Service engine soon? Check the code first

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND
  • Updated: May 20, 2011 - 4:04 PM

Q I took my 2000 Cadillac DeVille in for an oil change, and at the time there was a notice on my dashboard saying "service engine soon." They changed my oil and recommended a list of services in order to get the light to go off, including an air filter, cabin filter, motor mount, front and rear brakes, transmission torque converter or overhaul and a side marker bulb. The car still runs fine. What should I do to get the notice to go off on my dash?

A Your vehicle may or may not need those routine maintenance services, but the only problem that could directly trigger the light is a transmission or torque converter problem. Before you have any service done, find out the specific fault codes that triggered the light and are stored in the powertrain control module (PCM) memory.

Q I have a '97 Dodge Ram 1500 with the 360-cubic-inch V8 engine. It has 177,400 miles on it. About six months ago, the fuel gauge started giving false readings. It was accurate after a fill, but after using 3 or 4 gallons, the gauge reads "empty" and the low-fuel indicator light comes on. At 16 gallons, the needle comes off empty and the light goes out. Within 2 more gallons, the needle returns to empty and the light comes back on. I refuel based on the odometer and the truck's miles-per-gallon rating. Does the gauge operate separately from the pump or am I risking a sudden shutdown? Can the gauge mechanism be replaced/repaired independently of the pump?

A I suspect there's a dead spot on the resistor track in the fuel gauge sending unit. The sender is mounted on the fuel pump module inside the fuel tank and incorporates a float arm that moves up and down with the fuel level, varying the electrical resistance in the fuel gauge circuit. The good news: It's independent of the fuel pump, so as long as there's adequate fuel in the tank, you won't suffer a "sudden shutdown." The bad news: To test, service or replace the sending unit, the fuel tank must be removed from the vehicle. If you decide to fix this, the sending unit can be replaced independently from the pump. But if it's the original fuel pump with that many miles, it might make sense to replace the pump as well.

Q A bad axle seal caused the manual transmission on my '96 Escort to go bad at 133,000 miles. After a complete rebuild, trouble code P0500 (VSS malfunction) came on after about 25 miles of driving. I replaced the vehicle speed sensor and cleared the trouble code, but after another 25 miles of driving, the P0500 code set again. I've checked electrical connections to the sensor, and all seems well. Could the mating drive gear inside the transmission possibly be free-wheeling and not driving the sensor after the rebuild?

A According to my Alldata automotive database, the vehicle speed sensor drives the speedometer cable as well as providing an electrical signal to the PCM. So, unless the speedometer is not working properly, the sensor is being driven correctly by the transmission. Focus on the harness and connections for the sensor. In the course of removing and reinstalling the transmission, the harness may well have been pinched, pulled or shorted.

Q What is your opinion of Ford's decision not to import the Ford Fiesta Econetic from England to the United States for "business reasons"? It sounds like Ford thinks it cannot make enough profit on this imported car -- and that Americans do not want a diesel car.

A So far, they're correct. I think Ford's reasoning is more along the lines of "not enough" Americans want diesel-powered cars -- regardless of fuel economy benefits -- to justify the staggering costs of emissions certification, crash testing, importing, training sales and service personnel, inventorying parts, advertising and introducing a new model to the U.S. market.

At least not yet!

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