Why is my car engine not warming up properly?



AAA Northeast Automotive Physician John Paul answers a question from a reader who just had his car’s engine replaced.

AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File

Q I recently had to replace the engine in my Toyota Camry. It had 234,000 miles and the new engine has about 150,000. I noticed that when it’s really cold the car doesn’t heat up when I’m driving at highway speeds. At idle or idling, the engine warms up nicely. What’s new?

A. Start by checking the engine thermostat. If the engine has been sitting in a salvage yard for a while, the thermostat may open at too low a temperature. This would be more noticeable at highway speeds. If the thermostat is OK, the problem could be air in the cooling system. This could be the result of a faulty head gasket, which is why the car could have been scrapped.

Q I love my 1998 Volvo and plan to drive it for as long as it will go. It has 223,000 miles on it. Volvo parts are very expensive, so I buy parts online. I would like to understand spare parts. Are there different qualities? Should I ask for a specific manufacturer, as I plan to keep this car for as long as possible?

A. I have no problem with spare parts. That said, many aftermarket parts are equal and in some cases can outperform original equipment parts. Look for name brands at reputable parts stores such as NAPA. I’ve also had good luck with online parts retailers such as Rock Auto and CariD. When shopping online, I tend to look for brand names I know that provide good service. Generally, if the replacement part is considerably less expensive than the original equipment part, the quality may be questionable.

Q I recently purchased a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder with 27,000 miles. I hear a knock from the engine which is quite noticeable until the car warms up for a minute or two. I took the car to Nissan and had someone drive it and test drive it. They told me there were no trouble codes and the knocking noise was normal. Is my truck having a problem?

A. It is not uncommon to hear a slight knocking noise when the engine is cold. There is so much aluminum in engines today that parts expand and contract as they heat up. As long as the noise goes away quickly, I would agree with the dealer and call it normal.

Q I have a 1999 Honda Accord and the service engine light came on. The repair shop told me it was the evap system, but they couldn’t find anything wrong. They said the problem was not with the fuel. They reset the computer and everything was fine for almost three weeks. Then the light came back on. What exactly is the evap system and should I be worried about the light?

A. The evap system is the term used for the evaporative emission control system, which prevents gasoline vapors from escaping into the atmosphere and causing further pollution. Since 1996, most cars have had this system tested on board to ensure it is not leaking. Although in this case, the performance of the car does not change when the “check engine” light is on, your car pollutes the air. The most common cause of an evaporator failure is a loose or faulty gas cap.

Q I heard somewhere that if several people share a car, it will wear out faster. We have three cars in the family. I think everyone should drive their own car. The other two drivers feel they can jump into whatever is last in the aisle. Who is right?

A. It comes from an old adage and may be true – but only up to a point. When more people drive a car, no one takes responsibility for preventative maintenance and minor repairs. Everyone thinks the other person took care of oil changes, tire checks, and other important issues. There’s no reason a car driven by multiple drivers should have a shorter lifespan as long as someone takes care of the maintenance and repairs.

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Automotive Physician. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive industry and is an ASE Certified Master Technician. Email your 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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