evaluated a new Corolla, and found the steering to be a bit vague when I'm steering straight ahead. Although I didn't consider it a problem, I did find it slightly odd. At this point, I would ask to compare your car to another Corolla. If they "feel" about the same, it is simply characteristic of the car, so that there's nothing that can be done. If the second car steers differently from yours, then my car may need to be repaired.

Q. The Toyota dealer where I purchased my used truck gave me a list of items to address for service, and told me the most important item was the right-side rear axle seal leak. Is this a big job, and is there anything I should know before I go ahead with this work? I drive up and down to the Cape on weekends, and I'm concerned.

A. The most critical item is the seal leak. If it continues leaking, the lubricant could contaminate the brakes, and cause a braking problem. In addition, over a very long time, under just the right conditions, the lubricant could also catch fire. I would fix this truck as soon as possible.