First Posted: 4/15/2015

Dear Car Talk:

I seem to be missing something lately that I can’t figure out! There appears to be an epidemic of drivers who, when stopped at stoplights, insist on leaving one, two and sometimes even three car lengths between themselves and the car in front of them! It is not just old folks like myself, either. Is there some benefit to their cars that people believe in, that I have never heard of? I don’t know of any! — Jim

Since you’re an old guy, I’ll fill you in on what these people are doing, Jim: They’re texting.

Most people under 60 years of age these days, given a fraction of a second of free time, will reach for their phones. And if they discover that no one has tried to reach them, they’ll try to reach someone else. If that fails, they’ll start checking Facebook. Or Tinder.

It’s like in the old days, when you used to walk out to your mailbox during the day to see if the postman had come yet. But it’s like doing that 500 times a day.

So when they find themselves with 20 or 30 seconds (i.e., an eternity) at a red light, people can’t resist the urge to engage with other humans on their smartphones. And while they’re engrossed in answering a probing question like “Where r u?” (“I’m two blocks from the last place I texted you”), they don’t notice that the car ahead of them moves up a few car lengths.

Interestingly, I recently drove a Subaru Outback that lets you know when the car in front of you starts moving. It’s part of Subaru’s Eye-Sight system, which actually is designed for crash detection, but they’ve cleverly added a “Hey, knucklehead … it’s time to go!” warning. When you’re stopped in traffic, and it detects that the car in front of you has moved more than a few feet, it beeps to wake you up from your Candy Crush trance and remind you to get moving.

It’s a sensible use of a new technology. I mean, how many times have you been waiting for a left-turn arrow to turn green, only to have the person in front of you be lost in an iPhone trance? Then you honk, and they take off just in time to make it through the light themselves, leaving you to wait through another light cycle.

Which is OK, actually, because then you have 30 more seconds to check your phone.

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Dear Car Talk:

I have a V-10 engine in an RV that has not been started in four years. Can I start it, and what type of oil would I use to put on top of the pistons to overcome any rust that might have formed in the cylinder walls? — Jack

I’ve always been partial to McEvoy Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Jack.

Just kidding. You’re going to use regular old motor oil. But your first task — and it might not be an easy one — is to get the spark plugs out. If they’ve been sitting there for four years, they might need some serious convincing. But be very careful not to break one off in the cylinder head. That’ll add six extra steps, an extra day or two, and at least $500 to this project.

Start by trying to remove the spark plugs. If you can get them out, then squirt a quarter of an ounce or so of oil into each spark-plug hole (you can use a plastic syringe, extended with a piece of rubber or plastic hose if need be), and then throw those old spark plugs away.

Next, disable the ignition system. You need to unplug all of the coils, not just from the spark plugs — you need to unplug the connector that provides power to each coil. You’re going to have gasoline and oil shooting out of those spark-plug holes when you crank this thing, so the last thing you want nearby is high-voltage spark — unless you’ve got a very good insurance policy and are looking to upgrade this rig.

Next, you’re going to crank the engine. With the spark plugs removed, the engine won’t start, obviously. But by using the starter motor to crank it, you’re turning the engine at 100 rpm instead of the 2,000 or more rpm it turns at once the engine starts.

That should allow the piston rings to more gently scrape off any rust that may have built up on the cylinder walls. It also gives the oil pump a chance to build up pressure around the bearings before the engine runs at speed.

Keep in mind that cranking the engine is going to make a mess. The oil that you squirted into those cylinders is going to come flying out like a Texas oil well. So protect anything nearby that you don’t want Jackson Pollocked.

Once you’ve cranked the engine for 30 seconds or so, put in your new spark plugs, reconnect the ignition system and, if there’s room in the tank, put in a few gallons of fresh gasoline. Of course, I wouldn’t invest in too much gasoline upfront, just in case, Jack.

And then start it up. It’ll belch blue smoke until that oil you squirted in there is all burned up, but that should clear up in a matter of minutes.

And if it turns out you can’t remove the spark plugs, then just cross your fingers, skip steps 1 through 8, and just start the thing. It might be fine. Good luck, Jack.

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Don’t get stuck with a lemon. Be an informed shopper. Read Click and Clack’s guide “How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows.” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.


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(c) 2015 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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