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The Car Doctor

Changes in state emissions testing, oil warning light, hydrogen add-ons

By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
August 21, 2008

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Q. When I was in getting a sticker for my car last month, the inspector told me the program is changing. My car is a 1995 Chrysler, what will be required with my car?

A. Currently the inspection program consists of two tests: a yearly safety inspection and a biannual emissions inspection. Starting October 1, all vehicles 1996 and newer will be tested for both safety and emissions on an annual basis. Vehicles 1995 and older will receive only a safety inspection. In addition to this change, the other big change is cars will no longer be tested on dynamometers. All emissions testing will be performed using the car's computer diagnostic link.

Q. My son has a 2003 Dodge Intrepid with 60,000 miles. The oil light comes on when you put on the brakes at a stop sign or traffic light, and goes out when you accelerate. The engine is running fine otherwise – no knocking or noises – but the mechanic cannot find the source of the problem. The sending unit has been replaced, the oil pump has been replaced and the actual oil pressure is fine even though the light comes on. The light only comes on when you are stopped. Once you begin accelerating the light then goes out. We even had a new oil pump installed. Any suggestions on what to look at for the source of the problem would be very much appreciated.

A. In earlier models the wire that attaches to the oil sender was a problem. In fact, Chrysler issued a technical service bulletin regarding a connector change. Pressure builds up in the connector and causes the light to come on. Although it doesn't apply to your model year, I would take a look. I would also look at the base idle speed. If the car isn't idling within the specification this could also turn the light on.

Q. I've been reading about the water/fuel technology and it sounds promising, but it also concerns me that this may not really work. These companies are advertising at least a 40 percent increase in fuel economy. What do you think?

Q. I'm thinking about purchasing a5-6 year-old Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, both of which have decent gas mileage to begin with, and then modifying it with a water adapter. Have you heard of anyone that has done this and received positive results? Will this technology work with newer model cars or require a certain amount of space in the engine compartment for the hydrogen-producing equipment?

A. I have the same answer for both readers. I have seen many claims on the Internet of significant improvements, although I am very skeptical of the results. These basic systems use hydrolysis to separate the hydrogen and then the hydrogen burns with the gasoline to improve mileage. When these systems first started to hit my e-mail box they were well over $1,000; now they are as low as $100. If anyone has tried one of these kits please e-mail me your results, good or bad. My e-mail is jpaul@aaasne.com.

Q. Two months ago I bought a 2008 Mazda 3 four-door. Since day one, I have noticed the air conditioner doesn't seem to be adequate for the vehicle. It blows cold air, but can take 20 minutes for it to get comfortably cool inside on the highest setting. It also occasionally emits a foul chemical odor, and when I turn the A/C on and off, I hear a click under the hood. A friend just bought a 2008 Mazdaspeed 3 and the A/C works great. Do I just have a less powerful A/C unit in my lower trim, or does it sound like something I need to get checked out?

A. The air conditioning systems are the same in both models. I would return to the dealer and have the overall air conditioner performance checked.