Cars

‘Haunted’ by ongoing pickup problems

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader who’s spooked by his truck’s unexplained stalling.

AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

Q. I have a most unusual mechanical problem with my 2002 Ford F-350 diesel pickup truck. Every time I drive on I-91 through Springfield, Mass., and a few other seemingly haunted places across the country, the truck sputters, bucks, and nearly conks out. After getting towed back to Connecticut, it miraculously seems to come back to life. I have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars trying to figure out the problem and I feel like I might need an exorcist instead of a mechanic. I have changed the cam sensor, all the fuel filters, injectors, and done a full tune up. The truck otherwise runs like a top. It seems to happen when I am near high-energy transfer stations or cell phone towers. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m curious as to your thoughts on this puzzle.  

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A. The camshaft position sensor is the one item that has caused the most problems with this truck. I have found in this case it is best to use only a Ford part, rather than an aftermarket sensor. The other odd characteristic (at least according to technical forums) is that the engine will stall or buck when the windshield wipers are on, if an aftermarket sensor is used. Before I call an exorcist, I would also do a series of voltage drop tests looking for poor power and ground connections. 

Q. I have a 1992 Camaro Z/28, 5.7 L automatic. For the past several years, I’ve been having a strange issue with shifting. When I start driving, it doesn’t want to shift up to second gear. It feels like it has a governor on it. After about a quarter mile, I feel it shift up. This only happens If the car has been sitting around for a few days.  I had the transmission fluid and filter changed, but that didn’t help. The local Chevy dealer said they couldn’t replicate the problem. One individual said it could be the speed sensor, but I’ve had them fail before and this doesn’t feel like that.  Another individual said that there could be an issue with the ECM (computer). Any suggestions?

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A. There are many possibilities, and in my opinion, the computer is the least likely to be causing the shifting issue. Some possibilities are the governor valve is sticking, or the drive gear is damaged, the 1-2 shift valve is sticking in the valve body, or the 2-4 servo passages are partially clogged. 

Q. I don’t think electric vehicles are practical for many folks. My wife drives 45 minutes each way to work. I don’t expect that many small business employers will install charging stations for employees. I drive almost three hours to work each way. Your thoughts?

A. Electric cars are not for everyone, or at least not yet. Today most electric cars have a 200–250-mile range, and a few have even longer ranges. About 80 percent of EV owners charge at home, and the 200-mile range works for many of them. We are seeing more and more public charging stations being installed, and someday EV charging stations may be as common as parking meters. Additionally, the cost of electric vehicles will go down as popularity increases. 

Q. Last summer I leased a 2021 Mazda CX-5. After 5,000 miles I started hearing this odd whistling sound. It only happens when the turn signal is on and I turn the steering wheel the slightest bit in the opposite direction of the turn signal. I took the car to the dealer for service, and they weren’t sure what it was, but wanted to replace the turn signal. It takes about six weeks to get the part.  I’m trying to schedule an appointment for the repair but I’m not convinced this will solve the problem. I searched the internet to see if others had this problem. It is not uncommon, and unfortunately many who experienced this still do not have a fix. Given how long it takes to get parts, I’d rather not have this problem continue for the duration of the lease. Any thoughts?

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A. Unlike the old-days where there was a turn signal flasher that also made a clicking sound, the turn signal in your car is quite sophisticated. When the turn signal lever is pushed, the instrument cluster receives a turn signal warning indicator signal via the CAN bus (controller area network) communication from the front body control module. Then the instrument cluster turns the transistor on based on the turn signal/hazard warning indicator signal. When the transistor turns on, a ground circuit is established and the turn and hazard indicator alarm is activated. A failing transistor can even make a white-noise. At this point you will need to let the dealer sort this issue out. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to [email protected] Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at northshore1049.com.

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