Q: The engine in our 2010 Prius is ruined because of excessive oil consumption at just over 120,000 miles. Toyota is refusing to rebuild or put in a new engine, despite the fact that we faithfully changed the oil on schedule and the car had gone fewer than 5,000 miles between changes with no smoke or leaks. Google "2010 Toyota and oil consumption" and you will find we're far from alone. We believe the car is defective, but since the problem arises out of warranty, Toyota refuses to help. Is there any recourse for us?
A: Sure, check the oil level more frequently. I know this sounds harsh, but it's the key message I've continually preached to car owners for the past three decades — the vehicle is your responsibility, not the dealer's, carmaker's or government's. The responsibility is yours and yours alone.
Your engine was not ruined by excessive oil consumption. It was ruined because the oil level in the crankcase was allowed to drop so low that internal engine damage occurred. Can you see that had you checked the oil level regularly you would have noticed the drop in oil level? You could have simply added oil when necessary or had the consumption issue addressed before any damage occurred.
And you are correct — you are far from being alone in failing to recognize a developing problem until a catastrophic failure occurs. If a tire slowly went flat and the owner continued to drive the vehicle without noticing or checking tire pressure, eventually the tire would fail. Would that be the tire's fault? Or the tiremaker's? No, it would be the vehicle owner's fault for not checking tire pressure often enough.
The lesson learned here is to invest more time and effort in vehicle ownership so that this type of mechanical catastrophe does not recur.
Q: I have a 2003 Sea Ray 176 SRX watercraft with GM four-cylinder carbureted engine. On calm days it runs flawlessly but when the vessel is "jarred" with turbulence it acts as if the throttle is being pulled back momentarily. Everyone I've talked to says it is because I'm using gas with 10 percent ethanol. I'm leaning toward a loose electrical connection.
A: Great timing for this question! If the hesitation is instantaneous like flipping a switch, I'd focus on an electrical issue. Make sure no part of any wiring harness can be grounded by sudden movement.
However, if the hesitation is more like pulling back and then reapplying the throttle, I'm leaning toward an accumulation of water in the fuel system. If the fuel system "gulps" water from the bottom of the tank or the carburetor float bowl, the engine may sag momentarily. Try safely siphoning fuel from the bottom of the tank, let it settle and see if water/alcohol has separated from the gas. I suspect you'll be amazed at how much water is in the tank.
Q: I've been interested in buying a used Honda Fit. I've seen many advertised with a rebuilt or salvage title. Of course they are discounted compared with one with a clean title. Is it ever worth considering a car with a salvage or rebuilt title? What should a buyer be aware of?
A: In my opinion, salvage vehicles are a good choice only for someone willing and capable of doing the repairs necessary to restore the vehicle to a completely safe condition. Most states require an inspection of rebuilt vehicles before they can be licensed. And once "branded" with salvage titles, their value is significantly reduced.
What to look for in a salvage vehicle — everything! Everything from the safety and quality of repair workmanship, "cleanliness" of title to ensure it hasn't been washed through state-to-state transfers, corrosion from repair welding or flooding, functional air bags, etc. The list goes on and on.
Tread very carefully when considering a salvage vehicle.
Paul Brand is the author of "How to Repair Your Car" and "How to Repair Your Truck and SUV," published by Motorbooks.